Fight for $15 – Labor’s Big Bang or Not?

IMG_3693Will AFL-CIO Jump In?

 By Carl Finamore

There are only two flash points in American history where labor unions became center stage in politics.

I will call these “Big Bang” moments because they propelled the American Federation of Labor (AFL) after 1886 and the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) after 1935, from fledgling organizing committees into mass organizations directly impacting and attracting millions.

In the case of the AFL, it was due to avid support for the eight-hour day and in the case of the CIO, it was due to resolute support for union organizing of millions of previously excluded industrial workers.

There has never again been such mass acceptance and relevancy for labor, mostly because of numerous failures to grasp the historical moment. Continue reading

Desperately seeking a new model for trade

by Michael Brune and Randi Weingarten

[Ed. note: The Senate has just voted 68-32 for cloture after an all-too brief debate on this insidious and dangerous legislation. However the outcome is by no means bleak in the House, since both Democratic and Republican legislators are bring swamped by mail and phone calls from their constituents against enacting Fast Track and the Trans Pacific Partnership.  A very broad coalition of representative American organizations is mobilizing against “fast-tracking” gigantic trade and investment agreements that would cement in place global corporate domination over popular democratic rules and safeguards.   Here is a joint statement from the Sierra Club and the American Federation of Teachers.]

Fast-tracking bad trade deals would shrink protections for communities, the economy and the environment.

Each of us has a stake in the legacy we leave our kids. The members of the respective organizations that we lead — the Sierra Club and the American Federation of Teachers — share a commitment to creating an America that is safe, healthy and economically secure. But over the past three decades, the American dream has moved out of reach for too many families, and our communities have borne the brunt of extreme weather and an increasingly disrupted climate.

To make matters worse, Congress is considering a dangerous plan that would put the health and livelihoods of many Americans at risk. The Hatch-Wyden-Ryan trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation would fast-track deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It limits Congress’ ability to debate and amend such deals by granting the administration the authority to sign a trade deal before sending it to Congress for a vote. Fast track removes the ability of our elected representatives to ensure that trade pacts don’t sacrifice the health of communities, the economy and the environment.

Although the TPP has been in the works for more than five years, all the negotiating has happened behind closed doors. Hundreds of corporate executives have been involved in shaping the agreement, while ordinary citizens have been left out. The TPP would dwarf the North American Free Trade Agreement and apply to more than 40 percent of the world’s total GDP. Its reach would extend far beyond traditional trade matters such as tariffs and quotas. The TPP includes rules that would expand the power of multinational corporations while limiting the ability of our government to protect our workers, communities and environment.

Put simply, the TPP is toxic for the health of people, our economy and the planet. It is riddled with problems that give serious pause to all of us who care about economic security and future generations. These include provisions that allow foreign corporations to sue our government if they think our industry safeguards might hurt their profits. The investor-state dispute settlement provision could have a chilling effect on our ability to regulate in the public interest.

We need a new model for trade that doesn’t prioritize corporate profits over the health of our communities, the economic security of everyday Americans and the future of our kids.

Consumer protections such as ensuring affordable prescription drug prices and country-of-origin labeling are also in jeopardy because of the TPP. Buy-American procurement rules would be undermined by a provision that would force the U.S. in some instances to treat foreign bidders the same as American ones. Also, the TPP not only fails to address climate change but would exacerbate the crisis by granting new rights to big polluters and encouraging investments in the countries with the weakest environmental protections.

Some are touting the TPA legislation as an opportunity for Congress to shape the contents of the deal. But this is simply not the case, for a number of reasons. First, after more than five years of negotiations, the TPP is nearly complete, and the TPA would remove any remaining leverage that Congress has to shape the deal. Second, any worker, consumer, environmental or human rights protections that Congress identifies as priorities under the TPA would be completely unenforceable. Legally, they are goals rather than obligations, and a deal that doesn’t achieve them still gets a luge run through Congress. The negotiating guidelines in the bill won’t even help protect workers and the environment. For example, there is not a single mention of climate change in the legislation.

We commend Congress for considering trade adjustment assistance, which provides support to workers who have been affected negatively by the loss of jobs because of past free trade agreements and offshoring. But packaging fast track with other legislation such as trade adjustment assistance will not prevent it from hurting the jobs and wages of working families.

As advocates for working families and the environment, we ask ourselves, Will our trade policy help us fulfill our collective obligation to our kids? Will they have clean air to breathe and water to drink? Will they have access to quality education and health care? Will we keep our promise to them that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can build decent lives for themselves? The Hatch-Wyden-Ryan bill would set us on the wrong path on all those fronts and must be opposed.

We need a new model for trade that doesn’t prioritize corporate profits over the health of our communities, the economic security of everyday Americans and the future of our kids.

Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club.
Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Reposted from Al Jazeera Opinion page.

 

Jewish and Labor Leaders Flock To Defend Teachers at Perelman Jewish Day School

by Bruce Vail

As a Jew who grew up in the Conservative movement and a union leader, I'm appalled at what has transpired at the Perelman Jewish Day School,' said Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers union. (Photo by Bill Burke/Page One)

(April 14) As a Jew who grew up in the Conservative movement and a union leader, I’m appalled at what has transpired at the Perelman Jewish Day School,’ said Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers union. (Photo by Bill Burke/Page One)

(April 14) On the eve of the Jewish high holy days of Passover, union leaders and Jewish labor activists in Philadelphia and beyond are ramping up efforts to defeat a plan by one of the area’s small private religious schools to bust its teachers union. Both groups are outraged at the school’s implicit claim that there’s a conflict between Judaism and workers’ rights.

The issue erupted late last month when the board of the Perelman Jewish Day School notified the school’s roughly 60 teachers that it would no longer negotiate with their long-established labor union. Instead, the board proclaimed, each teacher must make individual arrangements with the school administrators for the conditions of future employment. The union busting was justified, the Perelman teachers were told, as a measure to advance the religious objectives of the K-5 school, and was legally supported by court rulings reaching all the way to the Supreme Court. The school was likely referring to the high court’s 1979 ruling in NLRB v Catholic Bishop of Chicago that religious schools were exempt from some labor law.

Continue reading

Faculty Organizing into Unions – Podcast of Ideas and Experiences

Bill Barclay

Bill Barclay

by Bill Barclay, Oak Park DSA branch (of Chicago DSA)

The Chicago December DSA podcast featured two faculty active in their unions, but at very different stages in the history of organizing on their respective campuses.  Holly Graff is Professor of Philosophy at Oakton Community College (Chicago) and Senator in the Illinois Education Association chapter at her college.  Joe Persky is Professor of Economics at University of Illinois at Chicago and President of United Faculty.  United Faculty is affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, in itself an unusual organizing model.

Oakton CC’s faculty union is an old one while UIC’s is brand new – not even a contract yet.  Both participants discuss how they and their unions can help defend higher education, stressing the importance of a vision of post-secondary education that is democratic and accessible to all in today’s political economy. They also talk about the ways in which their unions have been involved with other organized staff on their respective campuses as well as their interaction with the Chicago Teachers Union during the fall 2012 strike.  Finally, there are some interesting differences as well, particularly near the end of the podcast, when they talk about their respective bargaining strategies.

Episode 22, Recorded 12.08.2012:

For other excellent political economy podcasts, see: http://northshoredsa.org/talkin_socialism.html

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Grading “Waiting for Superman”

by Dana Goldstein
From the Nation.

Here’s what you see in Waiting for Superman, the new documentary that celebrates the charter school movement while blaming teachers unions for much of what ails American education: working- and middle-class parents desperate to get their charming, healthy, well-behaved children into successful public charter schools.

Here’s what you don’t see: the four out of five charters that are no better, on average, than traditional neighborhood public schools (and are sometimes much worse); charter school teachers, like those at the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles, who are unionized and like it that way; and noncharter neighborhood public schools, like PS 83 in East Harlem and the George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, that are nationally recognized for successfully educating poor children.

You don’t see teen moms, households without an adult English speaker or headed by a drug addict, or any of the millions of children who never have a chance to enter a charter school lottery (or get help with their homework or a nice breakfast) because adults simply aren’t engaged in their education. These children, of course, are often the ones who are most difficult to educate, and the ones neighborhood public schools can’t turn away. Continue reading

New school funding imperiled

The Arrogance of  some  school superintendents

A New York Times article August 18, 2010 makes the incendiary assertion that some  schools districts may not spend the just passed $10 Billion dollars on hiring teachers and preventing teacher layoffs. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/18/business/economy/18teachers.html?_r=1&hpw

Under a law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in August, the “Keep Our Educators Working Act,”  schools will receive $ 10 billion in federal funding for education to help put teachers and teaching assistants back in classrooms.

Let us be clear.  This is a budget emergency in many states.  That money was passed by the Congress  to hire teachers and other staff, not for superintendents to play with, to hide, or to use for their other plans.

Districts should hire the teachers now. The money is on the way.  Yes, that leaves a budget problem for next year. But, the kids need a quality school system this year. And, the economy needs these teachers back to work.

It was teacher voices and teacher mobilization that passed the bill.  Both major teachers unions, the NEA and the AFT mobilized to encourage passage of the bill.  Senators received over 20,000 e mails, phone calls, and letters. As reported in prior posts here,   it took 4 votes to pass the bill over the Senator filibuster.

The Times article particularly cites Houston’s Superintendent Terry B. Grier with planning to use the funds for other uses.  Grier has a  history  in other districts of budget manipulation to promote his own self interest going back to the time when he was superintendent in Sacramento, California.

If you are in the middle of a flood, or a fire, you don’t say, well lets not fight this because we might need the funds next year.  We need to respond to the crisis by hiring teachers now – and then working on next year’s crisis.

Should administrators ignore the clear legislative intent to provide teacher jobs and use this money for other needs, it will be very difficult in the future to convince the Congress in the future of the need to fund teachers and schools.

Any superintendent who uses this money for other purposes should be fired.  Labor unions and Central Labor Councils should insist that candidates seeking their endorsements commit to using the money for the intended purposes of hiring back laid off teachers.  We can’t allow school districts to act like AIG, or Bank of America with public money.

In the New York Times the article is titled, “Given Money for Rehiring, Schools Wait and See.”

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