Public Servants Are Losing Their Foothold in the Middle Class

From today’s New York Times:

The anxiety and seething anger that followed the disappearance of middle-income jobs in factory towns has helped reshape the American political map and topple longstanding policies on tariffs and immigration.

But globalization and automation aren’t the only forces responsible for the loss of those reliable paychecks. So is the steady erosion of the public sector.

For generations of Americans, working for a state or local government — as a teacher, firefighter, bus driver or nurse — provided a comfortable nook in the middle class. No less than automobile assembly lines and steel plants, the public sector ensured that even workers without a college education could afford a home, a minivan, movie nights and a family vacation.

In recent years, though, the ranks of state and local employees have languished even as the populations they serve have grown. They now account for the smallest share of the American civilian work force since 1967.

The 19.5 million workers who remain are finding themselves financially downgraded. Teachers who have been protesting low wages and sparse resources in OklahomaWest Virginia and Kentucky — and those in Arizona who say they plan to walk out on Thursday — are just one thread in that larger skein.

The private sector has been more welcoming. During 97 consecutive months of job growth, it created 18.6 million positions, a 17 percent increase.

But that impressive streak comes with an asterisk. Many of the jobs created — most in service industries — lack stability and security. They pay little more than the minimum wage and lack predictable hours, insurance, sick days or parental leave.

The result is that the foundation of the middle class continues to be gnawed away even as help-wanted ads multiply.

Read the complete article here.

Teachers’ strikes: meet the leaders of the movement marching across America

From today’s The Guardian:

When teachers in West Virginia went on strike in February, there was little indication that a swath of other states would follow suit.

But that action in the Appalachian state, which resulted in teachers winning a 5% pay rise, has spurred on educators in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona.

Teachers in Oklahoma have been on strike since 2 April, while school districts have also walked out in Kentucky. In Arizona, teachers are demanding a 20% pay rise and could go on strike at the end of April.

In some states the protests are being driven from the bottom up, rather than by unions, as teachers and school districts take matters into their own hands.

Here are some of the leaders of the teachers’ strike movement.

Cindy Gaete is a 25-year-old teacher at Marshall elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The daughter of Chilean immigrants, she is currently the only Spanish speaker in her school, which is nearly a third Latino.

She says it is frustrating that in addition to her teaching duties that the lack of Spanish speakers means that any time the schools needs to communicate with parents that she has to serve as translator.

“The first thing I told my principal when I got hired is that if we are a third Latino, there should not be just one Hispanic teacher in your school,” said Gaete.

Inspired to fix her school, she helped lead a 110-mile March for Education that arrived in Tulsa from Oklahoma City.

As teachers are expected to end their strike this week, she says that it’s important for teachers like her to run for office to keep the momentum. On Saturday, Gaete decided to lead by example and file her papers to run for state representative in Oklahoma 78th house district.

“Today I start day one of my campaign for house district 78,” said Gaete in announcing her bid. “For my students. For my community. Because all students deserve an equitable educational experience, regardless of race, socio-economic status and gender.”

Read the complete article here.

Breaking News: Kentucky teachers rally at State Capitol over state budget

From today’s LA Times:

Thousands of Kentucky teachers filled the streets near the state Capitol in Frankfort on a cold, overcast Monday to rally for education funding.

Teachers and other school employees gathered outside the Kentucky Education Assn. a couple of blocks from the Capitol chanting, “Stop the war on public education” and holding or posting signs that say, “We’ve Had Enough.”

“We’re madder than hornets, and the hornets are swarming today,” said Claudette Green, a retired teacher and principal.

The rally is happening after hundreds of teachers called in sick Friday to protest last-minute changes to their pension system.

Teacher unrest is not just limited to Kentucky. Educators in Oklahoma were gearing up Monday to march on their state capital as well.

Oklahoma teachers are demanding that lawmakers approve more education funding just days after the Legislature did just that.

Some teachers are saying the legislation signed by Gov. Mary Fallin last week was not enough. The measure increases taxes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production to provide teachers with raises of about $6,100, or 15% to 18%.

Read the complete article here.

Without no pay raise in years, Oklahoma Teachers Could Be the Next to Walk

From today’s New York Times:

When she woke up one morning last week, Tiffany Bell, a teacher at Hamilton Elementary School here, had $35 in her bank account.

On take-home pay of $2,200 per month, she supports her husband, a veteran who went back to school, and their three children, all of whom qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal benefit for low-income families. The couple’s 4-year-old twins attend a Head Start preschool — another antipoverty program.

Money is so tight for Ms. Bell, 26, that she had to think twice before spending $15 on Oreos for a class project, in which her third graders removed differing amounts of icing to display the phases of the moon.

She knew it would be hard to support a family on a teacher’s salary. “But not this hard,” she said.

When West Virginia teachers mounted a statewide walkout last month, earning a modest raise, it seemed like an anomaly: a successful grass-roots labor uprising in a conservative state with weak public sector unions. But just a few weeks later, the West Virginia action looks like the potential beginning of a red-state rebellion.

In Arizona, teachers clad in red, the color of the teacher protest movement, have conducted a series of #RedforEd demonstrations demanding higher pay. In Kentucky, teachers have organized rallies to protest proposed cuts to their pensions.

And in Oklahoma, where teachers have not had a raise from the state in a decade, they have vowed to go on strike on April 2 if the Legislature does not act to increase pay and education budgets.

Read the complete article here.

Deadline Is Today in McDonald’s Labor Case That Could Affect Millions

From today’s New York Times:

The Trump appointee charged with enforcing federal labor rights is scrambling to head off a court ruling in a case against McDonald’s that could redefine the accountability of companies for the labor practices of their franchisees.

The official, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, has been exploring settlement terms with workers at the center of the board’s complaint against McDonald’s, according to lawyers involved in the case. A judge had halted the trial until Monday to give the agency a chance to do so.

If no settlement is reached and the judge were to rule against the company, the decision could have enormous implications for the franchise business model, affecting millions of workers in the fast-food industry and beyond. Corporations could be required to bargain with unionized workers at disparate franchise locations.

The National Labor Relations Board did not respond to a request for comment. A McDonald’s spokeswoman said that “settlement discussions are a normal part of any litigation process.”

The case was brought during the Obama administration, when the board was under Democratic control. Since President Trump’s election, Republican members have regained a majority, steering the board away from a pro-labor orientation.

Read the complete article here.

Striking teachers descend on West Virginia’s Capitol to demand pay raises

From ABC News:

Thousands of striking teachers descended on the West Virginia Capitol on Monday, forcing officials to briefly cut off access to the building six days after Gov. Jim Justice and unions representing the teachers reached an agreement on a 5 percent pay raise that was subsequently rejected by the state Senate.

The Capitol – closed after 5,000 people had entered early Monday , posing security concerns – was reopened an hour later, but teachers continued to vent their frustration over the lack of progress in agreement over a pay raise. Their strike, in one of the poorest states in the country, has disrupted education, forced working parents to scramble for child care and put children who rely on meals at school at risk of going hungry.

The strike entered a new week Monday with teachers waiting for state lawmakers to agree on a pay raise; House and Senate negotiators scheduled a Monday afternoon meeting to try to resolve their differences. The statewide strike has kept public schools shut for 277,000 students and 35,000 employees for a week.

In a state with a 17.9 percent poverty rate, teachers, bus drivers and other volunteers are collecting food and helping to distribute it to students who rely on free breakfasts and lunches at school. Teachers were sharing stories about how they’ve donated their time, their own money or their own food for that cause. At least two GoFundMe pages have been launched in support of the walkout.

“It does make you feel good because we are helping them,” said Ann Osburn, a special education teacher at Buckhannon Academy. “I think we’re reaching as many as we can. We’re getting as much help out there as we can for those kids.”

Rachel Stringer, as a stay-at-home mom from Cross Lanes, hasn’t had to struggle to find care for her five children, but numerous friends are in a bind. She said her biggest challenge has been making sure her children don’t forget what they’ve learned this school year. Despite the long layoff, Stringer is supportive of the teachers.

“They deserve to be paid,” she said. “They deserve to be able to have insurance.”

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS Hears Fiery Arguments In Case That Could Gut Public Sector Unions

From NPR News:

The Supreme Court heard fiery arguments Monday in a case that could remove a key revenue stream for public sector unions.

A sharply divided court could be poised to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision that would further undermine an already shrinking union movement.

Attorneys for Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, argue that people like Janus, who choose not to join a union, shouldn’t be compelled to pay partial union fees. The union argues that he should because he benefits from collective bargaining negotiations. The Supreme Court agreed in 1977, but that could change with the new conservative tilt of the court.

When a decision is reached, expected in June, all eyes will be on Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was uncharacteristically quiet in Monday’s proceedings. He asked no questions and is likely to be the deciding vote, given that the other justices split 4 to 4 in a similar case in 2016. That case was decided just after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the balance didn’t seem to change Monday.

“You’re basically arguing, do away with unions,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued at one point in questioning the attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, William Messenger.

On the other side, conservatives sympathized with Janus’ argument that the unions are political, and people shouldn’t have to join a union they disagree with on politics.

Chief Justice John Roberts argued that what unions do affects policy and therefore makes them political. “How do negotiation over wages not affect the state budget?” he asked.

Justice Anthony Kennedy asked David Frederick, the attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Illinois affiliate, whether a ruling against AFSCME would reduce its political influence.

Frederick agreed that it would.

“Isn’t that the end of this case?” Kennedy asked.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan warned against the potential breadth of the decision, which would affect 23 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, which have similar laws on the books.

“Thousands of municipalities would have contracts invalidated,” Kagan warned. “Those contracts probably cover millions, maybe up to over 10 million, workers.”

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS conservatives set to strike down union fees on free-speech grounds

From today’s LA Times:

Paying union dues and baking a wedding cake may not seem like classic examples of free speech—except perhaps at the Supreme Court.

This year, the high court is poised to announce its most significant expansion of the 1st Amendment since the Citizens United decision in 2010, which struck down laws that limited campaign spending by corporations, unions and the very wealthy.

Now the “money is speech” doctrine is back and at the heart of a case to be heard this month that threatens the financial foundation of public employee unions in 22 “blue” states.

Like Citizens United, the union case is being closely watched for its potential to shift political power in states and across the nation.

The legal attack on the campaign funding laws was brought by conservative activists who hoped that the free flow of money from wealthy donors would boost Republican candidates. And since 2010, the GOP has achieved big gains in Congress and in state legislatures across the nation.

Conservatives also believe the attack on mandatory union fees has the potential to weaken the public sector unions that are strong supporters of the Democratic Party.

“This is a big deal,” Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said in September on the day the Supreme Court said it would hear the lawsuit that he initiated. A court victory would be “transformative for the state of Illinois, transformative for America and the relationship between our taxpayers and the people who work for our taxpayers.”

Read the complete article here.

LA Times journalists vote to unionize

From today’s LA Times:

Journalists at the Los Angeles Times have overwhelmingly elected to form a union, a first for the 136-year-old news organization that for much of its history was known for its opposition to organized labor.

The union drive was launched publicly in October and culminated in an election earlier this month. Results, tallied Friday by the National Labor Relations Board, show workers voted 248 to 44 to be represented by the Washington, D.C.-based NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America.

“We respect the outcome of the election and look forward to productive conversations with union leadership as we move forward,” said Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for Tronc Inc., The Times’ parent. “We remain committed to ensuring that the Los Angeles Times is a leading source for news and information and to producing the award-winning journalism our readers rely on.”

Guild organizer Kristina Bui, a copy editor at The Times, said: “This was a long time coming, and we’re all thrilled that this has finally happened. The newsroom has put up with so much disruption and mismanagement, and this vote just underscores how much of a say we need to have in the decision-making process. The newsroom is demanding a seat at the bargaining table.”

Read the complete article here.

MLK Day 2018, A Time to Reflect on Socio-Economic Injustice In All Forms

In honor of MLK Day, we post a short educational video here with excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin that draw the connection between racial injustice and economic inequality in the United States. Their insights are as true today as they were fifty years ago, showing just how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. If we want peace, we must work for justice in all its forms.