The average citizen in Delaware has always known teachers belong to a union but how exactly does this work? What is the flow or hierarchy involved? Teachers, when hired at a local school district or charter school (if that charter already belong to a union, most don’t), are asked if they want to join the teachers union. It is not just teachers who belong to the union but also many support staff in schools. This can include custodians, bus drivers, food service workers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries. The main role of the union is to advocate for teachers and staff members. So you have all these teachers paying union dues to be a part of the union. Most teachers join because it offers them protections.
Each school building within the district, depending on the number of teachers, has a given number of building reps. Those buildings are grouped into what are known as areas or district union leadership team (depending on the size of the district) and there is an assigned area director (if applicable). The district union leadership team is elected by the members in the district. Each district union has an executive board and the area directors are on that executive board. Above them, in each district, are positions of Secretary, Treasurer, Vice-President and President of that local education agency. This can vary to some degree by district though and isn’t necessarily the same set up. But there is usually some type of power structure.
So, as examples, there are the RCEA (Red Clay Education Association), CEA (Christina Education Association), and to make things more confusing, another CEA (Capital Educators Association). Each district in Delaware has their own local education association.
In-between the local and state education associations is what is called a Uniserv Director. They are usually assigned to several districts. They are employed by the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA). They are the point person between the local and state associations. They will handle grievances on many occasions. If a situation advances further than that, DSEA has an in-house attorney that will step in or outside counsel if the need arises.
At the state level is DSEA. They handle state wide issues. They have their own staff at their offices in Dover but also have their own hieirarchy of a Treasurer, Vice-President and President. The current President is Stephanie Ingram. Past Presidents since the creation of this blog in 2014 have been Mike Matthews and Frederika Jenner. DSEA also has an executive board made up of various teachers from the districts, usually those higher up in the chain at the local education associations.
While DSEA frequently gets a label of being a lobbyist group behind the scenes many other activities occur. They attend several meetings at the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and frequently visit Legislative Hall and push for legislation that will benefit their membership and public education. Chances are pretty good that if there is legislation concerning education someone from DSEA will be involved in some way whether they support the bill or not. They look at the laws for teachers, up to and including regulations. The UniServ directors play a very important role as they help negotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreements between staff and the districts. Others deal with professional development and benefits which any educator will tell you is essential to them being able to do their jobs.
At the national level is the NEA, which stands for National Education Association.
So if a teacher has an issue at a building, they would contact their building rep. Further escalation would go to the Area Director. Things could filter up to the local education association Executive Board, the district Uniserv rep, DSEA, and then NEA, if warranted. But usually, if a teacher needs protection, the UniServ Director would represent them if warranted. Sometimes things may not advance very far and the grievance can be worked out. If it can’t, if it is an employment issue, that is handled by the in-house attorney at DSEA or outside counsel if it is outside the scope of employment.
So if a teacher has an issue at a building, they would contact their building rep. Further escalation would go to the Area Director. Things could filter up to the local education association Executive Board, the district Uniserv rep, DSEA, and then NEA, if warranted. But usually, if a teacher needs protection, the local education association’s attorney would represent them if warranted. Sometimes things may not advance very far and the grievance can be worked out.
In Delaware, it is illegal for the teachers union to strike, under any circumstances. If this were not a law I expect there would have been several strikes over the past few decades. Why there has never been legislation making this legal is beyond me but I digress.
The teachers union can impact political issues with great significance in Delaware. They will endorse candidates for statewide office, State Representatives, and State Senators. The local education associations can endorse candidates for a local school board which can sometimes sway those elections.
Just a primer on what the hierarchy is in the Delaware teachers union!
Knowing teachers and union leaders in this state like I do I have no doubt if I got ANYTHING wrong with this they will let me know VERY FAST. Thank you to those who helped me connect the dots on this!
Updated, as predicted, 11:11pm (make a wish): I received the following email from Shelley Meadowcraft with DSEA which I am sharing:
Updated, 1:24pm, 1/29/2021: I have changed quite a bit of this article based on the excellent email I received from Shelley Meadowcraft who I thank for her very useful information.
From: Meadowcroft, Shelley [DE] <firstname.lastname@example.org>To: Kevino3670@yahoo.com <email@example.com>Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2021, 09:24:25 PM ESTSubject: DSEA corrections
I don’t think that we’ve met – but I’m Shelley Meadowcroft and I’m the PR person for DSEA. Your post was shared with me, and since you invited corrections at the end I thought I’d just add a few things 😉
First – you are definitely leaving out a big chunk of our membership when you call us the “teacher’s union.” We also represent the a large portion of the education support staff in our public schools (custodians, bus drivers, food service workers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries). Not all of these positions are organized in every district. Some support categories have their own locals (Christina secretaries assoc, Christina paras assoc, Christina food service workers association, and so on) and some are included in what we call a unified education association that has everyone represented in the district in one local (Caesar Rodney EA, Lake Forest EA, to name a few).
A few other things were off too. Capital EA stands for Capital Educator’s Association which is just a little off from the other EA names.
There are no local attorneys, they have the UniServ represent them unless they need an attorney and then it may be DSEA’s GC or a private attorney if the need for an attorney isn’t about employment issues.
The example of a breakdown in local hierarchy is very rare and only at large locals like Christina EA. Otherwise the building reps all work under the local’s exec board.
And in my opinion, to say that DSEA is just a lobbying group diminishes the work of the UniServ Directors and the work of our Instructional Advocacy dept to name a few. The UDs help the locals with the bargaining of their contracts, liaison between the local and the districts and handle many grievances at the local level at once. Ask any exec board member of a local association, and they will tell you how integral their UD is to their association. Or, better yet, ask any member who has had an issue with their administration, they will tell you how integral their UD is to them as an educator.
Our IA dept plans all of the professional development for our members which counts for most of the snow or clock hours turned into districts. They work hard to supply our members with relevant, effective, and helpful professional development, all free with membership. They train our members on a weekly basis and have put together an amazing cadre of educators who can also go out and train many groups at once. On top of PD they work directly with DOE to make changes to policies that affect educators.
We also have a great member benefits team, and many other staff members who work to support our members up and down the state daily. Yes, at the state level legislation is very important and is often what makes the news – but that is a very small portion of our staff who do so much more for the membership than just legislation.
Anyway, that’s just my two cents. I think it’s hard to see all of that when you aren’t a member because you don’t get the emails that explain each step of what is going on within the union. I just thought I would reach out. If you ever have any questions about DSEA I amalways happy to help answer what I can. I know you have a better relationship with many members, but thought I should introduce myself too.
Shelley Meadowcroft DSEA Director of Public Relations and Communications