May 6, 2014

Modesto Teachers Association members vote on split from state union

Modesto Teachers Association members streamed into the Davis High School little theater, casting their votes to stay with their state affiliate or go it alone. Results are expected to be released Wednesday afternoon.

Modesto Teachers Association members streamed into the Davis High School little theater, casting their votes to stay with their state affiliate or go it alone. The vote proceeded through the afternoon Tuesday, despite California Teachers Association efforts to seize the local chapter’s assets and block the balloting.

“We’re very pleased with the turnout so far. It’s been a very steady flow since we started,” said MTA President Doug Burton, who was manning the tables along with other union officers to check in voters. Burton said the results will be announced this afternoon.

With less than three weeks left in the school year, the controversy seems sure to follow the faculty home for the summer. Already, legal actions are in play and more are threatened.

The state association voted Monday to place MTA under trusteeship, saying the disaffiliation would not be valid unless approved by a two-thirds vote of the membership. MTA had advertised the decision as requiring a simple majority of votes cast to separate from the state union.

In a dramatic move Monday, California Teachers Association trustees attempted to seize MTA bank accounts and take over its Coffee Road office. Trustee Bill McMurray said he, a second trustee, two unarmed guards, a lawyer, a locksmith, a computer tech and an MTA member went to the office, but MTA staff and elected officers refused to leave.

Modesto police Lt. Dave Van Diemen said officers arrived on the scene shortly after 5 p.m. and all parties left voluntarily. “We recognized it was a civil matter,” Van Diemen said. With no court papers available from either side, officers simply cleared and secured the office, he said.

The state association fared no better at the banks, McMurray said. “From the point of view of the CTA and the legal aspect of it, the trusteeship is in place,” he said, conceding the lack of control over MTA assets “throws a slight monkey wrench in it.”

CTA representatives will be in Modesto this morning, discussing what to do next. “I do know the legal folks will be doing their things,” McMurray said.

MTA attorney Rafael Ruano said the chapter will be mulling its legal options after Monday’s attempts to shut it down. “CTA has no right to take MTA over,” he said.

Campaigning leading up to Tuesday’s election included a number of MTA missives – placed in teacher mailboxes – supporting the split. Those against breaking away turned to a Facebook campaign after Modesto City Schools refused to allow state union materials sent through district email or mailboxes.

On April 30, a Public Employees Retirement Board issued a complaint saying Modesto City Schools may have overstepped in blocking the California Teachers Association from communicating with its members.

MTA leadership proposed the split after the state organization said Modesto violated the rules of a $280,000 staffing grant. MTA pays the school district to pay its executive director, Megan Gowans. To keep the grant, it would have to pay staffers directly. The switch would cost former teacher Gowans, 58, the employment rights and retirement credit she gets through the district.

Without the subsidy, an MTA flier says, dues would rise $180. If it splits away, Modesto could keep the large chunk of dues it sends to state and national affiliates and, the flier says, dues could be lowered by $347.

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