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A faction of N.C. Association of Educators wants to veer farther left, embrace activism

Mark Jewell, N.C. Association of Educators president, led  teachers during the May 2018 walkout in Raleigh. (Photo by Don Carrington).
Mark Jewell, N.C. Association of Educators president, led teachers during the May 2018 walkout in Raleigh. (Photo by Don Carrington).

A wing of the N.C. Association of Educators wants to move the organization in a more left-leaning, radical direction. 

Members of the NCAE Organize 2020 Racial and Social Justice Caucus shared their vision of the NCAE’s future in a webinar Feb. 5. Carolina Journal obtained a copy of the webinar’s audio and a transcript. Tamika Walker Kelly, NCAE Region 6 director; Bryan Proffitt, former president of the Durham chapter of the NCAE; Todd Warren, president of the Guilford County chapter of the NCAE; and his wife, Valerie Warren, gave the presentation. 

Kelly and Proffitt are running together for president and vice president of the NCAE, respectively. The election is in April.

If Kelly and Proffitt win, they would likely take the organization in an even more left-leaning, activist direction, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. 

Mark Jewell is the current NCAE president, and Kristy Moore is vice president. Jewell is stepping down at the end of his term. Moore is running for president. 

Neither Jewell, Kelly, nor Proffitt responded to requests for comment by press time. 

“Organize 2020 is the radical wing of the N.C. Association of Educators,” Stoops said. “If their members are elected to one or both officer posts, then I suspect that the NCAE will initiate more aggressive, union-inspired actions against Republican elected officials.”

Organize 2020 members said as much during their webinar. 

“Progressivism is moving forward on the NCAE board,” Kelly said. “We’re gaining ground with progressive forces there.”

The webinar provided hints at what a NCAE led by Organize 2020 would look like, which includes an escalation of union-like behavior. 

“When we think about escalating and building towards action, one of our most important questions is how high can we make the price of no?” Warren asked. 

Although the NCAE isn’t actually a union, members refer to the organization in union terms. 

North Carolina law bans government agencies from making contracts with unions and public employees from striking. While the NCAE is an advocacy organization with voluntary membership, members often refer to the group as a union. 

For the past two years, the NCAE has hosted a teacher walkout, with thousands of teachers leaving the classroom for a day to march on the General Assembly. In January, the teacher advocacy group floated the possibility of a teacher strike. NCAE members were sent a survey to gauge interest in taking more extreme action. A strike would raise the stakes even higher. 

But the NCAE board of directors didn’t give their blessing for a strike. 

“The Board has decided not to authorize any statewide action at this time and to engage in a comprehensive NCAE member survey designed to gauge support for a variety of actions, including, but not limited to, a possible walk-out,” Jewell said in a news release. 

The rejection hasn’t swayed the Organize 2020 caucus. The rebuke didn’t even come up during the webinar. 

“The point we want to make to you about working in the NCAE internal election is that who runs this union matters,” Proffitt said. “And it will definitely matter in 2020. This organization has and will have an impact on state and national politics.” 

The Durham chapter of the NCAE has endorsed Kelly’s and Proffitt’s campaign. 

“Tamika is not fearful of or overly deferential to people in positions of power; she believes in our union and the strength of our membership,” the DAE wrote in a news release. 

How many actually NCAE members approve of the Organize 2020 platform is unclear, Stoops said. 

“It is impossible to know if their candidates stand a chance in the upcoming election,” Stoops said. 

The NCAE says it’s the voice for all teachers in North Carolina, but a June 2018 financial report from the National Educators Association — NCAE’s parent organization — puts total membership at 30,561. With more than 94,000 teachers, NCAE membership accounts for about 33% of the teacher population. 

Republican lawmakers have often been targets of NCAE ire, whether over the budget stalemate or teacher pay. The General Assembly has, in fact, increased teacher pay over the past several years. The NCAE isn’t satisfied. 

Whether the NCAE will stick with another walkout this year or try something riskier — a strike, for instance — isn’t known. 

Nevertheless, Proffitt said, the NCAE will have to take action that can’t be ignored — or use the ballot box to remove anyone with opposing views.

“When we think about escalating and building towards action, one of the most important questions is, How high can we make the price of no?” Warren asked. 

Editor’s note: N.C. law bans local and and state government units from forming contracts with unions. The original version of this story stated it’s illegal for public employees to join unions. The story has been corrected. We regret any misunderstanding.