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Quick Take: Six Concerns in the Proposed JPPSS-JFT Contract Big Question: Does the union actually represent a majority of employees?

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Well, we knew this was coming.

After the American Federation of Teachers spent almost $450,000 last fall (significantly more than was raised by all 19 candidates combined) to get pro-union candidates elected to the Jefferson Parish School Board (JPSB), it was clear that the Jefferson Federation of Teachers (JFT) would use their newly elected influence to secure a new contract with the district.

The proposed agreement is a good example of a so-called “thin contract” and is a welcome departure from JFT’s previous 144-page contract that the prior board refused to renew back in 2013. Nevertheless, there are six areas of concern/issues in the new contract that I’ve outlined below:

1. Faculty Meetings

It’s hard to argue that teachers shouldn’t be given advanced notice of faculty meetings in most cases. However the contract, as written, does not make an exception for exigencies, such as a faculty meeting called in the wake an emergency or crisis at a school.

2. Professional Development

The reforms implemented under former Superintendent James Meza1, including the move to school network structure, aimed at shifting the district’s central office away from its long-standing (and ineffective) top-down approach to managing and supporting schools. As a result, responsibility for professional development shifted to school networks, which could then tailor their support based on the needs of the schools they served. Involving JFT in implementing professional development for teachers across the district would not only needlessly complicate the process, but most likely require the district to take a more centralized (and thus, less targeted and impactful) approach to providing support.

3. Teacher Attendance

JPPSS is the largest district in the State of Louisiana, with thousands of employees working across more than 85 schools. Nevertheless, the district still uses an inefficient, paper-based system for tracking teacher and staff attendance. The district should adopt an electronic system in which school-based employees can sign in and out (Why would JFT be opposed to having teachers sign out?) at the beginning and end of their work day.

4. Planning Periods

Here’s where the contract veers away from what should be its focus – sensible job protections – and crosses the line into interfering with school-based management. I certainly understand how much teachers value their planning periods, but it’s not hard to envision circumstances in which a principal may find it necessary to co-opt teachers’ planning time more than twice-a-week – such as when a teacher is placed on an improvement plan, when staff are planning to launch a new school-wide initiative, or when a struggling school needs to quickly and dramatically shift gears. JPSB should never agree to a contract that would prevent school leaders from taking the steps necessary to raise student achievement.

5. Contract Production/Distribution

It seems like this should be responsibility of JFT – also, who would be paying for copies of the contract to be produced?

6. How Large Is JFT’s Membership?

This curious clause in the contract raises a very important question: Does the Jefferson Federation of Teachers actually represent a majority of employees? In October, the Times-Picayune noted that the percentage of school system employees paying JFT dues through payroll deductions had fallen 25% to 42.9% [see chart below]. It would be inappropriate to award a contract to JFT making them the exclusive representative for all bargaining unit employees (which includes teachers, counselors, librarians, speech therapists, social workers, educational diagnosticians, school psychologists, and nurses), if a majority of them are not even members of the union.

Graphic from the Times-Picayune.

Graphic from the Times-Picayune.


  1. Full Disclosure: I worked as a consultant on several reform initiatives in Jefferson Parish during Superintendent Meza’s tenure. 

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Louisiana

The Red River Ripoff Shreveport's AFT Affiliate Uses Bureaucratic Obstacles To Keep Dues Coming in

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Red River United (RRU), the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union representing educators in Caddo, Bossier, and Red River Parishes, is using bureaucratic hurdles and subterfuge in an attempt to prevent members from leaving the organization.

A reader forwarded me a series of emails regarding three of the union’s current members who submitted a union drop request to Red River officials in October, indicating that they wished to end their affiliation with RRU and stop the monthly deduction of dues from their bank accounts.

The sign outside Red River United’s offices in Shreveport.

The receipt of those forms was acknowledged by the union. Nevertheless, when the three teachers checked with their banks at the end of the month, Red River United had once again deducted dues payments from their accounts. On November 1st, an email was sent to RRU officials notifying them of their mistake and requesting that the union refund those dues to the three individuals.

An emailed response from RRU’s in-house counsel, Elizabeth Gibson, flatly refused to refund those payments, explaining that the three teachers “executed a confidential agreement with Red River United (Membership Form), wherein the individuals authorized Red River United, or its designee, to draft their bank account each month for the amount indicated in the agreement for each billing period.”

She continued:

“Further, they acknowledged that they must give at least 30 days written notice to Red River United to cancel future automated debits. Red River United did not receive written notice at least 30 days in advance personally from the individuals indicating they had chosen to cancel their automated debits/membership. They must physically come to the offices of Red River United to cancel the bank draft due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein. These individuals have not done so. Accordingly, they are not entitled to a refund of the monies they authorized to be withdrawn from their bank accounts.”

Gibson added that the teachers needed to physically go to the union’s offices to provide a so-called “wet signature” in the presence of a Red River United employee in order to officially withdraw from the union and stop the monthly bank withdrawals.

Gibson’s emailed response in which she refused to refund dues to the three teachers.

A ridiculous (and dishonest?) response

Gibson’s response is not only ridiculous, but possibly dishonest. It’s also clearly an attempt by Red River United to make it as difficult as possible for current members to dropout of the union.

To start, the union’s “confidential agreement” – i.e., RRU’s membership form – isn’t all that confidential (in fact, I’ve included a copy of it at the bottom of this post). Nowhere on the membership form does it say anything about the requirement to provide a “wet signature” in the presence of an RRU employee to leave the union and stop monthly payments.

The small print from Red River United’s membership form.

Moreover, Gibson’s contention that the three teachers needed to physically go to RRU’s offices to cancel the bank drafts “due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein” is laughable. Anyone who has ever had a subscription to a newspaper or magazine can tell you that you don’t need to go to their offices to cancel it. Plus, there’s nothing “confidential” about the process. All Red River United needs to do is notify their bank to stop the monthly automatic withdrawals for those three individuals. End of story.

So why is Red River United trying to make these three teachers jump through bureaucratic hoops when they clearly don’t want to be part of their organization anymore? I suspect the union is trying to force them to come to their offices so they can pressure them to remain members, which is the kind of behavior you might expect from a dodgy timeshare broker, not a teachers union.

Nevertheless, teachers unions in other states have increasingly employed similar tactics to stem the departure of their members. For example, after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) changed their opt-out policy to mandate that teachers withdrawal in August and force them to send their resignation requests to an obscure P.O. box address hidden on their website. The union subsequently refused to honor opt-out requests that were sent directly to MEA headquarters or were received outside of the month of August.

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide Janus v. AFSCME this spring.

I expect that we’ll see even more of these sort of schemes in the coming months. In September, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case which argues that requiring public employees to pay agency fees to unions (including teachers unions) is unconstitutional. It is widely expected that the Court will end up striking down the laws in the 22 states that currently mandate agency fees, meaning that teachers unions across the country will soon be scrambling to come up with ways to keep their members from dropping out.

Because Louisiana has long been a right-to-work state, the Janus case should have little direct impact here. At the same time, that’s exactly why Red River United’s efforts to make it as difficult as possible for members to leave their organization needs to be called out. Louisiana’s public school teachers have the right to join a union or not. Therefore, they should be able to leave a union just as easily as they signed up. If Red River United wants to salvage some of its integrity, it should immediately accept the resignation of the three educators in question and refund their dues as soon as possible.


Read Red River United’s membership form:

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Louisiana

AFT On The Bayou Union Spends Less In Louisiana, But More On Charter Organizing in New Orleans

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The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) spent less overall in Louisiana in the past fiscal year than it did in F.Y. 2016, but the union boosted its funding for charter school organizing efforts in New Orleans by more than forty percent.

An analysis of expenditure data from AFT’s 2017 annual report to U.S. Department of Labor shows that the union spent $2,326,573 in Louisiana during the fiscal year that ended June 30th, a slight decrease from the from $2.49 million it spent in the state in 2016.

About a quarter of AFT’s spending went to political activities, which included nearly $125,000 in payments to the political action committee of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, as well as a $15,000 contribution to Defend Louisiana, a super PAC behind Foster Campbell’s unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate last fall. In addition, AFT spent nearly $370,000 to influence last year’s Orleans Parish School Board elections, as I exposed in a previous blog post in January.

A diagram showing the distribution of AFT’s F.Y. 2017 spending in Louisiana.

AFT also invested heavily in organizing activities across the Bayou State. It gave nearly $192,000 to Red River United to support recruitment in Bossier, Caddo, and Red River Parishes. AFT spent another $184,000 on organizing in Monroe and $147,000 in Jefferson Parish.

Furthermore, AFT’s most recent annual report suggests that the union is stepping up its efforts to organize charter schools in the Big Easy. In F.Y 2017, AFT national poured $412,926 into its New Orleans Charter Organizing Project, a significant increase from the $292,000 it allocated in 2016. In all, AFT spent more than $850,000 on its New Orleans-based activities in the past year.

Although their recruitment efforts in the city have had mixed success, AFT’s willingness to spend substantial sums of money in New Orleans makes clear they still pose a serious threat. Over the past four years, AFT has steered more than $1.6 million to organize New Orleans charter schools and roll back the city’s reforms.

We need to remain vigilant to ensure that never happens.


Explore the data:


Read AFT’s 2017 annual report:

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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