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Bernie Sanders to Chicago Teachers: Worker Militancy Is Key to Fighting the Corporate Elite

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

When Chicago teachers led a historic strike in 2012, they boasted the critical backing of the public—but high-profile political allies were hard to come by. With then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the teachers’ nemesis, national Democrats stayed far away from the fight, and even a number of so-called “progressive” city council members opposed the walkout, including the now-disgraced former 1st Ward Alderman Proco ‘Joe’ Moreno who referred to the strike as “selfish.”

On Tuesday night, a very different scene was on display inside the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—one of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020—headlined a raucous rally to support the teachers in their ongoing contract fight with new Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Sanders was flanked by union leaders, community activists and a number of the city’s newly-elected democratic socialist aldermen, all of whom pledged to back the teachers. As Sanders stated as he took the stage, “I think that the Chicago school board should be very nervous.”

The Chicago visit marked a continuation of Sanders’ unique approach to his second presidential campaign, in which he’s not just supported labor battles, but positioned them front and center—manifestations of the political revolution he aims to foment. He has utilized his vast email and phone lists to turn supporters out to picket lines, and directly targeted bosses such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in order to raise workers’ wages. He has joined rallies of striking workers—as he plans to do Wednesday in Detroit to back the UAW’s ongoing strike. And, fundamentally, he has used his campaign as a vehicle to propel the revitalization of a militant U.S. labor movement.

But these aren’t acts of beneficence. To Sanders, an invigorated movement of the working class is the only way to achieve the type of bold redistributive policies that are central to his campaign, from Medicare for All to the cancellation of all student debt.

As Sanders stated at the teachers’ rally Tuesday, “For the last 45 years there has been a war in this country by the corporate elite against the working class of our nation.” And, he continued, “the only way to win prosperity for working people is when we significantly increase membership in trade unions all across America.”

“It’s about dignity”

Tuesday marked the first day of voting among CTU members on whether to authorize a strike, which could begin as soon as October 7. The union, which claims over 25,000 members, must reach a threshold of 75% of ‘yes’ votes to ratify a walkout. If recent history is any indication, that won’t be a herculean task. Ahead of the 2012 strike, nearly 90% of all CTU members who cast a ballot voted to walk out. In 2016, the figure was even higher—close to 96%—though that action was ultimately narrowly avoided.

Contract negotiations have reached an impasse over demands by teachers for more wraparound services and classroom resources at city schools. The union claims that there remain far too few librarians, social workers, counselors, nurses and paraprofessionals to adequately staff the district’s 514 schools, and that the Lightfoot administration is refusing to address these shortages in firm contract language. Teachers are also calling for smaller class sizes, investments in special education, and support for undocumented students through a “sanctuary school” program.

“This is about way more than just pay,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey to the boisterous crowd of teachers and supporters Tuesday night. “It’s about dignity, and the fact that our schools suffer from critical staffing shortages…It’s about the schools that Chicago’s children deserve.”

The rally also featured teachers giving first-hand testimonials of why they are voting to authorize a strike. Jamie Schnall, an educator at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary on Chicago’s South Side, echoed Sharkey’s claims, saying: “Large class sizes aren’t just in my kindergarten classes, it’s the entire building. They take more time to plan, to incorporate into lessons, and more time to get individualized attention. We need class size limits.”

And Adlai E. Stevenson Elementary teacher Norma Noriega highlighted the need for strong contract language guaranteeing safety for undocumented youth. “Our students are terrified of ICE,” she said. “We’re demanding sanctuary for all of our students. We fight for sanctuary because our students deserve to feel—and be—safe in their schools.”

“Everybody is going on strike”

But CTU members aren’t the only school workers on the verge of striking. Tuesday’s rally was also organized alongside SEIU Local 73, a union representing more than 29,000 workers, over 7,000 of whom who work in education-related positions such as custodians, special education assistants and security guards.

Local 73 members are demanding higher pay, increased staffing and an end to privatization deals that purge their ranks—such as the city’s agreement with contractor Aramark that brought private custodians into public schools, and left them in horrendous conditions. The union’s membership has already voted overwhelmingly to go out on strike, which could begin as soon as next month—potentially coinciding with that of the CTU.

Already in Chicago, thousands of nurses have gone out on strike in the past week at the University of Chicago Medical Center. On Monday, teachers at Passages charter school, who are members of the CTU, voted unanimously to authorize a walkout. And Chicago Park District employees announced at Tuesday’s rally that more than 94% of their members have voted to strike.

These actions come on the heels of recent strikes by Chicago hotel workers and orchestra musicians, as well as the first charter schools strikes in the country. Taken together, these displays of collective and concerted worker action represent a new approach for the city’s labor movement, moving into offense after years of being on its heels.

Jeanette Taylor, newly-elected alderwoman of the 20th Ward, summed up the newfound state of affairs at Tuesday’s rally, saying: “Everybody is going on strike in this city, and this is the right thing to do. We’re at a time in our lives when we can’t be silent anymore…we’ve got to stand and fight for each other.”

During his speech, Sen. Sanders urged the Chicago school board to “Sign a contract that deals with the desperate shortage of school nurses, of social workers, of librarians and of other critical staff that keep our schools going.”

“When we talk about valuing work, it’s not the hedge fund managers on Wall Street that we should value,” he continued. “It’s the teachers of this country, it’s the staffing, it’s the school nurses and the librarians.”

Supporting unions from the campaign trail

This isn’t the first time Sanders has used his 2020 campaign to lend support to Chicago workers in the midst of a labor dispute. In June, the campaign used its contact lists to call on supporters to join graduate student workers at the University of Chicago on their picket line. The campaign had previously done similar outreach to support striking workers at McDonald’s, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Mercy Health-St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. This mobilization, conducted through texts and emails, stands as an apparent first in modern presidential politics.

Directly pressuring employers to raise wages has been another strategy employed by Sanders’ campaign. The senator’s “Stop BEZOS Act,” introduced last fall, aimed to rein in corporate welfare and force large companies like Amazon to pay their workers a living wage. Weeks after the legislation was released, Bezos—the richest man in the world and a longtime target of Sanders’—raised his employees’ starting wages across the board to $15 an hour.

In each of these instances, Sanders did not single-handedly advocate for workers’ rights—he followed the lead of grassroots movements that were already putting forward bold demands. Whether it was grad student union members or the Fight for $15 movement, Sanders merely lent his support and voice to the labor struggles already underway. And the victories, such as Amazon’s wage raise, were made possible by organizers and rank-and-file activists—not simply a presidential candidate. Still, this type of overt worker solidarity has become a trademark of Sanders’ 2020 run.

The appearance in Chicago came the same day Sanders rolled out his wealth tax proposal, which would hit the top 0.1% of households and raise up to $4.35 trillion over the next ten years. Sanders has said that this money could be directed toward early childhood education, his ambitious housing plan and funding a Medicare for All system. Under the proposal, Jeff Bezos would be forced to pay $9 billion a year in taxes. As Sanders told the New York Times of his plan to target the super-rich, “I don’t think billionaires should exist.”

Sanders isn’t the only major presidential candidate to voice support for the Chicago teachers. On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted, “I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Chicago teachers making their voices heard to demand living wages, smaller class sizes, and all the things teachers need to do their jobs well.” The following day, former Vice President Joe Biden followed suit, tweeting, “I’m proud to support Chicago’s educators as they fight for fair wages, full staffing, and smaller class sizes.”

Seven years ago, Chicago teachers were able to emerge victorious in their strike even without help from the mainstream political class—locally or nationally. But today, following a wave of teacher strikes across the country which has shifted the political terrain decidedly in the direction of rebelling workers, and with all of the top Democratic candidates and an array of left-wing city council members in its corner, the CTU is poised to carry forward what the union initiated in 2012.

As Sanders said Tuesday night of the newfound labor insurgency, “What we are seeing is teachers standing up and fighting for justice.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 25, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is the Community Editor at In These Times. He is a Chicago based writer. miles@inthesetimes.com @MilesKLassin

California bill would increase local control over charter schools, this week in the war on workers

Monday, September 16th, 2019

The financial drain and lack of local control of charter schools were a major issue in this year’s teachers strikes in California, and now the state legislature has passed a bill that might help. AB 1505 gives local school boards the ability to block new charter schools under some circumstances.

The bill, which still has to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would allow school boards to block the opening of new charter schools or expansion of an existing charter where it would duplicate already-existing programs. It would also allow school boards to consider the fiscal impact of opening a new charter school. This is a change: Previously, if a local school board said no, the state could come in and overrule it, forcing a new charter school in. Exactly that happened in San Francisco, even over decisions that were unanimous at the local level.

“In effect, we have certain charters in our district that we didn’t agree on and they did not meet our standard and yet we have to house them in our buildings,” San Francisco School Board Commissioner Alison Collins told SF Weekly. “Charters are circumventing local control. We have very little power over fixing things and holding them accountable.”

AB 1505 follows another important bill, Senate Bill 126, passed last spring, which requires charter schools to follow the same open meetings, open records, and conflict of interest laws as public schools—a no-brainer, you would think, but something charter schools have fought tooth and nail in multiple locations.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 14, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.. Laura at Daily Kos

New Haven teachers strike drags on for a 14th day this week in the war on workers

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Teachers in California’s New Haven Unified School District have been on strike for 14 days as of Friday. They were considering the school district’s “last, best, and final offer,” which falls short of the pay increases teachers are calling for. The school district entered negotiations offering zero raise, meaning teachers would be falling behind as the cost of living rises.

A group of frustrated parents is attempting a recall of three school board members, saying, “We have witnessed a total and complete lack of willingness and ability of this board to lead us through these difficult times,” and, “Teachers in this school district deserve more from this board of education and administration. The students deserve more from all of us.”

The New Haven strike follows teachers strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Denver, Colorado; and West Virginia—all in 2019. Teachers in South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Massachusetts have also held significant protests this year.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 1, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

West Virginia Senate passes sweeping education bill to ban teacher strikes

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

The bill would allow schools to fire workers for striking and withhold pay on strike days.

The West Virginia State Senate on Monday passed a sweeping education overhaul bill that would deem teacher strikes unlawful.

The chamber voted 18-15 to advance the measure — after Senate Republicans inserted an amendment during a special session Sunday that would ban public worker strikes, amid protests from teachers and workers in the chamber, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. The legislation also allows for an unlimited number of charter schools in the state.

Democrats, as well as the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized the ban on strikes as retaliation for the teacher walkouts that took place earlier this year and last year. The bill would allow schools to fire workers for striking and withhold pay on strike days, as well as forbid county superintendents from closing schools due to strikes.

The legislation, known as the Student Success Act, now moves to the House of Delegates, which is scheduled to reconvene on June 17. It is unclear whether Gov. Jim Justice (R) will sign the measure into law should it reach his desk. On Sunday, he told the Metro News, “We’re at a very, very difficult impasse.”

Teachers protested at the state capitol all weekend. On Saturday, hundreds of teachers chanted, “Charter schools, no! Public schools, yes!” Protesters also singled out Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R), who has been a staunch defender of the bill and has framed it as the key to fixing West Virginia’s education system.

“We have been accused of not listening,” said GOP State Sen. Patricia Rucker during Monday’s floor debate, likely referring to teacher protests. “I have to apologize if I sometimes slip into teacher mode. But listening is not the same … as agreeing. We can listen and we can agree or disagree … I’m here to represent more than just the unions in West Virginia.”

Protesters also called the measure just another iteration of a bill the legislature killed in February.

In February, West Virginia teachers took to the streets in protest of a similar omnibus bill that would allow a few charter schools to operate in the state and allocate money toward private school vouchers. Teachers argued that charter schools could drain money from struggling traditional public schools, which are already largely underfunded. The two-day strike was successful, with the Republican-controlled House tabling the measure.

Last year’s strike lasted almost two weeks, focusing on higher salaries and better benefits, as well as concerns over staff vacancies and the state’s insurance provider. An agreement was ultimately reached to provide teachers and state employees with a 5% pay raise, a fivefold increase from the original proposed raise. That proposal, however, died with the February omnibus bill. Monday’s bill includes the 5% raise. West Virginia teachers are among the country’s most poorly paid, with teacher salaries ranked at 48th in the nation, according to the National Education Association.

“I get sick of hearing how bad West Virginia schools are,” said Sen. Randy Smith (R) during floor debate Monday. “This is a start … I feel we have to start someplace … We need to stop sitting on our hands … Starting over again isn’t the right thing to do.”

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on June 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Teacher Strikes Could Set Off a Private Sector Strike Wave—If We Dare

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

In the spring of 2018, teachers across West Virginia improbably shut down schools statewide, creating a political crisis that forced Republican Gov. Jim Justice and the GOP-led legislature to back down. Drawing inspiration from the West Virginia strikers, teachers in the red states of Arizona and Oklahoma soon followed suit by carrying out statewide strikes of their own.

In his new book Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics, writer and former teacher Eric Blanc details the history of these teachers strikes while providing incisive analysis, informed by his visits to the sites of these labor struggles and his access to key players which provided inside accounts of strategic and tactical debates.

By providing this on-the-ground perspective, Red State Revolt captures the exhilaration and twists and turns of these strikes. Blanc recounts how an initial Facebook group among teacher activists exploded in West Virginia, helping lead to the first tentative calls for a walkout and, in a matter of months, to the massive statewide strike of teachers and support staff. Red State Revolt shows how little steps can lead to big results.

As simply a strike history, Red State Revoltwould stand as a thoughtful contribution for labor activists who could find inspiration and learn from the successes and missteps of striking teachers in these three states. Fortunately for those of us in the labor movement, Blanc drives deeper.

The core of Red State Revolt is built around of the concept of “the militant minority,” explored in depth in the longest chapter of the book. As Blanc explains: “An indispensable ingredient in the victories of West Virginia and Arizona was the existence of a ‘militant minority’ of workplace activists—that is, individuals with a class struggle orientation, significant organizing experience, and a willingness to act independently of (and, if necessary, against) the top union officialdom.”

These activists helped push their struggles forward and at key moments helped the rank-and-file contend with more conservative union officials. And, as Blanc points out, a number of these activists constituting the militant minority were socialists, though not all. As Blanc explains: “Though all genuine socialists support class struggle unionism, not all class struggle unionists support socialism.” Included in the latter category were the militant teacher leaders of the Southern former mining strongholds of Mingo County and adjacent counties in West Virginia who led a one-day strike in early February 2018 which helped set the stage for the statewide walkout later that month.

Blanc notes that many of the activists at the core of the West Virginia strike were democratic socialists inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, which helped motivate them to demand far-reaching changes at their workplaces. As rank-and-file West Virginia strike leader Emily Comer told Blanc, “The role of the Bernie campaign of 2016 on organizing in West Virginia really cannot be overstated. … And it got people, especially young people, plugged in who before had been feeling hopeless and who would not have made their way into organizing before.”

Like any good strike history, Red State Revolt delves into the complicated relationship between union officials, the union militants pushing the strike from below, and the rank and file workers.   As Blanc explains, because West Virginia activists had built a strong statewide network leading up to and over the course of the strike, they were able to help shape the final contract agreement, continuing the walkout for another week after the initial outline of the settlement was announced until it was finalized.

By covering three strikes in three separate states, in Red State Revolt Blanc is able to compare and contrast the various strategies and outcomes. While the strikes in both West Virginia and Arizona ended on high notes, for example, the Oklahoma walkout resulted in more of a mixed outcome, along with a certain degree of demoralization.

As Blanc notes, the conditions did not initially suggest such a result. “By virtually all possible metrics, the challenges to successful strike action were greatest in Arizona,” Blanc writes. “Its right wing was considerably stronger, and its labor movement significantly weaker, than in Oklahoma—not to mention most other US states.”

Yet the crucial difference, Blanc argues, is that Arizona boasted a militant minority of activists who were able to interact with Arizona’s relatively weak teachers’ union to prod them into action and ultimately helped secure broad victories. Oklahoma, meanwhile, did not possess such a strong array of militant labor activists in the education field, which served as a liability during that state’s strike.

Teacher activists across the country will likely find Red State Revolt invaluable as the uprising shows no sign of ending. Teachers in Colorado, Washington, California and elsewhere have already since rebelled against decades of Democratic neoliberal attacks on public education. Even organizers living in such blue states will find Red State Revolt chock-full of concrete lessons.

The reality is, however, that while these public-sector strikes should give us hope, the crisis of American trade unionism lies firmly in the private sector. For many labor pundits, the lessons of the teachers’ strikes boil down to advocating bargaining for the common good or other social unionist themes. While a broad-based approach to union bargaining that seeks public support is necessary, there’s no indication that corporations will be shamed into supporting worker-friendly policies. With union density hovering at six percent in the private sector, it’s time for dramatically new approaches.

Reviving the labor movement in the private sector will require a strategy capable of breaking through legal restrictions on the right to strike. As Blanc notes, “When it comes to political strategy, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. West Virginia and the other recent teacher revolts have confirmed the continued relevance of an old political insight: strikes are workers’ most powerful weapon.”

One question raised by the strikes in Republican-dominated states is ‘Why did the anti-union policymakers not respond with repression?’ After all, Arizona is a cesspool of reactionary anti-labor politicians, with essentially the entire power structure lined up against unions. Striking was deemed illegal in all of three states. Yet, while politicians made pronouncements indicating the strikes were illegal, they never pulled the trigger on punishing strikers.

For trade unionists, this outcome confirms the reality of what we saw in the 1960s teacher rebellion. In the 1960s, millions of public-sector workers went on strike despite the fact that striking was illegal in every state in the country. Rarely did these workers face recriminations, as politicians feared they could expand the strikes by responding with repression. The red state teacher revolts demonstrate the continued validity of the maxim that ‘there is no illegal strike, just an unsuccessful one.’

The four main takeaways from the Red State Revolt are the necessity of reviving the strike; the need for a broad-based approach; the importance of a conscious militant minority; and the ability of militant social movements to successfully violate labor law. This also serves as a prescription for the revival of the labor movement overall—one quite different from what most labor pundits have been dishing out for the past two decades.

Celebrating victories is a good thing and Red State Revolt does a great job of reliving the excitement of those strikes. Even better, however, is learning from our successes so they can be recreated over and over. That is how bigger and better movements are built.

 

This article was originally published at In These Times on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Joe Burns, a former local union president active in strike solidarity, is a labor negotiator and attorney. He is the author of the book Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America (IG Publishing, 2011) and can be reached at joe.burns2@gmail.com.

 

 

Teachers hit with historic wage penalty in 2018

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

The wage penalty teachers face in comparison to other college graduates hit a record high in 2018, the Economic Policy Institute reports, with teacher pay falling short by 21.4%. That penalty has grown from 5.3% in 1993 and 12% in 2004, but maybe the most striking thing is that, adjusted for inflation, teachers’ average weekly pay actually dropped by $21 between 1996 and 2018.

 

Teacher weekly wages have not grown since 1996
This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on May 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

West Virginia teachers strike (yes, again) to protest attack on public education

Monday, February 18th, 2019

This is not a blast from the recent past: West Virginia teachers are on strike again, just a year after they kicked off a wave of teacher uprisings that is still reverberating around the nation. The teachers won a badly needed pay raise last year, but now they’re protesting as their state legislature considers a bill that would undermine public education across the state.

Schools were open in only one of West Virginia’s 55 counties on Tuesday, ABC News reported, but “school parking lots were nearly empty anyway” in Putnam County. Teachers again flooded the state capitol. Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia, said “We are left with no other choice.”

The teachers are protesting an education bill that would chip away at the state’s already fragile and underfunded public education system by creating charter schools and allowing education savings accounts to pay for private schools. “It’s really disheartening to see the process play out and to see that people are using public education as a form of retaliation,” Mingo County high school English teacher Katie Endicott told USA Today. “But, at the same time, we’re really resolved in the fight and we’re not going to back down. We’re not going to quit because we know that the future of public education is at stake.”

One way to gauge the continuing rage among teachers and their willingness to keep up the fight is that, when the Denver teachers strike ended on Feb. 14, with the Los Angeles teachers strike having ended on Jan. 23, it seemed remarkable that Oakland teachers were on the brink of striking. The Oakland strike is planned to start on Thursday, Feb. 21—a week after Denver teachers got a deal. That seemed soon! But somehow West Virginia teachers have slid into that one-week gap to remind us all of their place in this movement, and of the severity of the attack on public education in the U.S.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on February 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Denver teachers go on strike for the first time in 25 years

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Thousands of teachers from Denver Public Schools gathered at the state Capitol Monday to kick off their first strike in 25 years, demanding pay increases and a long-term solution to the state’s ongoing problem of underfunding schools.

The strike, which is led by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), will affect more than 200 schools in the district. Administrators plan to keep schools open by hiring substitute teachers, though pre-school classes have been cancelled. Depending on how long the strike goes on, school officials have acknowledged that they may have to close some schools if they are unable to hire enough substitutes.

Educators voted to strike last month after disagreements with school administrators over pay. As ThinkProgress previously reported, the major dispute is over a merit-based compensation system called “ProComp,” which began in 2005. It gives teachers one-time incentives beyond their base salaries as a reward for working in hard-to-staff positions or to teach in schools where students perform well on state tests.

The union, however, has pushed for a more traditional approach to salary structure, calling for a system that allows all teachers to get raises and cost-of-living increases. During negotiations, the district was $8 million short of what the union asked for to overhaul the compensation system. Teachers, meanwhile, argued that the district could reduce administrators’ bonuses and take money out of its reserve to pay for it.

At a press conference Monday, DCTA’s lead negotiator Rob Gould said he hopes school administrators “come to the table tomorrow ready to listen so we can get back to work cause our teachers want to be in the classrooms with their kids.”

While educators were on strike, students at East High School in Denver took to the halls Monday morning in a show of support for their teachers. Video shared on Twitter showed students chanting, “Pay our teachers!”

Colorado is one of the worst offenders when it comes to public school funding. According to Education Week’s 2018 state-by-state assessment of public education, the state earned a D-plus for overall school finance. Colorado received an F for its spending on public education.

A key reason for this is that Colorado legislators can reduce school funding in order to balance the budget, using a tool called “negative factor.” Over the years, lawmakers have trimmed billions of dollars in funding to rural schools, schools serving at-risk students, and those serving populations with a high cost of living. As the Coloradoan reported in 2017, Colorado spends an average of $9,471 on each public school student, $2,685 less than the national average.

Denver is the latest city where teachers have gone on strike to demand better pay and funding for schools. Last year, weeks-long strikes in red states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona led to pay increases and more money. Los Angeles teachers recently ended a weeklong strike, after achieving several of their demands, including a 50 percent reduction in standardized testing and smaller class sizes.

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on February 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Thousands of Virginia teachers march to state capitol demanding more funding, better salaries

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Thousands of Virginia teachers left their classrooms and rallied in Richmond on Monday to demand more education funding and higher salaries. Teachers gathered in front of the state capitol building, just as their fellow educators did during strikes and rallies last year in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.

Virginia Educators United (VEU), which organized Monday’s rally, wants schools to have adequate support staff, such as nurses and social workers, competitive wages for support staff, improved school infrastructure, and better recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers. VEU encouraged teachers to take a personal day to attend the rally.

“I just think it’s one of those things where we have been waiting patiently and we always say, the [Great Recession] this, the recession that. That was 2008; we don’t have time to wait anymore so we need to fund education now,” Kevin Hickerson, president of the Fairfax Education Association, told ThinkProgress. 

Hickerson said that in Fairfax, like many other school districts across the country, it’s common for teachers to be working two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. The district needs to take additional steps to ensure support personnel, such as custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, can afford to live in the communities in which they work.

In an analysis of states’ funding formulas by the Education Law Center and Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education, Virginia received a grade of “F” on its funding distribution. Virginia’s average teacher salary is slightly less than average at $56,861, compared to $58,353, but in the Richmond area, the average teacher salary is just $51,064, state data shows. According to the National Education Association, Virginia ranks 34th in the nation in average teacher pay.

Salaries aren’t the only reason teachers decided to protest; the schools themselves desperately need improvements, according to Hickerson.

“Our infrastructure needs a lot of upgrades and improvements. When you don’t take care of things now in terms of buildings, they just cost more later down the line. We need to upgrade our buildings and we need to get out of trailers,” he said. “We have close to a thousand trailers here in Fairfax County and I don’t want my daughter going into a trailer to learn and I don’t want other kids to also have that experience.”

Hickerson added that there are mold problems, heating issues, and leaks in trailers and on top of that, trailers may not be the safest place for students to learn.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) proposed a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and $268.7 million in new money for public schools in December. Republican leaders in the house of delegates have said they support a 5 percent pay raise. The Republican-controlled state senate has said it wants more flexibility for how local governments spend increased education funding.

When asked why Virginia teachers aren’t ready for a statewide strike like other states, Hickerson said that in addition to legal issues teachers may encounter due to public employee strikes being prohibited, the upcoming state elections present an opportunity to make change.

“I think we have a golden opportunity this election season with both our chambers up for bid in the house and the senate. I think we have a great opportunity to get public education-friendly candidates into those seats,” he said. “I think there is a good chance we can flip the house and the senate and bring public education to the forefront where we don’t necessarily need those strikes and collective action that makes us remove ourselves from our job. That doesn’t mean we stop lobbying or the momentum we started but at the same time that’s where we need to be putting our time and effort right now.”

Teachers unions haven’t dialed back their concerns about school funding after the 2018 statewide strikes. In Los Angeles, teachers went on strike for a week and won major concessions. Some of the improvements include a 50 percent reduction in standardized testing, turning 30 schools into community schools, and ensuring that schools have nurses working five days a week.

This month, Denver teachers voted to go on strike after more than a year of negotiations. Teachers there want to change their performance-based compensation system, which they say is confusing and limits opportunities for some teachers to improve their pay.

There are also ongoing discussions of work stoppages in West Virginia and Oakland, California. In West Virginia, the state senate advanced education legislation that embraces school choice, something teachers unions have opposed. West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the press, “everything is on the table” when asked if another teacher walkout would happen in response to the legislation.

In Oakland, Ismael Armendariz, vice president of the Oakland Education Association, said the L.A. strike has energized teachers, who have been working without a contract since 2017 and are asking for a 12 percent pay increase over three years.

“One thing that resonated with our members is that when you fight, you win,” Armendariz said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Los Angeles Teachers Stay Strong; Win Improvements

Friday, January 25th, 2019

Less than a month into 2019, the teachers of Los Angeles have proven that last year’s wave of collective action isn’t quieting down. After taking to the streets in a strike that has captured the country’s imagination, members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) are returning to classrooms today after overwhelmingly approving a paradigm-shifting contract that delivers on key demands.

For six days, more than 30,000 UTLA teachers went on strike to shine a light on the daily realities of a neglected and underfunded public school system. They demanded better, and by standing together, they won it. Here are just a few critical improvements in UTLA’s new contract:

  • A much-deserved 6% pay raise with no contingencies;
  • A nurse in every school five days a week;
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week;
  • Hard caps on class size that will go into effect immediately in 2019–2020, with additional improvements every year after;
  • A commitment to reduce testing by 50%;
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads; and
  • A clear pathway to cap charter schools.

“For too long teachers have lived with a hard truth to tell—that for years our students were being starved of the resources they need,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl following the vote. “Our expectations were fundamentally raised by this strike. Together, we said we deserve better, our students deserve better. We must keep our expectations high and not let go of this moment, because the next struggle is right around the corner.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on January 23, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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