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NEA’s Staff Union Is on Strike—Halting NEA’s Biggest Annual Gathering

Tensions between the nation’s largest teachers’ union and its staff reached a boiling point June 5, as staff members went on strike—halting the four-day representative assembly where thousands of delegates from across the country vote on the union’s budget and priorities.

Union delegates were sent back to their hotels. NEA said it would not cross its staffers’ own picket line.

A work stoppage at the NEA’s core appears to be unprecedented, and could effectively end the assembly. The representative assembly continued virtually for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic and returned to an in-person event in 2022.

Held this year in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, the strike also throws a wrench into the political aims of the union as its leadership works to rally members in support of their choice in the November presidential election, President Joe Biden.

Biden, facing scrutiny in and out of his own party after a troubling debate performance last week, is expected in Philadelphia as part of campaigning efforts. He was planning to address the delegates on Sunday, but campaign staff said he would no longer attend.

“President Biden is a fierce supporter of unions and he won’t cross a picket line,” a spokesperson told EdWeek via email.

Striking staff members created a line in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center before the second day of the assembly was to get underway, holding picket signs that they were “on strike to uphold union values.” They plan to continue through the remaining days of the assembly, which will run through Sunday.

The NEA said it “remained fully committed to a fair bargaining process” and said the staff organization was mischaracterizing the contract negotiations.

A spokesperson for the NEA said it has “maintained a generous package of benefits, a competitive salary, a pension plan that provides a secure retirement for all staff and accessible, high-quality healthcare for staff and their families, making NEA a standout among employers across the country.”

“We have crafted in good faith a proposal for our NEASO staff to address their expressed interests while ensuring the longer-term health of our organization and the needs of our members,” the spokesperson said. “We will respect our staff’s picket lines. In the end, we are confident there will be an agreement that ensures we continue to serve our mission and support our members.”

The staff organization’s contract expired at the end of May, which has upped tensions among union management and staff. NEA union staff walked off the job for the first time in 50 years in June over what they said were unfair labor practices.

The staff organization for the NEA accuses NEA management of denying holiday pay, as staff work over the Fourth of July holiday for the assembly. Staff claim that the NEA is making “unilateral changes” to policies to retaliate against staff members.

Staff members also say the NEA is outsourcing millions of dollars of employee work to contractors, and gave vent to some highly personal claims: Among the millions spent on contractors, they said, “is a receipt of $8,500 for three days of hairstyling for the NEA president—all paid for by hard-earned NEA dues dollars.”

The staff organization said it has filed additional charges with the National Labor Relations Board, which they say are the reason behind the strike.

“We have witnessed excessive, even exorbitant, spending on just the NEA president’s physical appearance. Their failure to provide basic details about outsourcing makes us wonder what else the National Education Association is hiding,” NEA Staff Organization President Robin McLean said in a prepared statement. “For a public-service union that purports to oppose outsourcing members’ work, it is unconscionable that NEA would spend hundreds of millions of NEA member dues on contractors while union-busting and shrinking its staff unions.”

NEA President Becky Pringle had asked the delegates to suspend the rules on the evening of June 4 in anticipation of a work stoppage. Delegates affirmed the suspension, which allows them to vote on certain matters—elections, constitution and bylaw amendments, the strategic plan, and budget—by mail-in ballot if the assembly does not continue.

“We are continuing to negotiate in good faith,” Pringle told the delegates after the vote, advising them to check their emails for updates. She received rousing applause.

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