The certified teaching staff in Mansfield, WA, has taken the bold step to declare independence from the Washington Education Association (WEA) by replacing the Mansfield Teacher Association (MTA), a local affiliate of the WEA, with a new local teacher organization that has no ties to the WEA.
Mansfield’s new teacher association, Mansfield Professional Educators (MPE), received its certificate of incorporation from Washington State on October 10. The Mansfield school board recognized MPE as the new bargaining unit at its October 27 meeting giving MPE the authority to negotiate wages and working conditions on behalf of the district’s twelve certified staff. Officers in the new professional association include Junior-Senior High School math and business teacher Ric Bayless, President; 3rd-4th grade teacher Stacy Lillquist, President Elect; Jamey Jo Steele, Junior-Senior High School industrial arts teacher, Secretary; and 5th-6th grade teacher Kelly Gilpin, Treasurer.
Prior to the establishment of MPE, only two teachers belonged to the MTA, yet it controlled contract negotiations for the entire certified staff. Because MTA had been unable to attract the support of most of Mansfield’s teachers, a few teachers became interested in exploring the action St. John & Waterville teachers took to form a “local only” teacher association. Bayless, a leader in the effort noted, “It was empowering to learn that St. John & Waterville teachers successfully exercised their rights to form a teacher representation association that better met their needs and community values. We wanted to do the same.”
The effort to establish a local organization was initiated with an invitation to Cindy Omlin, Executive Director of Northwest Professional Educators (NWPE), a nonunion, nonpartisan professional association serving educators in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.
Mansfield teachers met with Omlin in September 2013 to learn about the process to establish a WEA-free bargaining association. Most teachers joined NWPE for non-bargaining benefits, including liability insurance and legal support.
Bayless, a longtime NWPE member who helped organize the meeting, commented on the advantages. “All certified staff can now feel free to join our local association. Membership dues will be affordable ($10 per month), will stay local, and will not be funneled into political organizations and political causes with which many of our teachers object. That wasn’t possible when MTA was our bargaining representative.”
MTA dues cost Mansfield teachers over $70 per month with most of that going to the WEA and NEA which subsequently uses a large portion of the dues for purposes unrelated to representation, including funding political organizations and advancing various controversial social and political issues which are often at odds with the individual members.
Deena Jenkins, kindergarten teacher concurred with Bayless. “With our new association and the partnering of our members with NWPE, teachers will have more choices and they can save hundreds of dollars a year and still have liability and legal protection. This partnership ensures teachers have a voice in local issues while also obtaining the security and peace of mind that they will be protected and represented in case a crisis or concern arises.” The cost of NWPE membership is $16.50 a month.
Mansfield teachers believe the new representation model will usher in a new era of collaboration and professionalism. “We want MPE to be a strong local association that can help build a school climate where administration, teachers, staff, and board members work together to mutually advance the interests of students and the professionalism of educators” notes Treasurer and NWPE member Kelly Gilpin. “The MTA’s affiliation with the WEA-NEA was deterring us from reaching our goals — partly because its political agendas which are often not compatible with our local community and partly because of the high costs associated with WEA-NEA membership.”
Mansfield teachers have become the fourth Washington state school staff, following Sprague, St. John, and Waterville, to implement the “local only” representation model. “This model is an effective and cost-saving method of teacher representation that meets the needs, beliefs, and budgets of Mansfield’s educators,” states Omlin. “We were pleased to assist their efforts to achieve independence. Teachers have the right to make their own decisions regarding their representation. They just need to know their options.”
This action by Mansfield teachers is the latest in a nationwide movement of teachers away from big labor union affiliation toward a more self-governed approach when it comes to teacher representation and bargaining. Teachers in Washington, California, Illinois, and Iowa, among others, have all chosen either self-representation or local union representation over membership in the state and national unions.