Striking teachers in Arizona win 19 percent raise and end walkout

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

The Arizona governor signed a plan Thursday to give striking teachers a 19% pay raise, ending their five-day walkout after a dramatic all-night legislative session and sending more than a million public school students back to the classroom.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature awarded teachers a 9% raise in the fall and 5% in each of the next two years. Teachers did not get everything they wanted, but they won substantial gains from reluctant lawmakers.

Striking Arizona teachers win 19% raise, end walkout

“The educators have solved the education crisis! They’ve changed the course of Arizona,” Noah Karvelis of Arizona Educators United shouted to several thousand cheering teachers. “The change happens with us!”

Hours after Ducey acted, strike organizers called for an end to the walkout. Some schools planned to reopen Friday, with others likely to resume classes next week.

The Senate approved the pay raises just before dawn as hundreds of red-shirted teachers followed the proceedings from the lobby, many sitting on the cold stone floor.

The night before, the teachers, who are among the lowest paid in the country, held a candlelight vigil in a courtyard outside the original neoclassical Capitol building. They stood together with their right hands over their hearts and sang “America the Beautiful.”

Wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags, they napped on the ground or in folding metal chairs, occasionally using cellphones to monitor an online video stream of the legislative debate in the chambers.

Ducey said the teachers had earned a raise and praised the legislation as “a real win” for both teachers and students. The pay increases will cost about $300 million for the coming year alone.

Some teachers returned to the Capitol on Thursday as lawmakers debated the rest of the state’s $10.4 billion budget plan. Among them was Wes Oswald, a third-grade teacher from Tucson who made the two-hour drive for a sixth day.

Oswald said the budget still does not address serious issues such as the need for higher per-pupil spending, raises for support staff and a smaller-student-to-counselor ratio.

Teachers must still fight for those problems to be addressed, Oswald said, adding that “the worst thing would be for this movement to dissolve.”

Arizona Education Assn. President Joe Thomas said Thursday that educators now should focus on a campaign for a November ballot measure that would seek more education funding from an income tax increase on the wealthiest taxpayers.

“The budget is a significant investment, but it falls far short” of what the movement demanded, Thomas said.

Education cuts over the last decade have sliced deeply into Arizona’s public schools. Teachers wanted a return to pre-recession funding levels, regular raises, competitive pay for support staff and a pledge not to adopt any tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

Read the complete article here.

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.

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.

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.

Cal State Faculty Unions protest Chancellor Tim White’s campus visits, prepare themselves for strike

Hundreds of thousands of Cal State students will not have to worry about their professors going out on strike after the union representing faculty members failed to authorize a work stoppage on Tuesday.

That reprieve may be temporary, however. The leaders of the California Faculty Assn. warned they could still hit the picket line in the near future if their salary demands are not met.

“Faculty are ready and willing” to go on strike, said union President Jennifer Eagan, a professor at Cal State East Bay in Hayward.

The union, which represents nearly 26,000 professors, lecturers, counselors, librarians and athletic coaches at the 23-campus system, and Cal State administrators have been in deadlock since June 2015 over salary increases for the 2015-16 academic year.

The union has demanded a general 5% pay hike. Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White has offered a 2% increase, despite the lack of any raises over the last six years in the post-recession climate.

Click this link for video clip of today’s rally at Cal State LA:  IMG_7744

 

Does Tenure Protect Bad Teachers or Good Schools?

From today’s NYT “Room for Debate”:

Teacher tenure laws deprive public school students of their right to an education by making it difficult to remove bad teachers, a California judge ruled on Tuesday. The case, Vergara v. California, pressed by parents backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire, David Welch, is expected to be the first of many around the country to take on tenure.

Do tenure’s job protections prevent bad teachers from being fired or do they provide for greater stability for low-paid faculty?

Read several viewpoints in this debate here.

Labor meeting stresses immigration reform, reaches out to non-unions

At one of the largest annual gatherings of union workers nationwide, overtures are being made  to reform the labor movement by forming official alliances with non-union progressive causes including that of immigration and the environment. Sunday in Los Angeles the AFL-CIO kicked off its largest annual convention of union members, and called on unions across America to innovate by expanding membership to include non-union members or risk losing more ground.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said of the call for reforming union membership and alliances:  “”We have to create an economic, political and legislative climate where our members can succeed. Our opposition is well-financed and determined.…We’re too small to do it alone.”

The AFL-CIO is a 12-million-member that will now be aligning itself with progressive groups such as the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and the National Council of La Raza to strengthen political voices of the left. This will help consolidate the myriad viewpoints that are represented within the Democratic Party while drawing attention to some basic problems with American society that must be addressed, including declining unions, stagnating wages, high unemployment, and contingent work.

Union membership in the U.S. has slipped to 11%, from 35% in the 1950s, and currently sits at historic low point.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spoke yesterday to workers gathered at the annual convention, citing the need for expanding union membership, enforcing labor laws, and reforming immigration, an increasingly difficult problem to reconcile with American workers’ interests in protecting their jobs.

“Nobody who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty,” he told union leaders. “As we work together, we will build a better America. As we work together we will bring the middle class to thrive again. As we work together, we will make sure that everybody has the ladder of opportunity to climb.”

LA city workers rally for living wage

From yesterday’s LA Times Local:

Hundreds of workers rallied outside the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, demanding an increase to the “living wage” that county contractors are required to pay employees.

“We should not forget one of the goals of the civil rights movement was the end of poverty,” said Michael Green, a regional director of SEIU 721, which represents 55,000 county workers.

The living wage ordinance was enacted by the Supervisors in 1999 as a response to private firms that the county contracted with paying workers low wages that left them reliant on county-funded healthcare and social services. The living wage was increased in 2006 and currently stands at $9.64 per hour if the employer is providing health benefits and $11.84 per hour if the employer is not providing health benefits.

Labor leaders have argued that the wage has failed to keep pace with inflation, and Green noted that poverty in the area has increased 17% in the last five years.

“The Board of Supervisors needs to set an example,” he said. “Our message is simple — it is time to take another look at Los Angeles County’s living wage.”

Noise from the rally could be heard inside the board’s chambers, where members were holding their weekly meeting. The protestors never entered the chamber and ended their hourlong rally at 1 p.m.

Forty minutes later, board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who benefited from millions of dollars in labor spending on his bid to be elected to the board in 2008, directed county staff to provide an update on the living wage ordinance and cost-of-living increases.

“It seems  to me that we wish to be current in terms of what the living wage is for the workforce in the County of Los Angeles,” he said.