Labor Strife Smoldering in NEA’s Maryland, Ohio Affiliates

School districts across the country know that collective bargaining can be a difficult and contentious process. If union demands exceed district resources or willingness to pay, it can lead to stalemate, job actions and strikes.

Strangely enough, unions can find themselves in the same quagmire with their own employees.

People who work for teachers unions are also represented by unions, called staff unions. Staff unions negotiate collective bargaining agreements with teachers union officers and executives, who act as management. And while they can all sing “Solidarity Forever,” they can have many disagreements over pay, benefits and working conditions.

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The National Education Association and its state affiliates have a long and storied history of battles with their own workers. Public disputes erupted in 2018 in Kentucky and Virginia.

This year, it appears to be the turn of the Maryland State Education Association.

Related: Analysis: Virginia Education Association Wants Collective Bargaining for Teachers — but Talks With Its Own Employees Led to Lawsuits, Sanctions

The Professional Staff Association of Maryland, which represents an estimated 85 employees of the teachers union, has conducted informational pickets at the headquarters building, accusing the association of “disrespect” in negotiations. The contract expired Sept. 23.

The staff union says union managers rejected its demands for a paid day off for the Juneteenth holiday, increased pay for support staff and a 4.5% cost-of-living increase.

Internal labor problems are potentially embarrassing for the Maryland teachers union, since it is creating an education support employees’ bill of rights, with a variety of demands regarding pay and working conditions for bus drivers, custodians, classroom aides, school secretaries, food service workers, etc. The message could be undercut by the perception that the union doesn’t treat its own support employees well.

Maryland is not the only state where teachers union employees are upset. Details are sketchy right now, but it appears the two staff unions of the Ohio Education Association are also protesting, having organized a demonstration at union headquarters Sept. 26. They have revived an old favorite as a slogan.

<em>Ohio Associate Staff Union/Facebook</em>
Ohio Associate Staff Union/Facebook

Ohio Education Association employees have gone on strike twice before, in 1997 and 2010. It’s unclear what issues are causing a dispute this time around.

Related: Antonucci: This Is What It Looks Like When Teacher Unions Fight Their Own Employees

Teachers union executives often play hardball in staff negotiations, but when push comes to shove, they fear the negative publicity that comes with internal labor conflict. Revenue flow is reliable and always growing, so in the end, the staff unions should get most of their desires met.

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.