Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Teachers’

Arizona teachers could be next to go on strike

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Arizona teachers will begin voting on whether to strike on Tuesday. The voting will go on for three days.

Although Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced a proposal to raise teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020, which state lawmakers will debate this week, teachers say his proposal doesn’t address education cuts over the past decade or large classroom sizes across the state.

Teachers are leaving the state for higher salaries and smaller classroom sizes and there are too many teacher vacancies as a result, teachers told ThinkProgress’ Elham Khatami last week. Last year, there were 8,600 teacher vacancies and 62 percent of those vacancies were vacant or being taken by people who couldn’t qualify for a teaching certificate, according to the Arizona Republic.

Arizona had the most devastating cuts over the past decade, according to a 2017 Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report on education funding since the Great Recession. State funding per student fell by 36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015, more than any other state.

On April 11, thousands of teachers participated in a statewide walk-in to ask for more education funding and higher salaries. In addition to the 20 percent raise they requested, they want to implement a permanent salary structure, offer competitive pay for educational support staff, stop new tax cuts until the state’s per pupil funding reaches the national average, and restore education funding to 2008 levels.

Arizona Educators United, a coalition of teachers, administrators, and education support professionals, organized the vote. Derek Harris, a member of the coalition’s leadership team and a band teacher at Tuscon Unified School District, said the group wants to see support from all over the state, according to Tuscon.com.

He said organizers want something more than a simple majority, but they don’t have a firm threshold for a vote. Teachers will vote before and after school hours. One of the members of the coalition leadership team, Kelley Fisher, a kindergarten teacher at Las Brisas Elementary School, showed teachers how to make a secure ballot box in a video on the group’s Facebook page.

“I am a creative arts teacher so I had to include some glitter but that’s not required,” she added.

Teachers on the coalition’s leadership team named the reasons why the governor’s proposal is not sufficient, such as the lack of detail on where funding for the raises will come from. Teachers also said a proposal should include more education funding to improve students’ quality of education.

“My students deserve to have repairs on their building and working plumbing and holes in walls patched,” Harris said in the group’s Facebook video published on Monday.

Harris laid out a plan for teachers over the next week for the voting process and next steps over the weekend, such as community organization meetings across the state.

“You will be breaking into canvassing teams, organizing house meetings, and really moving into the next step to get the community on our side,” Harris said. “So this week, let’s try to stay very attentive to what’s going on. We’re saying this week is #RedAlert, because if the legislature does something funny we want to make sure that you’re paying attention and ready to do anything that may need to be done.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 17, 2018. 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

Teacher strikes close schools across Oklahoma and Kentucky

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

The red-state teachers rebellion that started in West Virginia continues to grow, with teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma walking out on Monday after the Kentucky teachers shut down schools in nearly two dozen counties on Friday. In Oklahoma, dozens of school districts have announced closures for Monday, and many Kentucky schools are closed as well.

The Kentucky teachers are protesting a sudden retirement overhaul, while Oklahoma teachers are fighting for increased investment in their schools even after lawmakers voted them a substantial pay increase.

This package does not overcome a shortfall that has caused four-day weeks and overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need,” Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said in a video posted on Facebook. “We must keep fighting for everything our students deserve.”

Arizona teachers, too, are calling both for pay raises and for increased education funding—and planning to take action if they don’t see improvements. Music teacher Noah Karvelis told NPR that he often has 40 students in a classroom with just seven pianos, and “The math just doesn’t add up. There’s no way to reach those kids. Every day you’re going home and you’re just feeling like, I failed. I failed these students. And that’s honestly the worst possible feeling any teacher could ever have.”

There’s a simple explanation for the education underfunding:

  • Arizona cut personal income tax rates by 10 percent in 2006, cut corporate tax rates by 30 percent in 2011, reduced taxes on capital gains, and reduced taxes in other ways over the last couple of decades.
  • Oklahoma cut personal income tax rates starting in 2004. The top income tax rate fell from 6.65 percent to 5 percent, with the latest drop taking effect in 2016 even as the state faced a $1 billion shortfall. Oklahoma also substantially reduced its severance tax on oil and gas, increased tax exemptions for retirement and military income, exempted capital gains income from taxation, and abolished the estate tax.

Disrespect for teachers is certainly at play in Republican-controlled states that pay salaries that leave teachers working second, third, and even sixth jobs, but it’s not just that. It’s also disrespect for students combined with short-term thinking that will harm people and economies. But hey, rich people will have really low taxes.

And that’s why teachers are fighting.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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

West Virginia Teachers Are About to Stage a Statewide Strike. Here’s Why.

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Teachers and service personnel across West Virginia are planning to strike on Feb. 22 and 23 in an effort to boost pay and lower their increasing healthcare costs. It will be the first statewide walkout in nearly 30 years.

The strike was announced by the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) during a weekend rally at the state capitol in Charleston that attracted teachers and other public sector employees and supporters. Hundreds also showed up at the capitol on Feb. 2, where they sang “Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye!” while Tim Armstead, Republican Speaker of the W.V. House of Delegates, gave a speech on the House floor. At this past weekend’s rally, WVEA President Dale Lee declared that all 55 of the state’s counties were prepared to stand united. “The entire state of West Virginia will be shut down,” declared Lee, whose union is an affiliate of the National Education Association.

According to a 2017 study that ranked each state’s average teacher salary, West Virginia is the sixth worst in the country. On average, the state’s teachers make $45,477, compared to first-place-ranking Alaska, where teachers make $77,843. W.V. teachers want the state to fund the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) and increase their salaries. The state’s House of Delegates has voted to give public school teachers 2-percent raises next year and a 1-percent raise over the next three years, while the state’s Senate has approved a 1-percent raise, every year, over the next five years. Union representatives believe these raises are inadequate, especially when considered alongside the rising costs of healthcare.

Kym Randolph, director of communications for the WVEA, tells In These Times that dissatisfaction has been brewing for years. “It’s a number of things,” says Randolph. “PEIA, lack of salary, years of neglect, anti-worker policies … healthcare that’s inadequate.” According to Randolph, lawmakers have become “entrenched” on the issue of teacher salaries and are difficult to persuade.

One of those lawmakers is Republican Gov. Jim Justice. He has proposed freezing PEIA for a year, effectively preventing health premiums from rising, and he doesn’t believe that the 1-percent raise, every year, over the course of five years should be increased in any way. “I think the prudent thing and the smart money is to fix PEIA like we’ve done, and the smart money is to stay at 1-1-1-1-1,” said Justice at a recent press conference. However, his critics point out that a PEIA freeze is merely a short-term solution for a problem that isn’t going away, and such a temporary action could give birth to even higher healthcare costs in 2019. The teachers are looking for a long-term plan that provides security while finally making salaries competitive.

In that same press conference, Justice said that a teachers’ strike would be a “crying shame.” He also dismissed a Senate Democrat proposal that would fund PEIA by raising the state’s severance tax on natural gas as “political grandstanding.”

West Virginia is often portrayed as a steadfastly Republican state where progressive developments are nearly impossible. Nearly 70 percent of the state voted for Trump, who promised to revive the floundering coal industry, and the state’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin votes in line with Trump almost 60 percent of the time.

However, a deeper analysis of the state’s current politics reveals a slightly more nuanced picture. Bernie Sanders won all 55 counties in the 2016 Democratic Primary, and recent data suggests that support for Trump is actually dropping. Between January and September of 2017, Trump’s level of net support in West Virginia went down by 13 points. Last month, Paula Jean Swearengin, a progressive Democrat who is running against Manchin in the primary, told In These Times, “We have fought so many labor struggles and won. This nation and state deserve true democracy. … We all struggle and are going to fight like hell. I believe a new West Virginia is being born.”

Swearengin’s assertion will be put to the test in the coming months as the state’s teachers continue to fight, through the walkout and beyond. “I think what the Legislature is doing is just despicable,” a high school science teacher named Lisa Stillion told West Virginia Public Radio at last week’s rally. “We need to vote them out. Get your heads out of your rear ends; be thinking about who you represent. You work for us. We don’t work for you.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

Don't Pass Huge Tax Cuts for the Wealthy on the Backs of Working People

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have proposed a job-killing tax plan that favors the super-rich and wealthy corporations over working people. We cannot afford to let this bill become law.

Here’s why this plan is a bad idea:

  • Millions of working people would pay more. People making under $40,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2021; and people making under $75,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2027.
  • The super-rich and Wall Street would make out like bandits. The richest 0.1% would get an average tax cut of more than $208,000, and 62% of the benefits of the Senate bill would go to the richest 1%. Big banks, hedge funds and other Wall Street firms would be the biggest beneficiaries of key provisions of the bill.
  • Job-killing tax breaks for outsourcing. The Republican tax plan would lower the U.S. tax rate on offshore profits to zero, giving corporations more incentive to move American jobs offshore. 
  • Working people would lose health care. Thirteen million people would lose health insurance, and health care premiums would rise 10% in the non-group market. Meanwhile, Republicans want to cut Medicaid and Medicare by $1.5 trillion—the same price tag as their tax bill.
  • Job-killing cuts to infrastructure and education. Eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes would drastically reduce state and local investment in infrastructure and lead to $350 billion in education cuts, jeopardizing the jobs of 350,000 educators.

Republican tax and budget plans would make working people pay the price for wasteful tax giveaways by sending our jobs overseas; killing jobs in infrastructure and education; raising our taxes; increasing the number of uninsured; and cutting the essential public services we depend on.

Call your senator today at 844-899-9913.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kelly Ross is the deputy policy director at AFLCIO. 

Vouchers Subsidizing Education Failure

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

poole-60x60The false god of school vouchers has been unmasked once again, this time by a Brookings Institution study that says students in Louisiana and Indiana using vouchers to attend private and religious schools ended up doing worse on reading and math scores than their public school counterparts.

“The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large,” said the study on “The Negative Effects of School Vouchers,” written by Mark Dynarski, a fellow with Brookings’ Center on Children and Families. They also could not be explained away by the nature of the tests the children were taken or by some notion that some of the voucher children had been pulled away from above-average public schools.

Rather, the conclusion that these results point to is that “our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate,” Dynarski writes.

The facts in this report strike at a core argument behind the conservative drive to defund public schools and to promote “school choice” to parents, using taxpayer dollars to pay some or all of the costs of a private, often church-based, school. Sometimes invoking the language of the civil rights movement, these voucher programs are defended as ways to liberate students from the mediocrity of public schools and give them the opportunity to get higher quality schooling that equips them to succeed, including if they face barriers of race or class.

Here’s the reality, according to the report: “In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile. In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia has school voucher programs. The District’s program is unique in that it is a federally funded (and for many D.C. results, unwanted) intrusion into the city’s affairs. Vouchers have recently made news in North Carolina, where the state legislature is considering a $10 million increase each year in its $12 million budget for the program. That would in 10 years increase the school voucher budget to $135 million.

As Dynarski notes, comparisons of how well students using vouchers to attend private schools in all of these states have done to public school students “have reported mixed results on scores.” But what is remarkable about what the Brookings study saw in Louisiana and Indiana is that earlier studies have not reported “significant negative effects on test scores.”

“In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle,” Dynarski concludes. “A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction.”

But perhaps what is also being unmasked here is that the school voucher movement is not all about academic excellence, at least as education policymakers and experts think of it. Jeff Bryant exposed this several weeks ago in his extensive review of voucher programs and the instruction that gets subsidized by them. An editorial published recently in The Washington Times offers a window into what’s really driving the voucher movement, as it touts vouchers as a way for parents to avoid schools with such mandates as allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that conform to their gender identity. Instead of having to send their children to “schools which they believe promote unsafe and immoral behavior” – presumably such as respect and understanding for people who are different from themselves – the government can instead subsidize “the freedom to choose” a “morality” of intolerance.

But tax dollars should not be subsidizing ignorance of the basic facts of life – whether that ignorance is of how to solve a math equation or how to deal with children who don’t fit our false notions of a gender binary. At the very least, parents should have a fact-based debate of what we’re actually buying with school vouchers, not one argued on faith without evidence.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on May 26, 2016, Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah Poole Worked at Campaign for America’s Future, attended Pennsylvania State University, and lives in Washington, DC.

Washington, D.C., Teachers Union Wrestles with the Legacy of Michelle Rhee

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Bruce Vail

It’s been five years since self-styled education reformer Michelle Rhee left her job as head of the District of Columbia Public Schools under a cloud of bitterness and controversy, but she is still throwing shade over the Washington city school system.

Rhee’s open hostility to unions was a hallmark of her tenure in D.C. and of her subsequent career as an executive of the education reform group StudentsFirst. That hostility continues to darken relations between city officials and the teachers union, labor advocates say.

That was clear earlier this month when some of the teachers took to the streets to protest current schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson for her years-long stalling on negotiations for a new union contract. Henderson, a Rhee protégé who took over when Rhee departed in 2010, won’t come settle a new contract, says Washington Teachers Union President Liz Davis, and is adding insult to injury by meddling in the internal affairs of the union.

“[Rhee] is still here, but in the form of Kaya Henderson,” Davis tells In These Times. Rhee’s schemes for re-vamping Washington public schools have largely failed, she says, but Henderson insists on continuing Rhee-like attacks on teachers as a way to scapegoat the failure of administrators to make better progress. Most recently, Henderson delayed further negotiations on contract talks on the pretext that an internal Washington Teachers Union election is taking place, which Davis says is a clearly improper attempt to influence the vote.

“It’s Rheeism without Rhee,” remarks Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a pro-union education research group funded by the American Federation of Teachers. (The WTU is an affiliate of the AFT.) Evidence that Rheeism has actually succeeded in improving D.C. public schools is hard to come by, Casey adds, and the city continues to rate poorlyin many national rankings.

One of Rhee’s most visible initiatives is at the heart of the current inability to reach a new contract, according to Davis. A teacher evaluation system called IMPACT rates teachers and provides generous financial bonuses for those teachers who make high scores. Low scores, on the other hand, can be the basis for dismissal. The WTU is fighting for changes to the contract’s grievance procedures, Davis says, so that members can fight unfair evaluations. Negotiations are currently deadlocked on this issue.

Disagreement over annual salary increases is the second roadblock to a new contract, according to Davis. Henderson’s most recent offer was a paltry 1 percent.

Henderson Press Secretary Michelle Lerner tells In These Times that school “policy is not to comment on contract negotiations.” The old contract expired in 2012, but remains in place to cover about 3,500 unionized teachers, she says. A mediator has been brought in for negotiations to assist talks, she says.

Pay for D.C. teachers is very good, Lerner insists, with a starting salary of $51,259 a year that is the highest in the country (though cost of living in the city is also very high). Furthermore, the IMPACT bonus system allows veteran teachers to earn six-figure incomes. Despite the lack of a new contract with across-the-board wage increases, many teachers have seen rising incomes because of the bonuses, Lerner says.

Still, D.C. has a terrible time retaining teachers, Davis says. She estimates that there has been about 70 percent turnover since 2007, and “we are still recruiting 300 to 600 new teachers every year.” Many teachers feel there is a lack of support from senior administrators, she continues, leading to wide dissatisfaction and demoralization that fuels the high turnover rate.

Driving out older teachers is one of the unspoken goals of Rheeism, Shanker Institute’s Casey suggests, so union critics might argue that Rhee/Henderson have succeeded in that respect. Likewise, charter schools have exploded in D.C. over the last ten years. Nearly half of all public school students in the city are now enrolled in charter schools, while more than 40 public schools have been closed, Davis confirms.

Relations between the union and Henderson seem likely to remain fraught with difficulty, even if a new contract can be reached soon, Casey concludes. City school administrators have established a pattern of pushing charter schools, and Henderson has privately complained that Davis is less cooperative that previous union leaders.

“[Henderson] has difficulty with Liz because she is independent,” he says.

This post originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on May 25, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Another Argument In The Campaign Against Teachers’ Unions Bites The Dust

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Jeff BryantFor years, the campaign against public school teachers and their unions has lurched from one outrageous argument to another to support its case.

Teachers’ unions are accused of fighting for their salaries and benefits while ignoring the interests of school children. Prominent pundits say the unions “block needed reform” and protect “bad teachers” – even hiding sexual predators.

For every one of these over-heated claims, there are always powerful, fact-based counter arguments to dispel the many myths driving the anti-teachers’ union project.

Most recently, the twisted rationale for getting rid of teachers unions and the rights they’ve secured through years of struggle has led to the argument that unions play a role in misallocating resources – in particular, a role in sending the most qualified teachers away from where they are most needed: in schools with the most struggling students.

No one disputes the fact that disadvantaged children are often taught by under-credentialed, less-experienced teachers. But what anti-union operatives contend is that teachers’ unions, through collective bargaining or by pressuring public officials, are responsible for the fact that that best teachers are often misallocated to school districts with the most capable, well-supported students and that the unions simply don’t mind if underserved students get “the dregs.” The anti-teachers’ union campaign claims this misallocation is partly what causes achievement gaps in schools, which then lead to the vast socioeconomic inequality in society.

Now we know this argument is false too.

In a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, we learn, “There is no relationship between union strength and a misallocation of teachers that disadvantages students in high-poverty schools.”

The report calls the entire premise of union-created misallocation “a distraction from efforts to address the persistent nature of achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.” It recommends that instead of continuing to engage in an effort to pin the blame of inequity on unions, there should be more effort and research invested in learning “why teachers sort the way they do.” The report anticipates that research into teacher distribution would likely find the reasons teachers tend to gravitate to the more highly performing schools is due to “other aspects of school finance and school quality (e.g., facilities, access to advanced classes, curriculum, climate, etc.).”

To compile the report, the authors looked at teacher credential data from the federal government, at well-regarded measures of teachers’ union strength, and at data on student poverty levels from the National Assessment of Education Progress (known as “the nation’s report card”).

In order to assess whether teachers are misallocated away from high-poverty schools, they compare the proportion of teachers having each of three quality measures (experience, credentials, major or minor in field) in high-poverty schools relative to the average proportion across all schools in the state. Then they examine these comparisons in the context of the measures of relative union strength to look for correlations.

Their analysis consistently shows, “Misallocations of teacher quality are not more nor less severe in states with stronger teachers unions.” Some states, such as New Jersey, Wyoming, and Ohio, actually have more experienced teachers in high-poverty schools. In New Jersey, again, and Hawaii, the high-poverty schools tend to have more certificated teachers.

The authors also find there are indeed states that have grossly misallocated its most qualified teachers, including Connecticut, Virginia, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New York.

But in both states where the most qualified teachers are in the neediest schools and in states where they aren’t, the strength of teachers’ unions is simply not a factor. Strong union states such as New York and Pennsylvania can have the same misallocation problems as weak union states such as Virginia and Arizona. Conversely, some strong unions states such as Wisconsin and Hawaii do better at distributing qualified teachers, as do states like Tennessee and South Carolina that have relatively weak unions.

The authors agree there is an urgent need to address the persistent nature of achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Indeed, their analysis finds, “Almost half (47.7 percent) of U.S. public schools are high-poverty schools. The share is over two-thirds in Mississippi, Washington, D.C., New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Florida.”

But based on this analysis, the argument that somehow teachers’ unions cause the neediest students to be underserved should be rejected, and discussion needs to pivot away from these distractions to a focus on real root causes of the inequities in our schools.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on April 8, 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.

Friedrichs Is Dead; Labor’s Crisis Is Not. The ‘Scalia Dividend’ Is a Rare Opportunity for Unions.

Friday, February 19th, 2016

The Friedrichs vs. CTA Supreme Court case, a nakedly partisan assassination attempt on the labor movement, has died with Justice Antonin Scalia. What cannot die with it is the sense of existential crisis within the labor movement. We need a far-reaching conversation about the pathway back to increased activism, membership and power.

Like few moments before it, the Friedrichs case sparked a broad consensus within labor that our movement faced an existential crisis and that business as usual was a prescription for assisted suicide. Unfortunately, too many union leaders and staff based out of Washington, D.C. are now at risk of being dismissed as a bunch of Chicken Littles who overhyped a sky that never fell by the people who have the greatest ability to determine labor’s future: the local leaders and disengaged members.

It was a mistake to use the Friedrichs case to forge this somewhat rare agreement that labor faces an acute crisis. It seemed like a long shot that the Supremes would even take up the case just a few months after rejecting Justice Alito’s wet dream of a public sector “Right to Work” standard by a 5-4 margin in last session’s Harris vs. Quinn case (I lost a lot of bar bets when they did). Even with the case proceeding to oral arguments, there was always the possibility that the Court would punt on the issue or even rule in favor of the unions for political reasons or that one of these old farts would die and the case would deadlock.

But labor’s crisis predated Friedrichs and will live on after it. The “Right to Work” agenda, and the gutting of public sector collective bargaining laws, will continue to be pressed at the state level. And if the general financial commitment and philosophical approach to new union organizing remains the same, union density will surely continue to decline.

Fortunately, until the Friedrichs case gets re-argued or stalemates in a 4-4 decision, labor remains a bit like Schrödinger’s cat: simultaneously getting murdered by the judiciary and in the midst of a possible resurrection. So there’s still time to harness the sense of crisis into a renewed commitment to radical workplace democracy and activism. And the “rainy day” savings that many unions made in anticipation of an adverse decision can now be used as a “Scalia Dividend” to be invested in new campaigns.

A pragmatic approach to Armageddon

Faced with a potential revenue loss of millions of dollars, international unions focused pragmatically (and conservatively) on cajoling their locals to sign up agency fee payers to full union membership. But that was merely a matter of mechanics—a pragmatic approach to the coming Armageddon. Where workers are exclusively represented by a union and already compelled to pay fees for the benefit of that representation, those that haven’t joined typically haven’t been asked. It is a problem that too many unions don’t make a face-to-face contact to new employees and ask them to join, but it’s hardly labor’s biggest one.

The actual crisis in labor is rooted in a framework that has turned unions into agencies for workers, instead of organizations ofworkers.

The legal obligation of the duty of fair representation forces unions to focus on grievances and contract bargaining while the Taft-Hartley law and contractual no-strike agreements strongly discourage rank-and-file worker protest. Too many members then develop a “what have you done for me lately?” relationship with their union that is vulnerable to a “give yourself a raise” campaign that deep-pocketed right-wing outfits can launch following the loss of agency fee, encouraging union members to stop paying dues or agency fees and gain a bump in their paycheck.

That is the crisis that has been largely unaddressed, or at least unsolved, even while unions have spent two decades genuinely trying to meet the charge from the AFL-CIO to “organize at an unprecedented pace and scale.”

Not to mention, while union supporters were dancing on Justice Scalia’s grave, the West Virginia legislature just voted to become the 26th so-called “Right-to-Work” state. How long can agency fee survive in the other half of the states?

So the crisis still exists in that declining union density leads to declining union power. The billionaire class still wants to kill us, and we don’t make a compelling case about why workers should risk their jobs and relationships to fight with unions that look like ineffective special interests.

One of the under-told stories of the last two decades is how badly, and often how subtly, the organizing model conflicts with unions’ business as usual. In order to win, organizers introduce a radical and inclusive democracy into workplaces. We recruit often large and unwieldy organizing committees of workplace leaders through whom all major decisions about tactics, timing and demands must go for deliberation and approval.

And then we throw these newly radicalized workers into local unions where leadership all too often feel a political need to control bargaining and messaging themselves, going off into backrooms to meet with management and come back with a “win.” This is an unspoken conflict between international unions—who feel the need to “organize or die” more acutely—and locals who too often receive new bargaining units as an unwelcome disruption.

Many organizers wanted to use Friedrichs as an opportunity to work through this conflict. Instead, panicked about potential revenue loss, the leadership of the international unions talked too much about “agency fee conversion” (shop talk for convincing union-represented non-members to join and pay full dues) and a single Court case that is now moot. The organizers caught in the middle could find themselves locked out of further conversations about labor renewal and change with locals that now feel the crisis has passed. They need to broaden the sense of crisis and bring newfound resources to the table.

The “Scalia Dividend”: Labor’s second chance to get it right

Many unions that had Friedrichs’ sword of Damocles over their heads have quietly been squirreling money away, by under-funding or delaying funding new campaigns and not filling vacant staffing positions. Which means those unions now wake up to a “Scalia Dividend”—an unexpected windfall of newly available financial resources for new campaigns and initiatives.

Unions can and should commit resources to comprehensive campaigns for new bargaining units—the kind of campaigns that have quietly ceased in recent years. These organizing campaigns should have an eye towards enhancing density in union strongholds like auto manufacturing, education and retail, but also for big public campaigns that could potentially inspire more non-union workers to take action.

What could go further in inspiring non-union workers to contemplate their power is to build on the internal organizing that’s been going on in anticipation of Friedrichs with contract campaigns. Meaningful member engagement—the kind that can withstand the loss of agency fee—comes from stoking workers’ desires for better pay and working conditions (even their less “reasonable” demands) and extracting sweat equity from them in the form of escalating actions. These campaigns should culminate in a plan to demonstrate, as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has said that, “Our ability to withhold our labor is our power.”

We also need a new attempt at labor law reform. The fact that a workers rights bill has less of a chance passing Congress than Obama’s Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t make us say “Why bother?” Instead, it should inspire us to propose big, bold and meaningful reforms. Restoring solidarity rights, rooting unions’ collective actions in the First Amendment, outlawing “Right to Work,” banning permanent replacement of strikers—put it all on the table.

God forbid we do manage to spark the kind of mass strike wave that panics the billionaire class into throwing workers a few bones. What would we win for our effort? Card check? The AFL-CIO should convene an open call for legal reform proposals and put a new “Right To Your Job” bill on the record and on the lips of our members and allies.

The erstwhile House of Labor should also convene a wide-ranging strategic retreat for local leaders, rank-and-filers, staff, academics and activists that treats no idea as unwelcome or unthinkable. The recent petition filed by 106 leading labor scholarsin response to a question on union access to mandatory captive audience meetings left open by the NLRB (and promptly forgotten by union organizers) for 50 years highlights how badly labor needs more and different perspectives brought into the conversation. The poor souls who have spent the last few months poring over organizing databases, wall charts and lit pieces in anticipation of the Friedrichs decision need some fresh air and some new people to talk to.

Unions are no longer facing a multi-million dollar hit in June. We can give the bunker mentality a break, but we can’t pretend that we’re in the clear. There aren’t a lot of second chances in life. Labor must not squander this one.

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on February 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Shaun Richman is a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

This week in the war on workers: Chicago teachers protest planned cuts and layoffs

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Chicago schools and teachers are once again under serious attack from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and once again, the Chicago Teachers Union is showing that it is a powerful force. Thousands of teachers and supporters rallied Thursday, with 16 people arrested, protesting massive proposed cuts and layoffs:

Officials with Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday they’re ready to cut $100 million from school budgets and force teachers to pay more pension costs after their union rejected the latest contract offer, ratcheting up the tone of contentious negotiations that have lasted over a year. […]

The latest flare-up followed an offer a CTU bargaining team rejected Monday, after both sides had deemed it “serious.” The proposal included pay raises and job security, but union officials said it didn’t address school conditions or a lack of services.

The teachers have authorized a strike, though that wouldn’t happen until spring if it happens at all.

? Weeks after the West Virginia Senate passed an anti-union bill, the state House followed suit. A PPP poll conducted for the state AFL-CIO found high support for unions and opposition to laws weakening them.

? A union has filed a National Labor Relations Board petition to represent New York Uber drivers.

? Speaking of which, New York Uber drivers are pissed, with good reason.

A crowd of 600 drivers gathered outside the Uber office in Long Island City, Queens, to protest a 15 percent reduction in fares last month, which also means 15 percent lower wages. That pay cut is on top of Uber’s 20 percent slashing of fares in 2014. All things being equal, drivers who began less than two years ago have seen their pay tumble a whopping 35 percent.

Actually, it’s not just New York.

Last September, Dallas-area drivers for UberBlack, the company’s high-end car service, received an email informing them that they would be expected to start picking up passengers on UberX, its low-cost option.

The next day, when the policy was scheduled to go into effect, dozens of drivers caravaned to Uber’s office in downtown Dallas and planted themselves outside until company officials met with them.

? Indiana repealed prevailing wage protections to let them lower wages on public construction projects … and costs have gone up since then.

Not your typical Alabama labor story:

The state’s largest employer – the University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine – plans to raise employees’ minimum wage to $11 an hour beginning in March.

UAB employs more than 23,000 faculty and staff. The institution currently pays $8.24 an hour, about a dollar higher than the federally mandated minimum wage.

? For union members: seven steps to opening up bargaining.

?

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

Yesterday’s ‘Friedrichs’ Arguments Show Labor’s Difficulties in a Post-‘Citizens United’ World

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Editor’s note: In These Times has covered the Friedrichs case since the beginning. For more pieces on the case and its potential impact, see this roundup.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard extended arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case is ostensibly a First Amendment case about whether public employees who do not want to join a union can withhold all fees—the same as “right to work”—or whether unions can charge those employees fees—“agency” or “fair share” fees—to cover activities germane to collective bargaining. The plaintiffs, 10 objecting teachers and a Christian education association, were asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that declared that agency fees were the proper compromise between workers’ constitutional rights and the government’s interest in promoting labor peace.

However, despite a fairly clear issue before the Court, the arguments proceeded bizarrely, jumping repeatedly between disparate issues. This seemed to be largely the result of two fairly unique circumstances surrounding this case.

First, the Supreme Court had almost no record that could be used to address basic questions. Usually, cases that end up in front of the Supreme Court take a slow path in front of lower courts, where evidence is introduced and a conversation of sorts develops between the parties and the judges. By design, the conservative Center for Individual Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, pushed this case through the system in record time.

At each lower court, the plaintiffs’ position was that the case should be dismissed on the basis of longstanding Supreme Court precedent. As a result, the plaintiffs were able to get the case in front of the Supreme Court in less than two years. But they did so without much evidence from which either side could draw from.

This led to arguments that were, at best, abstract political positions talking past each other. At one point, the attorney for the California Teachers Association tried to explain to Justice Scalia about the history of public sector agency fees and public services, arguing that in New York City the use of such fees helped the city deliver better transit services. When pressed by Scalia on how the fair share fees led to this result, the union attorney basically had to throw up his hands and state that without a factual record, he has little to rely on other than what was raised in the various amicus briefs.

However, it was not just the lack of a record in this case that made it so peculiar—it was also the broad assumption among the Justices and the attorneys that money is speech. Being required to pay a fee for a benefit is now considered compelled speech, and any expenses negotiated between a union and a government employer constitute political speech. In one telling moment of the argument, when the attorney for the State of California tried to argue that mileage reimbursement rates are among the prosaic matters that public sector unions negotiate, Chief Justice Roberts shot back, saying, “It’s all money. That’s money.”

Chief Justice Roberts further articulated this position when, in one of his classic simplifications (recall his 2007 affirmative action formula: “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race”) he stated, “If your employees have shown overwhelmingly that they want collective bargaining, then it seems to me the free-rider concern that’s been raise is really insignificant.” Completely missing from Justice Roberts’ statement was any awareness of how people act in the real world, or half a century of social science research on collective action and the free rider problem. Instead, it’s as simple as: if they approve, then they will pay; if they don’t pay, they don’t approve.

According to the Court’s current First Amendment jurisprudence, money appears to be not only speech, but also the type of speech that deserves the highest form of protection. The problem with this view is that even if one assumes that money does represent some form of speech, it would represent among the most imprecise and inscrutable type of speech.

When someone buys a banana from Walmart, does that purchase signal that the buyer believes in Chiquita’s use of paramilitary organizations in Colombia, or affirms Walmart’s use of union-busters, or buys into the myriad of conservative causes supported by the Walmart and Walton Family Foundations? Or does it mean that the person craved a banana and found herself near a Walmart? It is impossible to know without engaging in actual speech with the individual.

In the yesterday’s arguments, Justice Breyer tried fruitlessly to point out that we have to beware in ascribing too much meaning to money. “You will go out this door and you will buy hundreds of things, if not thousands, where money will go from your pocket into the hands of people, including many government people, who will spend it on things you disagree with.” But with a quick out-of-context quote by James Madison, the attorney brushed aside Justice Breyer’s concerns.

In this case, which was purportedly all about the First Amendment, it was shocking how little speech or the political positions of the unions were discussed in the oral arguments. Indeed, though several of the Justices repeatedly cast teacher pay and merit pay as highly political issues over which teachers could disagree, it appears that Rebecca Friedrichs (the lead plaintiff in the case) actually agrees with the union on these issues.

This leads to the natural question of what happens when conservatives have completed the project of going after union money and actually go after union speech. Contrary to the picture painted by many of these conservative organizations, unions are not simply massive war chests secretly funding the Democratic Party. They are organizations that represent millions of workers each and every day in grievances, contract negotiations, the press, the legal system, the political sphere and in a variety of other domains. Unions engage in an enormous amount of “speech” on behalf of their memberships—is each and every part of that speech open to First Amendment attack?

Judging by the briefs submitted in this case and the oral arguments, there is good reason to be concerned about future attacks. After union dues and fees, the likely next attack will be about exclusive representation. If the Supreme Court here determines that the requirement to pay fees for representation violates public sector workers’ First Amendment rights, it is hard to see how they won’t also soon determine that public sector unions’ representation of workers does not also violate their First Amendment rights. While some union advocates have argued for the elimination of exclusive representation (especially in response to “right to work”), one has to recognize that American labor law was established with a careful balance in mind. Without required fees and without exclusive representation, the horizon will change greatly.

Though it’s impossible to divine from oral arguments which way the ultimate decision will go, yesterday’s argument showed a lack of understanding on the part of some of the justices of how unions function, an antipathy towards their activities on behalf of their membership and a view of them as being at odds with the Constitution. None of that bodes well for the outcome unions are hoping for in this case.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on January 12, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

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