This is What Solidarity Looks Like
In January 2010, the Springboro community elected a resident to the school board whose campaign included many buzz words and phrases -work within budgetary means, fiscal conservative, and taxpayer control. She garnered enough votes to get a seat on the board and immediately announced that her goal was to "break the teachers'” union, first in Springboro and then across the state."
That statement was a wakeup call for the Springboro Education Association (SEA) who quickly realized the need to begin organizing - both internally and externally. By March 2013, the SEA's focus included three distinct, but related, groups: the SEA membership, community groups and parents.
Internally, the SEA began organizing its membership in a fairly typical fashion. Building representatives were trained and mobilized to disburse information via regularly scheduled newsletters, encouraging members to attend board meetings, and establishing a home-to-home e-mail system. Because Senate Bill 5 was solely sponsored by a senator who resided in Springboro, the SEA membership was also visible during the campaign to reverse SB5. SEA sponsored petition circulator training and encouraged members to collect signatures and participate in the campaign. SEA created its own private Facebook group page and began communicating and discussing both Springboro issues and statewide issues impacting education.
But by the November 2011 school board election in which two (2) additional "fiscally conservative" candidates won seats, SEA knew it was time to step it up, especially since negotiations were to commence in March 2013. The school board was freely stating its plans to move to a merit pay system, bring health insurance in line with the private sector and have teachers work in the same rigorous manner as others in the community.
In September 2012, a Bargaining Support Team was established with multiple representatives from each building. This team met on a regular basis and developed activities for the members in an effort to build and show unity. Sessions with small focus groups were held where contract issues were discussed and explored. Teachers organized to wear red on Wednesdays, encouraging and reminding peers via 10-minute meetings and phone trees that 100% participation was the goal. By the Spring, only red was worn by Springboro teachers. The "SEA News" bi-weekly newsletter was sent out to members on distinctive orange paper that contained multiple topics ranging from "rumor control" and "know your rights", to "bargaining news" and a "that's what solidarity looks like" section.
Because the Board placed its initial proposal and SEA's proposal on the district website (claiming that the documents were public record), a power point presentation was taken by SEA officers and the LRC to each building, explaining exactly what the Board's proposal would mean to their working conditions and career. This allowed the SEA leadership to control rumors and focus members on the facts. It was at this early point in negotiations that it was suggested the members begin to consider what to do with their personal belongings in their classrooms.
At the conclusion of the third negotiation session, the SEA members along with support staff, parents and other OEA members, gathered outside the Board office to demonstrate support. This garnered media attention and raised community awareness. At the last negotiation session prior to the end of the school year, the SEA membership gathered again and a sea of red walked across campus to attend a general membership meeting. Another power point was presented to provide an update on negotiations, but the informed and mobilized membership quickly turned the meeting to action. A motion was passed to provide the SEA negotiations team with the authority to issue a strike notice.
Even though dates for negotiations were scheduled, the SEA members went above and beyond, and literally emptied their classrooms of their personal belongings. The district demanded their keys as full, teacher-rented, u-hauls pulled out of the parking lots.
While the members were gaining strength, the SEA leadership was developing relationships with community groups and organizations. This began with SB5 as SEA partnered with the local firefighters, police officers, and other unions. The SEA was an active supporter of a community fire levy on the ballot in May 2013. SEA members wore "yes on fire levy" shirts, while firefighters attended SEA bargaining rallies. Community alliances were formed and public union leaders continue to communicate and support one another.
The final group, which was a major integral part in SEA's organizing efforts, was the parents. In the past, there have been several groups that have organized themselves in an effort to have a positive impact with the school board and the administration. Many of these groups centered around one of the many levy efforts and quickly lost steam, as levy after levy failed. However, in January a small group of parents met out of their growing concern for what appeared to be a political agenda of the current board. Efforts to begin a charter school in the district, arm teachers with concealed weapons, add creationism to the curriculum and teach the constitution from a religious perspective bothered the parents. Not to mention the fact that the board had been speaking about a strike by its teachers at least 12 months prior to the start of negotiations.
The parents call themselves SURE, Springboro United for Responsible Education...and quickly jumped into action. A Facebook page and website was activated with the promise to disseminate facts. SEA was helpful in providing SURE with necessary research information (such as how to access the Ohio Revised Code), comparable data, and a contact person to provide assistance. SURE attended Board meetings and challenged the Board members.
SURE was also visible in supporting its teachers. They held several "show red for Ed" days and draped the community with red ribbons on mailboxes, poles, car antennas, etc. Magnets were made saying "I support Springboro teachers and staff" and displayed on cars throughout the community. Breakfast and lunches were provided to the SEA negotiations team by the parents. And their ongoing effort is to unseat this Board in November with a slate of pro-education candidates.
The end result is that, despite the Board's best efforts to force a strike, the SEA was able to obtain a settlement with a two-year agreement. A 2% salary increase is provided in each year of the contract and all rights/working conditions were fully protected. During the course of all this, sixty-two (62) teachers elected to retire or resign (out of 330) leaving a gaping hole in the membership. However, SEA ended the 2012-13 school year with 100% membership and, with the new year membership drive just concluded, will continue with 100% membership as new members are welcomed. SEA was never broken and remains strong and united, because that's what solidarity looks like!
Submitted by: Scott Maney, Springboro Education Association President, and Marla Bell, OEA/LRC