‘Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain’

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 27, 2008 2 min read
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That’s a famous line from The Wizard of OZ, and it’s basically at the heart of this story in the Washington Post about the D.C. contract negotiations.

According to a letter sent by AFT President Randi Weingarten to WTU President George Parker, back in July, Parker had requested that AFT not be involved in the negotiations.

But concerns about the then-tight relationship between Parker and D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, along with complaints from local members about the two-tiered pay proposal has caused the AFT to watch the negotiations quite closely. The national union commissioned a private poll of WTU members, as I wrote earlier; it commissioned a legal opinion on the pay proposals here; and there are plenty of letters showing that the AFT hasn’t exactly been thrilled with how the WTU has been approaching things, for example this one.

These activities have raised Ms. Rhee’s ire: “The national union’s claims that they have no involvement in local negotiations have been patently false,” Ms. Rhee says in the Post story. “If the national [union] wants to insert themselves in this negotiation, then they should be at least honest about their involvement.”

In a subsequent statement, Weingarten said: “While the AFT has not been directly involved in negotiations, we have been working in a supportive role to help George Parker, the WTU executive board, and our hard-working members reach an agreement with D.C. public schools,” she writes. “We are proud of that work and are surprised that anyone thought it was being kept a secret.”

What to make of all this? Well, in general, the national unions routinely provide collective bargaining assistance to their affiliates. In this case, the question seems to be the extent to which the union, directly or indirectly, is exerting influence over the WTU’s approach to the contract.

As Bill Turque notes in his story, the national union also has a direct pipeline to the activities of the WTU through George Bordenave, who works for the AFT but has been detailed as an assistant to Parker.

Of course, the one who really knows what’s what is Parker. When I last spoke to him, he expressed nothing but gratitude for AFT’s support and denied rumors of tensions between WTU and AFT.

“Randi and I have a very good rapport. Randi has not in any way put pressure on the local in response to [the pay proposal],” he told me.

Given AFT’s intense interest in the proposal, I can’t help but wonder if, in private, he feels a little differently.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.