Quick Hits – Anatomy of a Strike – Part Four

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.

Teachers Strike

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!

18 thoughts on “Quick Hits – Anatomy of a Strike – Part Four

  1. Question is if the Board will stick to it’s guns and tell the union, No. Taxpayers cannot afford any more. Administrators need to get their salaries cut also.

    If Oswego school district was able to cut millions, that just tells me that they have been wasting millions the whole time. That’s one reason a referendum for sales tax was not passed.

    Geneva school district, you can cut too. Go find it.

  2. I only know what I read in paper so it is not that much and I am old and don’t have Facebook. So how far apart are they and what is biggest hold up? I know from experience that both sides spin and figures don’t lie but liers figure. I think maybe hope that sometime in middle of night it will be resolved and then spin begins and taxes go up. As was said above Board should start on all the administrative personnel and Superintendents assistant superintendents special assistant superintendents

  3. Jeff, you should offer your services to be the arbitrator. I’m 100% with you on this.

  4. As a Geneva resident and a mother with kids in this school district, I agree with everything Jeff writes here. The Board has been more than fair. Personally I don’t even like the step/lane salary structure. The teachers want to be treated like their corporate counterparts? Then get paid like them. The teachers have never taken a pay cut. Cut. Sure, they didn’t get a raise for a couple years I think, but never a cut. Many corporate employees had their pay cut. Also, it is well known that new teachers flock to this district. The GHS choir director opening had numerous applicants to choose from. And the new director is fantastic. I doubt anyone would say otherwise.
    If they strike and don’t just take this last offer from the board, they can forget about support from me ever again. And to be clear, I’m a bleeding heart liberal. Haven’t voted for a Republican since before 2008. (And probably never will again.)

    Jeff, do you think it’s helpful to write the Board and let them know how I feel as a member of the community and taxpayer?

  5. Jeff
    Since we have had several disagreements over the years, not sure that you will post this but I hope you do.
    I agree with you 150% on all your points. The Geneva School Board has treated teachers extremely well for many many years. This problem has been brewing for at least 10 years and the Board appears to have finally drawn a line in the sand. I attended the meeting at the Middle School several weeks ago and was appalled at the way the Board was treated. The union has tried to bully the board and I believe it has only made the Board stronger. If residents really understood the entire contract including all the various benefits and compensation they would be outraged. Because you oppose the union’s position doesn’t mean you don’t love teachers. It means that you understand reality. One of the problems that the board has made is taking the maximum tax levy every year to pay down the debt. They did this because the $20 million a year payments were staring them in the face. This inflated the various funds including the education fund. Money was transferred from the fund for debt payments. Now the teachers believe the debt has been reduced and that funding should be spent on their salaries. Most residents don’t know the debt is still more than $120 million.
    Over the last 5 years many Geneva homeowners, including my wife and I, have left Geneva. A major part of those decisions were property taxes. Additional tax increases will continue this trend. Geneva is a great place to live but it isn’t the only place!

  6. Jeff—don’t often agree with you but you are absolutely positively right on every single point in this article. I’ve tried to make some of the same points and have been accused of hating teachers and not understanding teaching. Funny uh, since I spent over 20 years in a classroom teaching every level from elementary through college. The GEA is flat out wrong and as a taxpayer I am sick and tired of being used like a piggy bank.

    • Angela,

      No! We rarely agree, but we certainly do on this one! And I hope the teachers note that, between here and Facebook, the responses to this piece have been 95 percent positive.

      • Unfortunately the lazy reporters at local newspapers and Chicago news outlets don’t do the research to tell the full story about the financial situation we are in. Demonizing anyone who dares to question the teachers continues. The union and their minions continue to tell people there will be no effect on taxpayers—an obvious falsity which is beyond despicable. The children are used as pawns to extort more and more and more from us all. I watch property values and feel like we’re being squeezed out of our home. And they wonder why so many people flee to low tax states!

      • Angela, Don’t get me started on today’s reporters. Yikes!

  7. The optics of this strike will haunt the union. The video on local news of the teachers chanting while drinking Starbuck’s, and the union head smirking into the camera just emphasize the pure greed driving this strike. After 20+ years in Geneva and my property tax bill tripling, I’m done. Now the problem is selling for anywhere near what I bought for. I imagine I won’t be the only one.

  8. So glad to have stumbled on this page. After seeing so many “I ‘heart’ Geneva Teachers” signs, I feared we were in the minority. We want to know where to get “I ‘heart’ Geneva Taxpayers” signs!

    I posted this on a Chronicle FB article but nobody had any reply. Does anyone know how many of the teachers/union members actually live in Geneva and pay real estate taxes to help fund this in the future? I think it’s easier to ask strangers for money than your neighbors & my quick research makes me think the main negotiators do not live in town and all are making over $100k. The 3 people who came to our door didn’t know the answer and none of them are Geneva residents. While it’s not a requirement, I do believe it changes the dynamic of what you are willing to demand.

    Having children who have always gone to private school yet paying taxes in Geneva for 20+ years, the demands & sense of entitlement is getting old. If things were so bad, we wouldn’t have a retention rate of over 90%! So glad my kids aren’t affected by this! School Board, I already sent you an email but if you see this, stay strong! Don’t cave! You have done a good job being stewards of our hard-earned tax dollars. We support you!!

    • I sent $7000 to D304 last year. We are retired and are on a fixed income. When is enough enough? The sense of entitlement from teachers here has roiled me for some time but this strike is despicable. The 304 BOE offer was very good and to respond by striking shows how foolish members of the union really are.

      • I sent more than that. Though you and I are both nuts, I’m not willing to pay any more either. And I refuse to stand silent while Geneva senior citizens are forced out of their homes

  9. Question to Jeff or anyone who has commented, one of the main sticking points for the Union is the step and lane. Wasn’t the step and/or lane removed in the 2012 contract? Removing or reducing step and lane seems to be the trend in other districts, so is this strike about more than just Geneva but the entire IL Teachers Union?

    We moved out of Geneva this past summer and I was happy to make my last IL Property tax payment at closing. I too was paying over $10k and my house barely appreciated in the 15 years we owned it. That is after many upgrades and improvements. Sadly I think that trend will only get worse.

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