By Michelle Antoine
Jimmy Hoffa’s International Brotherhood of Teamsters came to Mecklenburg County over 60 years ago with the goal of unionizing the Charlotte Police Department. North Carolina acted on the union push by passing legislation to prohibit public sector employee collective bargaining. The legislation withstood court challenges over the years, including by the North Carolina Association of Educators.
While organizing a public employee association in a union fashion is legal, collectively bargaining contracts or work conditions, along with strikes are not. The Johnston County Association of Educators is considered a professional organization, which is involved in union-like activities. Even without collective bargaining or recognized union status, I believe the organization has become increasingly disruptive to our schools and our children’s education.
The National Education Association (NEA) is the nation’s largest professional labor union. The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is an all-inclusive association that is a state affiliate to the NEA, and our local Johnston County Association of Educators (JCAE) is a branch of those larger organizations. In 2018, the NEA put membership at 17,580 active teachers in North Carolina. Our state has approximately 94,000 teachers, so NCAE membership accounts for about 20% of teachers, and the broader general membership stands shy of 30,000 members, all likely influential in our NC school population.
The NEA – A teacher’s union with radical plans
My research has shown the NEA has grown increasingly controversial in their agenda and educational goals. In the NEA’s 2019 Representative Assembly they adopted new business actions including: teach white fragility, support black lives matter, teach climate change, lobby for LGBTQ curricula, assert a fundamental right to abortion, and end white supremacy “English only” culture.
Every member who joins the NCAE/JCAE also receives an NEA membership.
The NEA states in their reasons to become a member “The association works to achieve equity in schools and can provide training to members to develop new strategies.” The NCAE featured the virtual summit by the Color of Education organization, which is an equity training group, supported by our newly hired Johnston County Area Superintendent, Tonya Leathers as described here.
Turquoise Parker, a Durham Public Schools teacher, is the state NEA Director to represent the state association in critical decisions related to education policy. Parker calls for Freedom Fighter Fridays, where she says, “wear a shirt [to school] (union member or not) that centers around racial and social justice. Take a picture and post on social media.” Participating teachers follow her lead by promoting social movements like BLM and LGBTQ on their clothing, and in their classrooms.
It’s clear to me the direction and vision set by Parker is political, progressive, and focused on social justice being brought to our student’s education.
The NCAE- A growing socialist movement
In April of 2020 the NCAE elected Tamika Walker Kelly – President, and Bryan Proffitt – Vice President of the organization. Up to their election as formal leaders of the NCAE, the pair served as co-chairs of the NCAE social and racial justice Organize 2020 committee. The committee hailed a progressive plan to bring the NCAE organization far-left, and institute broad implementation of social justice to not just the unions, but schools.
How does a teacher implement social justice in the classroom? Here’s what I believe: University researchers have it down to a science, and are instructing our future teachers that every lesson taught to your child should have an objective of making them accountable for a changed mindset and action to forward social change, using race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc. The NCAE provides ongoing professional development to teachers in support of these methods. The unions are using social justice as a tool to train-up students to be democrat soldiers, voting in lock-step with a union that empowers and funds its members.
The newly elected NCAE Vice President Bryan Proffitt is listed as a prominent member of the Freedom Road Socialists Organization (also called Liberation Road) which is described as a US Marxist-Leninist group, coming out of a Maoist tradition.
Freedom Road Socialists is the guiding force behind Black Lives Matter. He belongs to a laundry list of other socialist organizations, but his most focused work has been co-chair of NCAE Organize 2020. Proffitt was instrumental in shaping the direction of the committee which states, “Inspired by the powerful organizing and social justice focus of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the NCAE Organize 2020 Caucus was founded in 2013 to bring similar energy to North Carolina’s fight for public education.” I believe Proffitt has the direct goal for NCAE to become a Chicago-style union, and he’s been given the leadership space to roll that agenda out in North Carolina.
An educator from Durham Public Schools, Proffitt outwardly states the organization is a union, “The General Assembly didn’t give us permission to do this [have walk-outs]. We certainly don’t need their permission to call ourselves a union. More importantly we don’t need their permission to act like one.”
Acting NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly, educator in Fayetteville, stood with Proffitt and held a sign up with the bold proclamation, “Build our Union, Reclaim our state.” Flouting the North Carolina state prohibitions on public-sector unions, the group takes actions with union-like collective bargaining activities, strikes. NCAE organized tens of thousands of teachers for one-day walk outs in May 2018 and again in 2019 to march on the state capital, which closed schools across the state, including in Johnston County. They were planning a multi-day strike in early 2020, but the plan was nixed by the Board of the time.
With the new leadership promising strong activism, the group has suggested more heavy-fisted union-like activities. Proffitt writes directly about voting in solid blocks to overtake every political seat from local school board members to president of the United States.
In the 2018 walk out, our local JCAE board president April Jones Lee organized buses to take people to Raleigh. Funding for the NC rally goers transportation was provided in part by Industrial Workers of the World, a socialist Chicago Union with one of their mottos being, “Labor is entitled to all it produces.”
The Democratic Socialists of America stood in solidarity with the NCAE’s union-like activities at the march, and in fact had pamphlets outlining the importance of Socialists taking teaching positions. The literature states, “This pamphlet argues that socialists should take jobs as teachers (and other school-based workers) for the political, economic, and social potential the industry holds.”
The strongest union in the country, the AFL-CIO, partnered with the NCAE for a post election day rally in Raleigh on November 7, 2020. An event I unwittingly stumbled into. It was a mish mash of what I could only gather at the time to be radicals and far leftists politicos. A medium crowd gathered on the Halifax mall with chants, speeches, and music, complete with a stage backdrop that read “We the people celebrate Democracy.”
Wanda Coker, from Rising Wages NC, demanded a $15 minimum wage and declared the fight to unionize the South. NCAE leaders including Tamika Kelly and Bryan Proffitt were main speakers and hosts. In a display that makes the power of the union undeniable, the political demands of the NCAE and its affiliates from that day were met just a few weeks later by the Durham Board of Commissioners as they passed a $15 minimum wage for public workers.
Our Local JCAE – A masquerade ball
On August 11, 2020 April Jones Lee, President of Johnston County Association of Educators and Johnston County middle school math teacher, invited Bryan Proffitt to Smithfield where he broadcast her efforts to keep our schools shut. Throughout the pandemic Lee has demanded schools stay shuttered.
Despite information presented at School Board meetings showing the extremely low health risk returning to the classroom posed and the high risk for student well-being staying remote, Lee wanted nothing except virtual learning for students.
Proffitt stated, “So many shouts to Mama Bear April Jones Lee, who should not be messed with y’all.” Proffitt and Lee stand together on educational union issues. On January 16, 2021 Lee was featured with Proffitt in a virtual Board meeting where Proffitt said, “There were over 80 people…recommitting to building the most powerful organization of the state.”
I think April Jones Lee uses her Republican voter registration as a credential to conservative minded colleagues. A persuasive tool to encourage their support in hopes of growing membership for the leftist union. She’s even used her Republican credentials in an NC Policy Watch publication to garner the ear of conservative teachers.
While she claims conservative affiliation she and two other JCAE Board members posed for pictures in June of 2019 at a press conference with Democrat Governor Roy Cooper. They stood in solidarity of his veto of the state budget because it did not include the Medicaid expansion the union desired, the veto denied teachers a 4% pay raise over 2 years. In 2016, Lee was pictured promoting Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.
NCAE Board of Directors, which Lee sits on, endorsed all but one Democrat candidate in the 2020 elections. Lee threw in for the Democrats right down to the Commissioner of Agriculture. She supported unqualified, extremist Democrat Jenna Wadsworth, a 30 year old NC State alumni with a Gender Studies degree, who ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Republican farmer Steve Troxler. As a guiding board member she actively placed Democrat candidates on the NCAE voter guide, which were passed out at the polls.
The NEA spent $14 million on political campaigns in 2020. They contributed $1,249,893 since 2000 to state and local campaigns and committees in North Carolina, every dollar to Democrats. The local NCAE openly promotes their full-time staff of lobbyists in Raleigh. The teacher unions are big money, powerful, and decidedly Democrat.
Students – Useful to the agenda
In my opinion, teacher unions are not, and never have been, about the students. Spending millions a year on lobbying and political work to protect their own power and their members’ jobs is their focus and if they can use our children to further that goal, all the better. We’ve seen through 2020, with the shut down of our schools, the power of the teacher union. The school closures furthered only the union agenda of more dedicated money to public education under the auspices of future safe opening.
The unions pushed to keep the doors locked despite mounting detrimental educational, emotional, and physical impacts to students. Their plan worked, with $1.6 billion being legislated and sent for infusion into the budgets of NC Schools.
I believe our children’s education is being used as fodder for teacher unions. Parents want their constitutionally provided right of a sound basic education for their kids, without an activist agenda. The growing tentacles of the Durham Public Schools professional agitators have reached not only into Johnston County, but the entire state of North Carolina through the NCAE. Our leaders and average citizens need to pay careful attention to the growing activist teacher union, hulking about in our public schools.
I reached out to April Jones Lee asking her to speak with me about my commentary column and publish her comments. She did not respond.
Previous Commentary Columns
Part 1: Activists In Our Schools – The Propagandist
Part 2: Activists In Our Schools – The Bureaucrats