Monday, May 19, 2008

Why My Local Didn’t Vote No Confidence in Terry Bergeson

There’s a rather odd article in the May 15th Seattle Times about the no confidence votes the WEA has been pursuing against Terry Bergeson. They cite a “confidential memo” that sources in the AP acquired, and that’s just plain laughable—a memo that’s been sent to 400 different locals, has been in 1000 different hands, and has been mentioned online repeatedly hardly qualifies as confidential. This isn’t a secret initiative by any stretch of the imagination.

That is also borne out by the front-of-the-section article in the Saturday Spokesman-Review ($) on the vote of no confidence that was taken at the WEA Representative Assembly late Friday afternoon. It passed by an overwhelming majority, though a later request to make it a unanimous vote was blocked.

I was one of the blockers. My local abstained from taking a position on the Bergeson issue, because there are enough teachers in my group who believe in her that I wouldn’t have been representing them well if I had voted yes.

If you’ve followed the story at all (good background here and here) you’ve probably picked up on the fact that local leaders are polling their members to gauge their opinion of Dr. Bergeson. I did that in my group using an online tool called Survey Monkey that worked really quite well, and about a third of my people responded, which is pretty good for us.

And boy, did I get savaged. Comments ranged from “I want nothing to do with this” to “If you do this, I’m going to quit the union.” Many made a rousing defense of Terry and felt that we should be working with her to solve the problem, which is a theory that I’ll probably explore in a different post later on.

There were also a ton of comments from teachers who are frustrated with the WASL, who have been in the classroom for 25 years and hate to see what it’s doing to learning and to the kids, and who blame Terry for the whole mess. In fact, the majority of the people who voted in the poll said that they felt strongly enough about the issue that they believed the vote of no confidence was a great idea.

So given that, why didn’t I make us a part of the no confidence vote?

  • A majority of the people who responded to the poll said to vote no confidence (21 out of 41), with the rest split between “Leave Terry alone!” and “I really don’t care.” 21 people is about 1/6th of my membership; should I have gone with their vote, overriding the other 5/6ths?

  • The membership of my local is more conservative than most. It’s a small town that serves a military installation (Fairchild AFB), and any union measure is immediately down two strikes before it even gets off the ground floor with many of my members.

  • I really didn’t need the publicity. Had I taken us in this direction I’ve no doubt that my town newspaper would have picked up on it, writing a story which would have immediately verified many of the very worst suspicions people hold about teacher unionism. That wouldn’t have been a fair position to put my members in.

For those locals that voted No Confidence in Terry, I congratulate you. Teacher voice matters, and you are to be commended for making yours heard.

I just ask that you don’t assume silence to be acquiescence, either for or against. Union politicking can be a wonderfully complicated endeavor, and this is one of those times.

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