Tuesday, June 27, 2006


In the educational workplace, unionism is so out of date and counter-productive, it’s kind of like a Miss America contestant trying to win the swimsuit competition with a 5 o’clock shadow and a beer belly.

But for decades in Nebraska, teachers were limited to just one choice for professional services – a labor union -- the National Education Association, and its state and local affiliates. There just wasn’t an alternative that could offer the same job protection, liability insurance and other needs of a professional teacher.

So even if you found the NEA’s leftist politics and wacko social mores more ugly than beautiful, you were stuck with them. You know: 97% of NEA “soft” political contributions going to Democratic candidates . . . nasty anti-parent policies . . . irrational protection of job tenure for bad teachers . . . kickback schemes for union wonks . . . anti-American propaganda . . . little or no academic focus . . . all immensely foreign to the priorities and views of thousands of Nebraska educators.

Well, now here comes a snazzy new contestant competing for the hearts and minds of Nebraska’s educators. It’s an alternative to the union, and instead of facial hair and a beer belly, it’s in an appealing bikini – a fresh, slimmed-down, apolitical, up-to-the-minute approach to the teaching profession.

Somebody dust off Bert Parks! And start singing!

The American Association of Educators has come to Nebraska seeking members as the approaching school year gets under way. You can drop out of the union and join the AAE, and save $350 a year. Now, THAT’S beautiful!

Learn more about the organization on

The AAE already has 400 teacher members across Nebraska who think $150 a year for liability insurance and other professional services from the AAE is a lot better deal than $500 in union dues – and they don’t miss bankrolling objectionable NEA political activities one bit.

Here’s predicting that the “judges” in this beauty contest – Nebraska educators – are going to go for it, bigtime.

The AAE’s Brian Burkhart is in the state currently, meeting with teachers and helping them spread the good word to colleagues. He said the AAE has 12 state affiliates across the country now, and is targeting Nebraska, Colorado and Maryland for the next three. The goal is to double its Nebraska membership and put a full-time staff member in place here.

Burkhart said a big draw is that the AAE offers teachers twice as much dollar coverage in liability insurance as the NEA affiliates do, plus guaranteed legal services. AAE liability coverage is individual; with group coverage through the union, there’s no guarantee they’ll stand behind you if there’s a problem.

Besides liability insurance, the AAE offers members a newsletter, professional development conferences, teacher scholarships, classroom mini-grants and advice on educational issues.

So far, Nebraska teachers in the Omaha Public Schools, Lincoln Public Schools, Kearney, Grand Island, Hastings and a sprinkling of other districts have joined the AAE, yet Burkhart’s visit is the first one by that organization, he said. The AAE has a 501(c)(3) foundation that can receive tax-deductible donations from Nebraskans who wish to support its efforts to launch an association here.

Burkhart said unionization is neither necessary nor consistent with the teaching profession, although it may be right for Third World countries where underpayment and job conditions might be problems. But in the United States, he said, having unionized teachers just doesn’t make sense.

The AAE promotes itself as a professional organization, not a union, similar to the occupational associations of doctors, lawyers and accountants. “The big difference is, we want to work with school boards and administrations, not against them,” Burkhart said. “We also put children first.”

Here’s what he wants Nebraska teachers to know:

-- A teacher does not HAVE to belong to the NEA or its local or state organization in order to have a teaching job. Nebraska is a Right-to-Work state. You still receive your health insurance and pension if you quit the NEA. However, the locals of the NEA are the only ones that can do collective bargaining, so you can’t do your own job negotiations or get more pay even if you disassociate yourself from the union. But if you do, at least your union dues won’t be bankrolling the other things they do that you don’t like.

-- The AAE is requesting permission from a number of Nebraska school districts to recruit new members at the start of the school year, the way the NEA does. Access is more likely to be granted if local voters ask for it, Burkhart said. You can help that process by sending a letter to your local superintendent encouraging an invitation for Burkhart (
BrianBurkhart@aaeteachers.org, (703) 739-2100 or toll free (800) 704-7799. Please send him a copy if you take this step.

-- If you’re already a union member, you can join the AAE, too.

-- If you want to drop out of the union in favor of AAE, you can, but there’s usually a brief “union drop period” defined in the collective bargaining agreement or school board policy manual. You have to quit, formally, during that time period or be liable for union dues. The AAE or the union local can tell you when the drop period is; it may be just two weeks at the start of the school year.

-- To drop out, you can send a certified letter to your union president and the district employee designated by your school board, usually a payroll manager or human resources director, stating that you are resigning. It must be received during the drop period. The AAE has a sample letter you can use. Payroll deductions of union dues should cease.

-- Classroom liability insurance is available at any time through the AAE, (800) 704-7799.

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