Three Cheers for NEA — Ra Ra RA

UA Takes Its First Seat at NEA Convention

By Ben Pollock, Local 965 secretary

This report first was published in the July 2022 newsletter of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965.

Lots of us this summer have had to consider both mass shootings and reproductive rights. I ended up diving headfirst into both over July 4 in Chicago.

When the Local 965 officers asked for volunteers this spring to represent the union at the annual National Education Association convention, I expected serious intensity and not enough free time (as that’s how conferences usually go) but not four 12-hour days of debates and electronic votes among nearly 6,000 colleagues.

Whew.

Nor did I expect the honor of being the first University of Arkansas representative and the first higher-education delegate for the whole state at the NEA Representative Assembly, the convention’s official name.

Gun violence topped the July 3-6 agenda even before the Fourth of July mass shooting in suburban Highland Park — 30 miles from the gathering. RA delegates were told not to leave the McCormick Place hall in the hours the suspect was at large.

The first resolution, including a budget to fund it, begins:

“The NEA shall issue a National Call to Action to ensure that all students, educators, schools, campuses and communities are safe from gun violence.”

The measure, passed overwhelmingly, authorizes nearly a half-million union dollars to execute the call’s seven points, which are detailed along with the other approved New Business Items in the last issue of its daily convention newsletter RA Today (PDF).

Masking and social distancing were enforced at Chicago’s McCormick Place as well as during state caucuses held in delegates’ hotel meeting rooms before the RA convened daily. Covid-19 was such a concern the NEA staff continuously screened at the entrances everyone attending with a mobile phone app that green-lit completed vaccination records and negative, recent test results.

At the first Arkansas caucus July 2, I was elected its secretary. It was like being jury foreman in that no one knew me yet seemed a reasonable choice. I took minutes starting at 6:30 a.m. for the coordinating committee then the caucus at 7:30. We were bused to McCormick Place around 9 a.m., returning after 7 p.m.

While there was token parliamentary opposition to finding ways to promote and lobby about gun controls, a vocal minority made points about abortion, chiefly why is the public educators’ union stepping there and whether a pro-abortion stand is worth some member resignations.

Yet New Business Item 34’s two votes were 74 percent and 76 percent in favor:

“NEA will publicly stand in defense of abortion and reproductive rights and encourage members to participate in activities including rallies and demonstrations, lobbying and political campaigns, educational events, and other actions to support the right to abortion, contraception, and a person’s decision about their health.” The cost for its promotion beyond the already set NEA budget is just $4,500.

The assembly adopted, with minimal opposition, three measures that variously supported expansion of and opposed restrictions to LGBTQ+ rights.

For me, the 2022 RA with some dozen and a half miked lecterns throughout the audience (the hangar-like McCormick felt like the wings of two 747s wouldn’t touch) provided almost surreal observations of real mass democracy in strict parliamentary practice, noisy and orderly, exhausting but riveting. In queue two-plus hours for Secret Service body and bag searches July 5, when Vice President Kamala Harris spoke, became part of the spectacle.

All was comprehensively reported July 7, 2022, in Education Week at “Abortion, Anti-LGBTQ Bills, and Safe Schools: 5 Things to Know From NEA’s Annual Assembly” by Madeline Will, who noted in apparent response to Fox News comments, “This year Education Week was the only news outlet covering the entirety of the assembly.”


Note: Caption for the two photos: Ben Pollock of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 takes the minutes July 3, 2022, (left) of the morning Arkansas caucus meeting July 3, 2022, at Chicago’s Drake Hotel. At right, Pollock listens to debate July 4, 2022, at the NEA Representative Assembly at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention complex. Photos by Kyle Leyenberger, AEA communications director.

Resolution for Bodily Autonomy

The UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 stands in support of women’s bodily autonomy, right to privacy, equality under the law and unfettered reproductive choice. The Supreme Court’s June 24, 2022, decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling has destabilized not just our legal system but the society it governs by demonstrating its frightening, politically motivated disregard for the freedom of an entire class of people.

Local 965 supports full human rights, including abortion access, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the union of University of Arkansas employees at all levels and stations, Local 965 is particularly concerned about health care access for women on campus.

Local 965 calls on the University of Arkansas to take whatever steps possible to protect the reproductive health needs of students, staff and faculty — including but not limited to:

  • Increased availability of contraceptives
  • No-cost birth control pills
  • Insurance coverage for medical travel for procedures not available locally
  • Ensuring Pat Walker Health Center Gyn Clinic continue all current practices on campus, including diagnostics, treatment and counseling

The union opposes laws and policies that restrain campus health care professionals. The union supports UA health care professionals to avoid self-restraint or self-censorship in treating and advising women, due to fear of possible legal action or employment sanctions.


The Local 965 Executive Board approved this resolution 8-0 by email discussion.

Donation Recommendations

Arkansas Abortion Support Network AASN logo

Arkansas Abortion Support Network is “an all-volunteer, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to reduce barriers to abortion access in Arkansas” It uses ActBlue for online donations.

Logo for the Great Plains region of Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood accepts general donations online or you can click on its “Specific Giving” tab to select Arkansas/Great Plains region, with centers in Rogers and Little Rock.

References

View Student Debt Strategies Webinar

Since the May 19, 2022, live-streamed webinar on the NEA/Savi student loan forgiveness program, the Arkansas Education Association has received requests for a recording of the hour.

It was announced at its beginning that this seminar — led by Aaron Warner, an affiliate relations specialist for NEA Member Benefits, and Renee Johnson, AEA UniServ director — would not be taped.

Johnson, however, is sharing a PDF file of the slide presentation that’s being used by Warner and others in the administration of the National Education Association, as well as a video of the program, hosted by Ronny Lau, on the NEA Government Relations team in Washington.

The PowerPoint is “Public Service Loan Forgiveness Reforms and Temporary Waiver” (PDF).

Helping Johnson organize and promote the webinar were UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 and other NEA locals including Fayetteville Education Association, Bentonville Education Association, Springdale Education Association, Rogers Education Association, and smaller AEA chapters such as Huntsville’s and Mountain Home’s.

The NEA program focuses on federal college loans and specifically on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. That plan, which ends in several months, is for any employee of a public organization including workers in any government and some nonprofits. NEA here is helping employees in public education – from K-12 to higher ed and from teachers and professors to support staff.

Local Officers Discuss Student Loan Strategies with NPR Station

Fayetteville public radio station KUAF broadcast a discussion on how the National Education Association is helping members strategize student loan debt.

Pete Hartman, KUAF operations manager and host of its “Community Spotlight” interviewed Local 965 President Bret Schulte and Secretary Ben Pollock for the May 17, 2022, edition of his “Community Spotlight” series.

The 4:44 interview should play on most digital devices.

They were promoting a webinar to be livestreamed 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19. Renee Johnson, UniServ representative for the Arkansas Education Association, will lead the Zoom session for UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 and other NEA locals including Fayetteville Education Association, Bentonville Education Association, Springdale Education Association, Rogers Education Association, and smaller AEA chapters such as Huntsville’s and Mountain Home’s.

The NEA program focuses on federal college loans and specifically on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. That plan, which ends in several months, is for any employee of a public organization including workers in any government and some nonprofits. NEA here is helping employees in public education – from K-12 to higher ed and from teachers and professors to support staff.

All educators in Arkansas are invited to the webinar. Further details are at “Webinar May 19: Drop Your Debt.”

Local 965 President Bret Schulte and 965 Secretary Ben Pollock meet with students at the Aug. 25, 2021, Razorbash information fair on the Fayetteville campus.
Local 965 President Bret Schulte (left) and 965 Secretary Ben Pollock meet with students at the Aug. 25, 2021, Razorbash information fair on the Fayetteville campus.

Webinar May 19: Drop Your Debt

Free Zoom Hour on Federal Loan Forgiveness

5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19, via Zoom

Many public service employees — you bet that includes staff and faculty of public universities and teachers and staff of public schools — are eligible for forgiveness of our federal student loan debts. But there are hoops — it is complicated!

We are hosting a free webinar on a free program of the National Education Association that eases the way through the loan forgiveness process 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19, 2022. You do not need to be an NEA member to livestream the forum. Everyone is welcome!

Renee Johnson, UniServ representative for the Arkansas Education Association, will lead the Zoom session for UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 and other NEA locals including Fayetteville Education Association, Bentonville Education Association, Springdale Education Association, Rogers Education Association, and smaller AEA chapters such as Huntsville’s and Mountain Home’s.

Logs for the National Education Assocation and the Savi company

Easing the burden of student loans — even out-and-out debt forgiveness — is available right now to all of us working in public education.

Leading among NEA member benefits is the NEA Student Debt Navigator neamb.com/Savi, powered by Savi Solutions, which helps members better manage all types of student loans. The chief feature is Savi’s team of financial experts standing by for personal, one-on-one consultations with NEA members.

The ideal option of course is ending one’s debt with loan forgiveness. If you are an educator or other public-service worker repaying a federal student loan, several programs are available, depending on the type of loan and one’s current status. Savi can help with various student loans; many are eligible for refinancing, deferment or consolidation. Besides U of A faculty from tenured professors through instructors, the program is available to staff who are or become 965 members.

Last October, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona modified the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, following an email campaign of tens of thousands of messages from NEA members. (The Trump administraton had denied 98 percent of the applications.) Deadline warning: The Cardona waiver ends Oct. 31, 2022.

The NEA Student Debt Navigator is a subscription program where the first year of service is free to us NEA union members, if they sign up by October 2022. Besides online software including a calculator, the subscription includes electronic form filing, cloud storage for documents, and personal phone or chat assistance from Savi’s debt experts. Savi also shares its tools and advice with NEA members who hold non-federal loans.

Wait: Doesn’t union membership mean monthly dues? Yup, but consider:

Those monthly loan couponsYour money’s worth: NEA, AEA and Local 965
Remaining loan balances in the $$ thousandsAnnual dues: ~$300 from staffers to $615 from tenured profs
How many years remaining to take balance to zeroSavor other NEA benefits — but our real deal: Returning our power back to us!

We’ve gathered other information on the NEA/Savi program at “Student Loan Forgiveness — A New U of A Labor Union Perk” that answers more questions.

We are asking UA employees — especially non-members — to complete this 2-minute survey. The data gathered inform AEA and NEA to further build higher education resources in Arkansas.