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Back to August Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 283 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS AUGUST 2009

Furor as NEA's General Counsel Blasts 'Right-Wing Bastards'
"Why are these conservative and right-wing bastards picking on NEA and its affiliates?" asked retiring general counsel Bob Chanin in a speech he delivered to the union's Representative Assembly. "I will tell you why: it is the price we pay for success. NEA and its affiliates have been singled out because they are the most effective unions in the U.S."

Chanin, as the union's top attorney, served NEA for 41 years and helped to shape NEA into the organization it is today. Why, according to Chanin, is NEA the nation's most effective union?

"It is not because of creative ideas; it is not because of the merit of our position; it is not because we care about children; it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power, and we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees."

Actually, only about 2.7 million of NEA's 3.2 million members send dues money to the national union. It is certainly accurate, however, to say that the money NEA receives from its members make it a political powerhouse. In many states, even portions of non-members' paychecks are withheld and given to the union on the basis that non-members benefit from NEA's "collective bargaining" activities.

Chanin's speech identified a number of the deplored "conservatives and right wing[ers]" specifically: Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, the Landmark Legal Foundation, the National Right to Work Committee, the Bush administration's Department of Education and Department of Labor, and the Internal Revenue Service. "We are not paranoid; someone really is after us," said Chanin.

Even though President Bush has left office, Chanin warned that "attacks by conservatives and right-wing troops will continue," because NEA and its state affiliates are still "the nation's leading advocates for public education and the type of liberal social and economic agenda that these groups find unacceptable."

Chanin unapologetically rejected NEA's recently favored "professional organization" or "public servant" image. Chanin instead played up the union's responsibility to represent its members' financial interests: "NEA and its affiliates should never lose sight of the fact that they are unions," he said.

Outside observers who follow NEA closely noted that NEA for the past 25 years has been deemphasizing the fact that it is a union. This year marked a sharp departure from that stance, as numerous delegates as well as Chanin and NEA president Dennis van Roekel proudly proclaimed NEA a union, and a part of the national labor movement.


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