Teaching Profession

Bob Chanin Has the Last Word

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 06, 2009 2 min read

Apparently Linda Darling-Hammond has a competitor for rock-star status, and that would be NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin.

Chanin, who retires after this RA following more than 40 years of service to the NEA, was treated to a series of speakers reminiscing on their experiences working with him.

Members of the executive committee, along with NEA Prez Dennis Van Roekel and Vice President Lily Eskelsen, wore T-shirts emblazoned with Chanin’s face on the front and the “amicus briefs” joke on the back. (Read more about Chanin at this NEA tribute page.)

Chanin’s own speech was really something, almost impossible to summarize (thankfully, NEA is going to put it up on its Web site later). In essence, it took delegates through his entire history with the NEA, which is also the history of NEA’s transformation from professional association to union.

Chanin was instrumental in helping write labor laws in various states to support collective bargaining for teachers and in providing support for early contracts.

So why is your dogged blogger bringing this up? Well, consider Van Roekel’s keynote, which could be read as a formal acknowledgment of NEA’s place in the organized-labor movement.

Or take the discussion over new business item 69, which had to do with whether the NEA should go on record in support of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in their organizing drive of the new Delta Airlines.

“As NEA becomes a union and becomes used to being a union, this is what we must support,” said one delegate in support of the item. (It eventually passed.)

Essentially, much of this year’s assembly turned on the delegates grappling with the meaning of belonging to a union.

In completing his speech, Chanin pointed out that the NEA used collective bargaining and strikes to more effectively represent education employees. And while NEA should continue to advocate policies to close the achievement gap and stop dropouts and promote educational equity, it should not do so at the expense of hard-won rights, such as due process or collective bargaining, he concluded.

“NEA and affiliates must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions, and unions first and foremost represent their members,” Chanin said.

A fitting capstone that nicely summed up the flavor of this year’s RA.

There was not a dry eye on the stage. The delegates gave Chanin a five-minute standing ovation.

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