The Las Vegas Sun reports that a libertarian think tank sent emails to 12,000 teachers encouraging them to drop their union membership, which inflamed tense relations between the Clark County School District and the local teachers union.
The issue began when the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) launched a campaign to inform teachers of their right to opt out of the union between July 1 and July 15. NPRI listed on its website five reasons why teachers should drop the union, and NPRI representatives came to a school board meeting to speak and distribute pre-written opt-out letters and stamped envelopes.
Union officials representing the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) slammed NPRI’s campaign and accused district officials of condoning the initiative. However, district officials denied encouraging teachers to terminate their union memberships.
NPRI’s email bulletin was sent through the district’s email system, Interact, which contains more than 40,000 employee email addresses. The unsolicited email blast angered several teachers, who accused the district of providing their work email addresses to NPRI.
However, the school district did not disseminate a list of teacher emails, said spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson. District officials do not know how NPRI was able to gain access to teachers’ work email addresses. Outside groups — such as vendors and non-union political groups — are not privy to this email database, Fulkerson said.
Groups such as NPRI and education vendors have requested this email database citing public record laws, but Clark County has been reluctant in previous years to release this information, Fulkerson said. “It’s our position that we will not provide a roster of emails as a public record,” she said, adding that “emailgate” was still under investigation. However, many teachers post their work email addresses on school websites and directories. District officials think that NPRI scanned school websites and collected teachers’ email addresses using a computer program, she said.
NPRI Communications Director Victor Joecks did not say how his group accessed the district’s database. “We have our sources,” Joecks said. “CCSD did not give it to me.” Because public school teachers are state employees, their work email addresses are public record and should be made public for groups like NPRI to send bulletins to, Joecks said. Regardless, he was adamant NPRI’s intent with its email was solely to inform teachers of the two-week window of time they are contractually able to withdraw from the union. Any teacher who wishes to unsubscribe from NPRI’s email listserv may do so by clicking on the “unsubscribe” link on the bottom of the email, he added.
“It’s very important for teachers to know about their rights when it comes to their CCEA membership,” Joecks said. “We’re not interested in spamming people.”
Still, union officials saw NPRI’s email blast as a direct attack on the union. CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita also pointed fingers at the school district, which he says has intensified the discord between them by circulating NPRI literature among administrators. NPRI’s email blast was the first to directly target teachers, he said.
The union is now conducting its own investigation to see how NPRI was able to get teacher emails, Vellardita said. Pending the results of this investigation, the union may file an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the school district, he said.
“This administration is essentially anti-union and anti-teacher,” Vellardita said. “Contrary to what the superintendent and the school board says, actions speak louder than words.”
Source: The Las Vegas Sun, 7/3/12, By Paul Takahashi