Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Students’

Did You Get a Text Inviting You to a Picket Line? It Might Be from Bernie Sanders.

Friday, June 7th, 2019

As graduate student workers at the University of Chicago began a three-day work stoppage this week to demand union recognition, Sen. Bernie Sanders—one of the university’s most notable alumni—called on his army of supporters to join their picket lines through an email and text message blast.

One of Sanders’ supporters who received the message was UChicago graduate instructor Laura Colaneri, a member of the union Graduate Students United (GSU) and a PhD candidate in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Studies.

“It was a really awesome boost to get that message because I’m one of the workers involved in this action,” Colaneri told In These Times. “I’m excited to see a candidate using his status to support workers directly, not just by giving us a rhetorical line, but helping us out with an action that we’re doing.”

While candidates traditionally use their extensive contact lists to focus on fundraising or bringing people out to their campaign rallies, Sanders is undertaking an apparent first in modern presidential politics: using his lists to help mobilize turnout at worker-led actions.

Last month, the Sanders campaign helped turn supporters out to a one-day strike at the University of California campuses, where representatives said 1,000 people “responded with interest or committed to go to a protest.” The campaign also called onsupporters to join thousands of McDonald’s workers who went on strike across the country May 23 demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Sanders supporters were also recently encouraged to join healthcare workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on their picket line, as well as nurses at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. The campaign is currently working to turn supporters out for a march of McDonald’s workers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 9 that Sanders will join.

“I think it’s fair to say this is a workers’ movement as much as it’s a presidential campaign,” Bill Neidhardt, Midwest Press Secretary for the Sanders campaign, told In These Times. “And that’s exactly how we want it to be. That’s how you win. With a movement.”

Neidhardt noted that the Sanders team has previously used its contact lists to drive turnout for labor actions at Delta Airlines, Disney, Amazon, General Motors, Wabtec, Nissan and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Meanwhile, Sanders’ own employees recently unionized themselves, winning the first union contract for staff of a major party presidential campaign. Among other gains, the contract includes a $20-an-hour wage for interns at the Washington, D.C. campaign headquarters and a cap on manager salaries. Since the announcement, three other 2020 Democratic campaigns have unionized: those of former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“[Sanders’] objective is to strengthen unions as they’ve dwindled and been busted,” said Nanci Ponné, who joined GSU’s picket lines at UChicago on June 5 after receiving an email from the campaign. She was one of hundreds of people who joined GSU for a mass picket and rally that afternoon, many of them directed there by Sanders.

“Unions bring strength and power where workers didn’t have it before,” Ponné, who works in the Chicago hotel industry and identified as a member of Unite Here, told In These Times. “There’s no reason for Bernie not to use his awesome email list to empower unions that will help bring more benefits to workers.”

The three-day work stoppage at UChicago this week comes nearly 19 months after an overwhelming majority of graduate workers there voted to unionize with GSU in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

As at many other private universities where graduate workers recently voted to form a union, the UChicago administration continuously refuses to recognize GSU, claiming grad workers are more “students” than employees and therefore ineligible for union representation. With the NLRB now controlled by anti-union Trump appointees—who are poised to undercut the legal basis for grad worker unions—GSU has withdrawn from the formal Board process and is demanding voluntary recognition from the university.

“They’re stonewalling,” Colaneri said of the UChicago administration, adding that administrators called extra campus police out to the GSU pickets. “They keep saying it’s your free speech to do this, but then they’ve sent out emails to undergraduate students and their parents telling them to report if your graduate instructor isn’t in class. But we’re not letting it intimidate us.”

As a UChicago alumnus, Sanders has supported GSU throughout their fight for union recognition. “I hope very much that you will set an example throughout the world by supporting a democratic decision made by graduate students and teaching assistants,” the senator wrote university president Robert Zimmer in November 2017. “To appeal this decision to an anti-worker, Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board is not something that a world class institution of higher learning should do.”

No stranger to campus activism, while a student at UChicago in the early 1960s, the future presidential candidate helped lead a 13-day sit-in to demand an end to the university’s housing discrimination policy, was arrested protesting racial discrimination at Chicago Public Schools, and joined the youth wing of the Socialist Party.

“My four years in Chicago was an extraordinary moment in my life, and very much shaped my worldview and what I wanted to do,” Sanders said earlier this year.

With classes at UChicago now over for the spring, on the evening of June 5 GSU members voted to suspend their work stoppage. “We have shown the university, the world, and ourselves what we are capable of as a union, and how fundamentally the university depends on our work,” read a statement from the union.

“The amount of energy we’ve been able to sustain over three days is really incredible,” Colaneri said. “This doesn’t come from Bernie, it comes from us, from the workers being ready to fight for what we deserve. And it’s great to be supported in that, but not overshadowed. It’s not about Bernie, it’s really about us.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

18 states are suing Betsy DeVos for putting for-profit college fraudsters over student borrowers

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Betsy DeVos is making it harder for students to get loan forgiveness after being cheated by for-profit colleges, but Democratic attorneys general across the country are challenging her in court. DeVos has had the Education Department put a hold on new rules that were supposed to take effect on July 1 protecting student borrowers—protecting student borrowers is definitely not what Betsy DeVos is about, let’s be clear on that—and 18 states are going to court to get the rules put back in place.

An existing federal law allows borrowers to apply for loan forgiveness if they attended a school that misled them or broke state consumer protection laws. Once rarely used, the system was overwhelmed by applicants after the wave of for-profit failures. Corinthian’s collapse alone led to more than 15,000 loan discharges, with a balance of $247 million.

Taxpayers get stuck with those losses. The rules that Ms. DeVos froze would have shifted some of that risk back to the industry by requiring schools at risk of closing to put up financial collateral. They would also ban mandatory arbitration agreements, which have prevented many aggrieved students from suing schools that they believe have defrauded them.

DeVos really is stepping in in favor of fraudulent schools over defrauded students—and taxpayers—in other words.

“Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans,” said Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, who led the multistate coalition. “Her decision to cancel vital protections for students and taxpayers is a betrayal of her office’s responsibility and a violation of federal law.”

Two students left with debts after their school lied to them about their job prospects are also suing the Education Department over the same issues.

This blog was published at DailyKos on July 6, 2017.  Reprinted with permission. 

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

Who Needs To Reach Higher For Higher Education?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Jeff BryantFirst Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled on Friday to provide a commencement address to the graduating class of 3,000 students at The City College of New York in Harlem. As the White House announcement states, her address has some additional historic significance in that CCNY was the first public higher education institution in New York City, “established as a free institution dedicated to overcoming barriers to advancement.”

It wouldn’t be at all surprising for the First Lady to mention this in her address, as she continues to emphasize in all her commencement speeches this year her theme of “reach higher.” TheReach Higher Initiative, according to the White House, “is the First Lady’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school.” So it would seem appropriate to recognize the monumental contribution that a free public higher education institution no doubt has had on helping multiple generations “take charge of their future.”

Unfortunately, though, CCNY hasn’t been free in 40 years. Even worse, student tuition and fees have increased dramatically in recent years, as the state continues to underfund the school since the economic downturn in 2008, while physical conditions and resources deteriorate.

As an article in The New York Times notes, at CCNY’s “handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. The bathrooms sometimes run out of toilet paper. The lectures are becoming uncomfortably overcrowded, and course selections are dwindling, because of steep budget cuts.”

The problems at City College are symptomatic of what’s happening to higher education throughout New York, where, according to the Times article, enrollment in the state’s City University system – a collection of 24 urban campuses that includes City College – has climbed by more than 12 percent over the last eight years while funding from the state has dropped by 17 percent, adjusted for inflation.

Under the current austerity imposed by the state, another Times article explains, the CUNY system has had to raise tuition by $300 in each of the last five years and will likely continue to do so for another five years. Tuition hikes come on top of a $280 annual fee, significantly raising the financial challenge to CUNY students, more than half of who report family incomes of under $30,000.

Keep in mind this austerity has been imposed under the gubernatorial administration of Andrew Cuomo – a Democrat undermining the stated goals of a Democratic Party presidential administration. Cuomo’s plan is to reduce state funding to CUNY by $485 million, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

Why is Cuomo intent on cutting higher education and raising tuition at the very same time government leaders are exhorting young people to take their education beyond higher school?

It’s not just Cuomo. According to a new report, most states are on par with New York or even worse in cutting their commitments to higher education. A review of the report by Hechinger Reportexplains, “States are collectively investing 17 percent less in their public colleges and universities, or $1,525 less per student, since 2007.”

While funding has been slashed, public colleges have increased published tuition prices by 33 percent since 2007.

Which states are worse than New York? According to the Times article cited at the top of this post, “Arizona is spending 56 percent less, while students are paying 88 percent more. In Louisiana, students are spending 80 percent more on tuition, while state funding has been cut by 39 percent.

Students, of course, are the ones having to take the brunt of the funding crunch by taking on more college loan debt. As Hechinger notes, from 2008 and 2014, the share of students graduating with debt from a public four-year college increased from 55 to 60 percent, while the size of the average debt load rose 18 percent. In the six years before the recession, the average debt only went up by 1 percent.

College and university faculty have taken a beating from the financial austerity, too. According to recent data, faculty positions are 76 percent more apt to be filled by part-timers than they were 40 years ago. During the same time period, the number of tenured, full-time positions has dropped by 26 percent and full-time positions on a tenure track have gone down by half.

Given these circumstances, it’s understandable why college enrollments in the nation are now in decline. Part of this decline may be attributable to increased availability of jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact that young adults forgoing a chance at a degree are also lowering their potential to have higher paying jobs later in life.

Declining enrollments are also not going to get the White House anywhere closer to its stated goal of ensuring, by 2020, that America once again has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

This Friday, Michele Obama may intend to commend City College graduates, and inspire other students, for their effort to “reach higher” in education. Let’s hope she also tells policy leaders and public officials to do the same to fund it.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 1, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

Chicago Students Boycott Class, Demanding an Elected and Accountable School Board

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

“David Vitale, we don’t recognize you as the board chairperson… You’re fired!”

Thus Jitu Brown, education organizer at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization on Chicago’s South Side, began today’s protest rally of about 400 students, parents and community members outside the downtown headquarters of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), where Chicago Board of Education president Vitale and the rest of the board were holding their monthly meeting.

Activists like Brown have been incensed by unpopular board decisions like the recent 50 school closures and massive budget cuts, and students haven’t been happy at the changes, either. Today, dozens boycotted school to join community organizations from around the city at the rally.

The protesters demanded that the school board be directly elected by Chicagoans, rather than appointed by the mayor, to make the body accountable to community needs.

“We have jumped through every hoop CPS has said to jump through, and still, they make the same decisions over and over again that have damaged schools in our communities,” Brown said. “We need an elected school board!”

The boycott was called by community groups earlier this summer. Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pleaded with parents not to keep their children home from school.

“You have a disagreement [about school closings]? The court has spoken to that. You don’t like something? There’s another way to speak of it. Do not take the kids out of school and harm them and their future,” Emanuel said.

No boycott organizers or union officials knew the exact number of students who participated in today’s boycott. But the number of students skipping class for today’s rally was far below Civil Rights-era CPS boycotts, like the one in 1963 protesting extreme racial segregation and miserable conditions in the city’s schools. According to community and teachers union staff, most schools continued business as usual.

However, the clamor for an elected board seems to be growing.

Standing in the middle of the crowd with her three children participating in the day’s boycott, Mae McLeninen, a janitor at Curie High School on the South Side, said she kept her elementary-age kids out of school to join the effort against Emanuel and the board.

“We’ve gotta get rid of the mayor, but not just him. We have to hold them accountable through an elected school board,” McLeninen says.

“TIF money is our money. We should be able to tell them to put that money into schools,” says McLeninen, referring to tax increment financing (TIF) dollars—public funds initially designed to alleviate blight that critics say have taken resources away from schools and have become a giant slush fund for the mayor to dole out giveaways to corporations like MillerCoors and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The Chicago Teachers Union did not officially endorse the day’s boycott, though CTU staffers and members in red T-shirts could be seen throughout the crowd.

“We can’t ask kids not to go to school, but if parents think that’s the best thing for their children, we fully support them,” says Kristine Mayle, the CTU’s financial secretary.

Mayle says she understands the frustration of many parents at massive class sizes in many schools throughout the district and the failure to deliver promised items like iPads and air conditioning to sweltering classrooms during a Midwestern heat wave this week.

“The reports we’re getting from schools are that the promises the district gave them are not being kept, so it’s understandable they want to fight,” Mayle says.

As I reported for Al Jazeera America last week, many CPS parents were worried before the school year began on Monday that schools would not be able to meet students’ basic needs, thanks to budget cuts of $162 million and teacher layoffs throughout the district, as well as school closings and consolidations in neighborhoods of color on the South and West Side.

That worry has come true, according to several of the day’s speakers. After the protesters marched from the school board headquarters to city hall, Jamie Adams, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in the Albany Park neighborhood, told the crowd that her school saw $1.6 million in budget cuts and layoffs of six teachers and counselors, leading to overcrowding.

“We’re literally fighting over desks. Some of us are sitting on the floor,” Adams said.

Adams joined a group of about 20 students affiliated with the newly-formed Chicago Students Union, who say they will be waging a campaign for a seat on the city’s school board for students.

At the Board of Education meeting this morning, parents, teachers, union officials, and community organization representatives denounced the board’s actions during the public comment period, in a scene that has become routine in this city. Lane Tech parent Adenia Linker promised parents will keep fighting “until this board is history.”

The beginning of last year’s school year saw the Chicago Teachers Union walk out in a historic strike. With several hundred parents and students marching on the third day of school, a growing campaign to end mayoral control of the city’s school board, and rising anger among parents and students over austerity measures, the new school year promises to be just as contentious.

This article originally appeared on Working In These Times on August 28, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Micah Uetricht is an In These Times contributing editor. He has written for SalonThe Nation,The American ProspectJacobin, and the Chicago Reader. Most importantly, he is also a proud former In These Times editorial intern. Follow him on Twitter @micahuetricht or contact him at micah.uetricht [at] gmail.

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