I truly wish it hadn’t come to this, but as we previously forecasted, the longer the rift between the Geneva Teacher’s Union and the Board existed, the better the probability of a strike. And sure enough, the Geneva Education Association just served the Board with a notice of intent to strike starting on Tuesday, December 4.
They talked over the weekend and will continue that effort this evening, but if 28 months of deliberations failed to produce any kind of compromise, two scant days of negotiations are the very definition of “a drop in the bucket.” So, now the strike probability sits at 90 to 95 percent, and if it does happen, it won’t be resolved anytime soon.
Of course, a last-minute miracle could still save the teachers from themselves, but those types of happy endings are generally reserved for Hallmark Christmas movies.
Now that we’re at the point of no return, I will place this abject failure to bargain in good faith squarely at the feet of the Union and Geneva teachers. Here’s why:
1. It’s all about messaging
Much like political campaigns – and I’ve successfully managed more than my share – any public sector strike comes down to messaging. And it’s gotta be really good messaging because you’re asking taxpayers to dig a bit deeper to pay higher salaries.
And the GEA has done an horrific job of framing their message, which basically consists of, “We need more money.” Yikes! That will never resonate with the public because we all need more money right now. I’m wondering how many Geneva teachers read the Washington Post column in the Daily Herald this weekend? It noted that a surprising and growing number of U. S. workers are facing perpetually stagnant wages.
So, when a Geneva teacher with a 60 grand base salary writes that she and her fiancé have to take two summer jobs to make ends meet, my immediate reaction was, “Maybe you should spend a little less money.”
And I’m sure I’m not nearly the only Genevan to experience that reflexive response.
2. Propaganda and censorship are really bad ideas
We’ve covered this before. When the GEA, teachers, and their supporters posted semi-truths and outright falsehoods on various Facebook pages, and then they turned off the comments on those posts, that pretty much dissolved any sympathy I might have had for the GEA’s cause.
Then it got worse!
Those very same folks figured out that, if enough people complain about a post, Facebook has an algorithm that automatically deletes it. So, any statement that was the least bit anti-strike got removed faster than Jim Acosta from a Trump press conference.
My stuff stays up because I know how to circumvent that process. But that ridiculous censorship strategy accomplishes only two things. It aggravates the crap out of Genevans who want to be heard – and they immediately tell their friends. And it makes teachers believe they have far more public support than they actually do, which will ultimately backfire.
3. Then there’s the equivalency argument
Equivalency arguments are always a poor choice because they’re so easily refuted.
In the GEA’s latest online missive, they claim D304 must bring teachers’ salaries in line with neighboring districts. But all that does is give me license to say that Geneva should lower property taxes to come in line with neighboring municipalities – especially considering our amazing retail base.
And where do most of our property taxes go?
Despite those absurd bi-annual payments, Genevans wouldn’t notice a bit of difference if they moved to St. Charles, Batavia, South Elgin, North Aurora, Sugar Grove or a number of other Kane County cities.
4. Would we really lose teachers in the long run?
No! Despite the GEA’s contention to the contrary, if what they said were true, St. Peter – and all local parochial schools – wouldn’t be able to hire a single educator for the $10 to $20,000 less a year they pay than public schools do.
But they attract plenty of teachers who understand the tradeoff. They might make less at a Catholic school, but by virtue of parents paying tuition on top of property taxes, they know they’ll have far more support than their public school counterparts.
Correspondingly, since Geneva parents embrace education in general, we’re a sought-after school district despite the small salary differential. The truth is, most Geneva teachers wouldn’t last a week in East Aurora, the district where my wife teaches.
Put more simply, the benefits of teaching in Geneva go well beyond salary.
5. Public sentiment is NOT behind the GEA
This terrifying misconception lies at the at the heart of the impending strike. Through censorship and a core group of rabid supporters, the GEA has convinced the rank and file that Genevans are 100 percent behind them when nothing could be further from the truth.
We’ve already discussed how the censorship factor plays into that false reality, but that’s not nearly the worst of it.
Any campaign manager worth their salt implicitly understands this phenomenon. When a candidate knocks on a voter’s front door, they will tell them want they want to hear just to be polite, or to get rid of them as soon as possible.
Back when I worked for the Courier-News, a friend running for the 22nd State Senate District told me that every front door told him they hated the incumbent and they’d definitely vote for him. I tried to explain that, if he took their word for it and stopped effectively campaigning, he’d end up with just 33 percent of the vote.
The candidate laughed in my face.
But when he got only 34 percent of ballots cast, he called the next day to say I was the only one with the nerve to tell him the truth.
Geneva teachers! What the bleep do you think a Geneva homeowner is gonna do when approached by one of your compatriots asking to put a sign on their front lawn – especially if the house contains school-aged children?
Do you really think they’ll say “no” and risk the repercussions going forward? Please don’t mistake fear for support. And mistaking a very vocal minority of no more than 300 for the full backing of 22,000 Genevans would be an even bigger error in judgement.
I received a number of private messages and emails after parts one through three of this series, and they were virtually unanimous. “We want to see the teachers get something, but if they strike, all bets are off.”
Please consider that.
6. The union has negotiated in bad faith – not the board
We’ve previously covered this second most important factor in the negotiations breakdown.
When the union agreed to be part of a committee tasked with discussing the untenable teacher’s salary structure back in the 2015 contract, that presumed change. Why would anyone need to talk about something that’s going to stay the same?
But after 28 long months of talks, even after the School Board recently brought step and lane back into the equation, the Union immediately filed an intent to strike because they want it all to stay just the way it is!
And the GEA makes that very clear in their most recent online letter. That either belies an utter immaturity, or the union lied! They clearly had no intention of negotiating in good faith. If I were on the school board, you bet I’d dig in on this one.
8. Baseless attacks on the School Board
What really bothers me is how that vocal minority, the Union, and the hard-line teachers have insisted on denigrating the Board in public. On what planet does anyone think that makes a bad situation better?
I’m not saying the Board is perfect. Three of them have served way too long and couple of them have never impressed me. But I will say this iteration of the Geneva School Board has done a phenomenal job of balancing some almost impossibly conflicting interests.
And if you recall, four of them served during the Great Recession, when the Board insisted on honoring the current contract at a time when every other district was renegotiating teachers’ salaries downward.
So much for gratitude!
But as is so often the case these days, the hardliners have taken over the debate. I’ve heard that many D304 teachers believe the Union should’ve taken the Board’s last offer, so it will be interesting to see just how firm their resolve really is.
Meanwhile, if the Geneva School Board asked for my advice, here’s what I’d tell them. There are times when you have to let the other side hang themselves, and this is one of those times. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way.
When I was communications and messaging strategist for Richard Irvin’s Aurora mayoral campaign, it was difficult to convince him our best message was to let opposing candidate Linda Chapa LaVia simply talk.
I explained that her message was so bad, it was our best message. Since Richard is a very smart man, he agreed not to attack her, contradict her, or respond to her in any way. And Chapa LaVia, who thought she was a sure thing, didn’t even make it through the primary.
In that same vein, the only way Geneva teachers and their union are going to learn you have to negotiate in good faith, most teachers are happy with D304, and public sentiment is not on their side, is to hold your eminently reasonable ground and let them strike.
Not only will it force them back to reality, but they won’t recover from that absurdly bad decision for at least a decade, putting the Board at a huge contract negotiation advantage going forward.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 60 years on this planet, it’s that you can’t save people from themselves, so please don’t try!