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Teacher Union Wordsmiths

Mike Antonucci, Intercepts

I went over the press releases and statements on the Vergara decision from the various teachers’ unions and have drawn a few inferences about their communications strategy going forward. The language used – and omitted – appears to be highly crafted, polled and focus-grouped.

The NEA press release and statement from president Dennis Van Roekel includes in the first two sentences the words “multimillionaire,” “ultra-rich,” “deep-pocketed,” “corporate” (twice), “special interests,” and “privatizing.”

Missing from the statement are the words “seniority” or “tenure” (or its stand-in, “due process”). Instead there are two references to “experience,” which signals the angle NEA will probably take.

AFT president Randi Weingarten had a different emphasis. She mentioned “due process” and “teacher protections,” but also omitted “tenure” and “seniority.”

She did not use “corporate” at all and “wealthy” only once, but money was in her message. She referenced “budget crises,” “full and fair funding,” “funding inequities” and “high poverty.”

The California Teachers Association referred to “professional rights,” “these laws” and “challenged statutes” in lieu of “tenure” and “experience” in lieu of “seniority.” CTA focused on the conduct of the trial itself, though it also mentioned “millionaire” and “corporate.”

The California Federation of Teachers emphasized “taking away rights from teachers.” CFT followed Weingarten’s lead in “underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality,” but mirrored NEA in using “experience.” CFT did mention “due process,” but did not use “seniority” or “tenure.”

The outlier is the Chicago Teachers Union and its president, Karen Lewis. CTU used “tenure” prominently in its press release and spent a lot of space defending it. Much of the statement deals with the “calculated deprivation of resources.” Seniority is not mentioned.

My view of all this is that the unions will, as they have in the past, score well with the general public when attacking evil corporate puppetmasters. But judging from the media reports of the Vergara ruling – almost all of which prominently use “seniority” and “tenure” – they will have an uphill battle altering the public perception of protecting bad teachers.

Regardless of merits, in communications whichever side has to do the explaining is the side that loses. The legal process will be long and drawn-out. The PR process will be immediate and unrelenting.