Jacques: BAMN hijacking teachers union
If Steve Conn isn't careful, he may protest himself right out of a job.
The bombastic Detroit Federation of Teachers president is only a few months into his post, after winning a runoff election in January by 15 votes.
Now, many teachers are having regrets.
One power couple within the DFT is especially displeased.
Ivy Bailey, an executive vice president with the union, and her husband Dominic Bailey, a teacher at Clippert Academy, are both discouraged about the direction the union is heading under Conn.
"We need to step up and not keep going down this road of negativity," says Ivy Bailey. "All this rallying gets us nowhere."
The DFT, an affiliate of AFT-Michigan, has 4,000 members.
As these teachers start getting a taste for Conn's leadership style, they are feeling ostracized. Conn's job is to represent their interests, but union members are getting the impression he cares more about his own agenda.
At the many protests and rallies Conn likes to hold, he's more often seen with his friends from the radical protest group By Any Means Necessary than DFT teachers.
"BAMN has hijacked the DFT for its own agenda," says Dominic Bailey. "What is he [Conn] doing and why is he creating this chaos?"
Conn's penchant for protesting was on full display when he barged in to a meeting regarding the future of Detroit's schools with a few BAMN buddies, disrupting the event.
What was especially puzzling to some union members was that Conn protested a meeting he should have supported. The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren offered its recommendations after working for months, and the coalition's blueprint resembles much of Conn's to-do list.
The coalition called for the end of the Education Achievement Authority and for the state to assume control of Detroit Public Schools' debt—both of which Conn has demanded.
Plus, Ivy Bailey was on one of the coalition's committees, along with some other union representatives and principals. She felt the group listened to her and heard her concerns. AFT-Michigan president David Hecker was one of the co-chairs of the group.
Ivy Bailey acknowledges she occasionally agrees with Conn, but her real concern is style, not substance.
"It's not always his ideas, it's his methodology," she says.
That's why DFT members are concerned their president will make it impossible for them to have the rational conversations they'll need with district leadership over upcoming contract negotiations and other issues.
Conn didn't return requests for an interview.
In his defense, the teachers who voted for Conn knew what they were getting. The 30-year veteran teacher has always been strident, and ran with BAMN at his side.
Ivy Bailey isn't ready to throw in the towel, even though she says there are ways to go about a recall in the union's bylaws. If that were to occur, however, she wants the teachers to lead the effort.
"I want to sit down and talk with him [Conn]," Ivy Bailey says.
Most of the union's executive board isn't associated with BAMN, and was elected from the United Teacher Rights slate. They're losing patience.
So don't be surprised if these other DFT leaders—and teachers—decide it's time for Conn to go protest somewhere else.
Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.