In our continued effort to transform the MTA into a democratically run, rank and file member driven organization, we will continue providing short reports on board meetings in the interest of transparency.
As will always be the case, our report does not intend to be comprehensive, just to hit some highlights. These are not official minutes or anything close to that.
EDU in the spotlight:
A discussion of EDU was scheduled as the first substantive item on the agenda, but was put off, and now is scheduled for the June meeting, but in practice EDU was the center of most of the New Business Items discussed at the meeting, and certainly the focus for the items that were most hotly debated and that took up the most time. We should note that numerous board members stated that the items presented were not directed at EDU, that they were simply abstract statements of policy, not at all concerned with EDU, they just happened to focus on caucuses, campaign slates, and so on.
Slates: The board debated at length whether or not slates would be permitted, although it was never clear what this meant. (Can one candidate endorse another? Does that make it a slate? Can multiple candidates all endorse the same set of principles, or would that make them a slate?) After considerable debate, the board voted this down; it was a decisive but relatively close vote.
T-shirts: The board debated whether members of some unspecified group can wear t-shirts at annual meeting, which violate MTA policy (no caucuses). After considerable debate this was decisively voted down.
Caucuses: A motion was made to prohibit the MTA from offering any support to any caucus. At first the policy seemed to be quite drastic, but as things were clarified in practice it became clear this meant MTA is not to provide a free room to a caucus (even if the room would otherwise be unused). This rule, of course, had nothing to do with EDU, but it was made clear that the policy does apply to EDU, but in the view of the makers of the motion it does not apply to the Retired Members Caucus or the Higher Education Caucus (each of which, by those names, receives a free room at the MTA annual meeting). In the end, it was clarified that if the policy does not prohibit EDU from receiving a room, but rather requires that EDU pay a modest fee for the room, and on that basis the motion passed, with some from EDU members supporting the motion.
Limiting what the president can do:
Another significant focus in the board meeting were efforts to limit the president’s power.
Organizing funds: One of these efforts concerned the Public Relations & Organizing Committee. Each year at annual meeting we vote an appropriation of $30 per member that goes into a separate fund, or about $2.7 million per year in total, controlled by the PR&O committee, whose members are appointed by the president. Before Barbara’s election the money was spent overwhelmingly to elect Democrats to state office, and for various donations (high school quiz shows, walks for cancer, etc.) to show that MTA cares. Since Barbara’s election, the PR&O money is spent primarily to support various kinds of organizing activity; related to that, but somewhat separate from it, most of the PR&O money from the last two years went to the No on 2 campaign.
The board had a motion to take control of this money away from the president and give it to the board. That would happen by removing the president’s power to appoint committee members, and giving that power to the board. (The president would have appointed 5 members, and the board would have elected 10 board members.)
This motion was ruled out of order; under the by-laws, committee members are appointed by the president, and the MTA’s General Counsel reported that to change the appointments to PR&O there would need to be a new by-law (which requires the support of two-thirds of the delegates to annual meeting); the board couldn’t just decide to do this.
Campaigns: The board passed a motion, whose exact meaning is unclear, that specifies that in order to undertake a campaign there must first be a vote supported by two-thirds of board members. The board meets only once every two months. If Mitchell Chester launches a new outrage (say, specifying that teacher license renewals will depend on student test scores), would a campaign need to wait two months until the board’s next meeting? Presumably there would be an emergency meeting, or a conference call, but even that would impose a significant delay. Does every request for members to send emails to legislators require a two-thirds board vote? This issue may well be contested in the future.
Complaint about election behavior and failure to respond:
Joan Richardson spoke on Saturday morning in the public comment period, to report that she attended the collective bargaining summit, and a candidate spoke from the podium and said that she was running for office and had nomination papers people could sign. Joan indicated that she had written to all the members of the Credentials and Ballots Committee to complain, and had not received a response.
The alleged violation, assuming it occurred, would be a minor violation, the kind of thing where you say to someone “You can’t do that. You can go up to people and collect their signatures, but if you are speaking officially you can’t campaign; the MTA as an organization needs to stay strictly neutral. So please don’t do that again.” And the person would say, “oops, sorry, I didn’t know, I won’t do it again.” So as a violation this was trivial, roughly the equivalent of someone at a meeting speaking on a yellow card but entering into debate.
If it is true that the Credentials and Ballots Committee was informed and did not respond, that’s a concern, and we need to know what happened. But it’s bizarre for the MTA board to debate this and condemn people, without having asked committee members what happened. Even though Barbara pointed out that the Board had no authority and no information upon which to act, and that she would be sure to proceed to find out what happened, some board members kept condemning people and demanding action. You had to be there to get a sense of the level of anger and hostility expressed by people, based on one person’s report, without having heard what members of the accused committee had to say for themselves. (Worth noting: This committee is a group of dedicated volunteer members, who are neutral in elections; as far as we know, none of the committee’s members belong to EDU.)
Each year at the March board meeting the board discusses the budget, suggests revisions, and then votes on a budget to recommend to the delegates to Annual Meeting. The draft budget is drawn up by the Advisory Budget Committee, which is always chaired by the vice-president, currently Erik Champy. This year the debate on the budget was MUCH lengthier than usual. Many different board members were involved in proposing changes, or proposing modifications to the changes proposed by other members. Key decisions that were made on the budget to recommend – remember that Annual Meeting delegates make the final decision, the only decision that matters:
Reduce the PR&O budget: The board voted to reduce the separate dues for Public Relations and Organizing from $30 per member to $20 per member. This is money (see above) that the president has controlled, and that under Barbara has been used to fund a variety of organizing initiatives. The money saved will not reduce member dues, but will instead be put into reserves. Reserves can only be spent with board approval, so the effect of the motion is to reduce the money the president controls and to increase the money the board controls.
New member organizer: The board approved hiring an extra staff person to be a new member organizer; this motion was made by Laura Vago, not an EDU member.
Assorted minor maneuvers: A complicated proposal was made to reduce the allocation for a long list of items that historically have not spent as much as the budget proposed spending on them, and to move that money to contingency. As originally proposed this involved $972,000 but board members amended that in a variety of ways; after all the amendments, the amount involved was reduced to $381,000. In order to access this money in contingency requests will have to go to the executive committee.
Rally: The board, after considerable debate, supported holding a rally at 3:00 on May 20, with the aim being to end Annual Meeting by that time so that delegates can walk out and go to the rally, to be organized with a range of other groups, including the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance.
Impending loss of agency fee:
Everyone in labor believes that next year the Supreme Court, with a 5 to 4 conservative majority, will vote that public sector unions no longer have a right to collect agency fees. Unions will still be required to provide a range of grievance and other services to non-members, but non-members will pay nothing. Zero.
Data was distributed showing the number of members and agency fee payers in each local. Most locals have very few agency fee payers. In higher education, there are much larger numbers; roughly half of adjunct faculty pay do not become members and pay the agency fee instead. ESPs are also especially likely to be agency fee payers. If agency fee is ended, we could lose anywhere between 4% and 20% or 25% of our revenue. (4% is the percent of those we represent currently paying agency fee, but many members might drop out if doing so didn’t just reduce their payments to the agency fee level, but instead reduced their payments to zero.)
The MTA commissioned an outside consulting group to look at our financial reserves. To make a very long story very short, we are in very good shape if things continue as they are, but if we lose a substantial fraction of our revenue, we would have to do something drastic to bring expenses and revenues into balance or else we’d run out of money in something like four years. The agency that studied our reserves recommended that we take time to make a reserves plan that fit with our long range plan and threat analysis. The Board will be dedicating its August meeting to developing strategies for addressing budget considerations going forward.
Bylaws, Resolutions, and the Standing Rules for Annual Meeting:
The proposals that will be brought to Annual Meeting are always discussed at the March board meeting. The board’s vote focuses on whether or not to recommend the items to the delegates. These notes are already too long, so very briefly some of the items that will be proposed are:
- To have ESP representatives to the board be elected only by the votes of ESP members (currently all members, both ESPs and teachers, vote on who should represent ESPs)
- That when the board or executive committee vote to go into Executive Session, there has to be a roll call vote, so members can tell how their board representative voted
- That at Annual Meeting, people speaking on a yellow card only get one minute (instead of three minutes)
The board supported some of these (and other) changes, and opposed some, but whatever the board vote, the issue will be decided by Annual Meeting delegates, so we aren’t focused on the exact breakdown of board votes.