Archives for category: Unions

The following letter was written by labor leader Lee Saunders to Dr. Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, to protest the fund’s acceptance of a gift of $25 million from the Koch brothers.

From: Portside labor
Subject: A Principle Is A Terrible Thing to Waste

A Principle Is A Terrible Thing to Waste

Lee A. Saunders
July 14, 2014
Huffington Post

Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees writes in a letter to Dr. Michael Lomax, President of the United Negro College Fund that the union is halting all contributions to the fund and requesting that its affiliate locals do the same. President Saunders writes that this is a result of the fund accepting $25 million dollars from Charles and David Koch as well as speaking at their summit meeting in California.

Dr. Michael Lomax
President, United Negro College Fund
1805 7th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Dr. Lomax:

As you know, AFSCME has a partnership with UNCF that began more than a decade ago. We are very proud of the AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars Program. The program gives sophomore and junior students of color the opportunity to work with AFSCME over the summer, learn about the labor movement, and receive scholarship support during their junior and senior years of college. Through the program, we have helped dozens of students find jobs with AFSCME or in other social justice organizations. AFSCME has gained many talented new staff. And a generation of students has learned about workers’ rights and the value of public services.

We have been especially proud of the Union Scholars Program and our partnership with the UNCF because of our union’s commitment to racial equity and social justice. We are dedicated to providing the necessary support for young people of color to join the AFSCME team and build a staff that reflects the increasingly diverse population of our nation.

Therefore it is with the deepest regret that I write to notify you that we must sever our partnership. We are doing this as a result of actions you have taken as president of the UNCF that are not only deeply hostile to the rights and dignity of public employees, but also a profound betrayal of the ideals of the civil rights movement.

Like many supporters of the UNCF, I was deeply troubled by your decision to accept $25 million from David and Charles Koch. But I assumed that in accepting those funds you were in no way supporting or lending the name of the UNCF to the political or social causes or substantive views of the Koch brothers.

So I was truly stunned to learn that less than two weeks later, you attended and spoke at the Koch brothers summit in California. This was a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for. The avowed purpose of this private event was to build support — financial and political — for the Koch brothers’ causes. Your appearance at the summit can only be interpreted as a sign of your personal support and the UNCF’s organizational support of the Koch brothers’ ideological program.

The Koch brothers and the organizations they fund have devoted themselves for more than a decade to attacking the voting rights of African Americans. They support voter identification laws. They seek to restrict early voting and voter registration. They support laws that threaten organizations that register voters in the African American community.

They funded organizations that advocated for the Supreme Court’s rolling back of the Voting Rights Act and the removal of the special protections the act provided to people of color in those parts of the country where so many of our forebears were killed for seeking to exercise their right to vote. The Koch brothers are the single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting.

Lending your name to the Koch brothers’ efforts to disenfranchise African Americans would be sufficient to compel me to sever our relationship. But it is not my only objection to your actions. Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, was also a speaker at the Koch brothers’ summit. There is no person in America whose work is more opposed to the fundamental mission of the UNCF than Charles Murray. For decades, he has dedicated himself to promoting the notion that the over-representation of African Americans among America’s poor and in America’s prisons is the consequence not of our history or of the types of public policies the Koch brothers promote, but rather is a consequence of our genetic inferiority. The unmistakable implication of his work is that the UNCF effort to provide paths out of poverty and despair for African Americans and other students of color is futile.

According to Professor Murray, we and our children are genetically inferior. For these reasons, I must sever the relationship between our organizations. Effective September 1, 2014, we will not continue our partnership. I am also urging all AFSCME affiliates to sever their relationships with and cease fundraising for the UNCF. We must hold ourselves to the same standards that we promote through the Union Scholars Program: to practice what we preach, to fight for social justice, and to stand up for what we believe. I cannot in good conscience face these students or AFSCME’s members if I looked the other way and ignored your actions.

AFSCME remains committed to the mission of the Union Scholars Program. We will work directly with historically black and other colleges and universities, faculty members, student organizations, and other allies to make internship, scholarship and job opportunities available to students of color. With disappointment and determination we will continue the work without you and the UNCF.


Lee Saunders
AFSCME President

In recent days, there has been an extended discussion online about an article by California whistle blower Kathleen Carroll, in which she blasts Randi Weingarten and the Teachers Union Reform Network for taking money from Gates, Broad, and other corporate reform groups, in some cases, more than a dozen years ago. Carroll also suggests that I am complicit in this “corruption” because I spoke to the 2013 national meeting of TURN and was probably paid with corporate reform money; she notes that Karen Lewis, Deborah Meier, and Linda Darling-Hammond also spoke to the TURN annual meeting in 2012 or 2013. I told Carroll that I was not paid to speak to TURN, also that I have spoken to rightwing think tanks, and that no matter where I speak and whether I am paid, my message is the same as what I write in my books and blogs. In the discussion, I mentioned that I spoke to the National Association of School Psychologists at its annual convention in 2012, one of whose sponsors was Pearson, and I thought it was funny that Pearson might have paid me to blast testing, my point being that I say what I want regardless of who puts up the money. At that point, Jim Horn used the discussion to lacerate me for various sins.

Mercedes Schneider decided to disentangle this mess of charges and countercharges. In the following post, Schneider uses her considerable research skills to dissect the issues, claims and counterclaims. All the links are included in this piece by Schneider. Schneider asked me for my speech to the National Association of School Psychologists as well as my remarks to the TURN meeting, which are included.

I will make two points here. First, Randi has been my friend for 20 years, and I don’t criticize my friends; we disagree on many points, for example, the Common Core, which I oppose and she supports. I don’t hide our disagreements but I won’t call her names or question her motives. Friends can disagree and remain friends.

Second, I recall learning how the left made itself impotent in American politics by fighting among themselves instead of uniting against the common adversary. I recall my first job at the New Leader magazine in 1960, where I learned about the enmity among the Cannonites, the Lovestonites, the Trotskyites, the Mensheviks, the Schactmanites, and other passionate groups in the 1930s. That’s when I became convinced that any successful movement must minimize infighting and strive for unity and common goals.

Even earlier, Benjamin Franklin was supposed to have said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The Florida Education Association filed suit to block the expansion of vouchers. In their legal challenge, the teachers’ union said the law was passed at the last minute and “violates the constitutional requirement that legislative proposals be limited to a single subject.”

“The lawsuit from the Florida Education Association raises concerns about the way SB 850 became law. Some of the bill’s more contentious provisions, including the voucher expansion and the scholarship accounts, started out as stand-alone proposals that had difficulty finding support. They were added to a bill establishing collegiate high schools on the second-to-last day of the legislative session.”

In 2012, Florida voters turned down a proposal to change the state constitution to permit vouchers by a margin of 58-42.

KIPP Dawson teaches middle school in Pittsburgh. She is a brave union activist; she began her career as a coal miner, and worked underground for ten years. She has worked even longer in the classroom, where she brings with her the same courage, integrity, and determination. Here are her initial reflections on the AFT convention on Los Angeles. I hope we will hear more:

KIPP writes:

Dear friends, your hard work on behalf of our kids and schools, ALL of it, made a BIG impact on the AFT convention just ending now in Los Angeles, from where i write this. I am mostly without Internet connection for the last and next few days, and will write more when I can. Most important point: our movement for social justice unionism, and for our kids and schools, shifted the whole “playing field” here. We move forward with more strength after the debates and contributions here, from the call to action from Moral Monday’s Rev. William Barber to the strong discussion contributions from our colleagues from around the country (with special thanks to our wonderful CTU and CORE sisters and brothers for their leadership). Much more to be said, but as George Schmidt notes in his comments on the photo he shared of Pia Payne-Shannon, votes tell only a small part of a story full of victories. La lutte continue (the struggle continues), and on ever-stronger ground. Your voices are being heard, your examples are inspiring, and we will win this.


Regular reader and commenter Lloyd Lofthouse explains why we need unions:

Let me add something one of my uncles told me. He was 96 when he died about ten years ago.

As a young man, he remembered going to the railroad yard hoping to get work to earn enough to buy food. There was no union then. He said hundreds got up early every morning to show up. The manager in charge of loading and unloading the trains would stand in the opening of one of the box cars and throw ten, fifteen or twenty chips over the heads of the crowd of hopeful workers. Those who caught the chips and kept them got to work sixteen hours that day for about 25 cents.

The next day was a repeat.

This was in the United States during the Great Depression.

Without labor unions working as a collective voice for the workforce, most of the rich and famous will make sure the world we live in returns to that time. Study history as Back2basic suggests and you will learn from it. Mankind doesn’t change and power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. History repeats itself if we allow it.

I read an article recently that compared business methods and this article said that about 4 out of every 5 business are run like dictatorships and the workers are not treated with respect or paid a fair wage with benefits.

Businesses like Costco that are not unionized, Wholefoods, and Trader Joe’s that treat their workers with respect and pays them a living wage with benefits are the exception. Costco has even been criticized by Wall Street because of how much they pay their employees (like $12 or $14 an hour instead of the minimum wage). The stock holders grumble that if Costco paid their employees less, the stock holders would make more from the stocks. If you doubt this, Google it. Costco’s CEO basically told Wall Street to “F” off without using the “F” word. Companies like Costco have a high retention rate compared to corporations like Wall-Mart.

Why is it that some of the 1% who have the most money have spent HUGE fortunes on propaganda and lobbyists in state capitals and Washington DC for decades to destroy the labor unions? What do they have to gain?

Negative opinions of labor unions come from that propaganda and if you believe them and you are not a billionaire or millionaire, what does that say about you?

The answer may be found in this Abraham Lincoln quote: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Who is greedy—the Koch brothers who are worth more than one hundred billion dollars (combined) and are willing to pollute the air, water and soil to increase their wealth or the union worker who is paid maybe $25 an hour with a retirement and health plan that cuts into the profits and wealth of people like Bill Gates, the Walton family or Eli Broad?

Without labor unions, the worker has no voice. The only voice heard will be from someone like Bill Gates.

Stephen Sawchuck did a good job reporting the heated debate about the Common Core standards at the AFT convention. The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to dump them. The head of the New York City United Federation of Teachers mocked the critics of the standards. One union official said that the critics represented the Tea Party. That’s pretty insulting to the Chicago Teachers Union and one-third of the AFT delegates, as well as people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and me.

As far as I can tell, no one explained how states and districts will find the hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for hardware and software required for “the promise of Common Core.” Early estimates indicate that Pearson will have a contract of $1 billion to develop the PARCC tests. Who will pay Pearson? Who will be laid off? How large will class sizes go?

There were no Martians on the committee that wrote the Common Core standards, but there were also no classroom teachers, no early childhood teachers, no special education teachers. There were a number of testing experts.

Frankly the best and only hope for the future of these standards is that they are totally decoupled from testing. It is not likely to happen because doing so would deny the privatizers the data to prove that schools are failing and must be closed at once. That’s where the next big fight will occur.

Will they prepare all children for college and careers? Nobody knows. Will they help prepare our children for “global competition?” Not likely if the global competition works for $2 an hour for 18 hours a day under unsafe conditions.

The Common Core standards will never be national standards. They were developed in haste, paid for by one man (the guy is Seattle who thinks he knows everything), sold to the public via a slick PR campaign. They were never tried out. The tests connected to them are designed to fail most kids. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates thought they could pull a fast one and bypass democracy. Sorry, boys, you are wrong. Public education belongs to the public. Children belong to their parents. Neither public education nor children are for sale.

Mercedes Schneider was unimpressed by the AFT resolutions.

Plaintively, she writes: “It sure would be nice if a national union would aggressively confront the pro-privatization education agenda emanating from the Oval Office.” Neither NEA nor AFT would take on that Herculean task.

She expects that nothing will happen to Duncan, no matter how many absurd things he says or does. He is coated with Teflon.

She sees no point in clinging to the “promise” of the CCSS standards, which are dying the death of a thousand cuts.

She sees much ado about nothing. Duncan stays. The CCSS remains, no matter how troubled and lifeless it may be.

In a day of debates, the American Federation of Teachers voted to continue its support for the controversial Common Core standards while complaining about its faulty implementation. The delegates also voted for a resolution to put Secretary Duncan on a remediation plan that would be monitored by President Obama (ha-ha, when he is not busy with foreign crises). wrote: “The “improvement plan” would include the requirement that Duncan enact the funding and equity recommendations of the Equity Commission’s “Each and Every Child” report; change the No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top “test-and-punish” accountability system to a “support-and-improve” model; and “promote rather than question” teachers and school staff.”

After the NEA passed a resolution calling on Duncan to resign, the AFT rebuke seemed like mockery of Duncan, a bureaucrat who demands accountability of everyone but is never held accountable for his own missteps. Of course, his missteps are not mistakes but reflect his contempt for teachers and public schools. In his world-view, everyone lies about how terrible schools are except him.

This is the press release in which AFT explained its continued support for the Common Core, which will drain states and districts of billions of dollars for the testing industry while teacher layoffs increase:

“LOS ANGELES— AFT members today passed a resolution at the union’s national convention reaffirming the AFT’s support for the promise and potential of the Common Core State Standards as a way to ensure all children have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century while sharply criticizing the standards’ botched implementation. The AFT’s resolution lays out key actions needed to restore confidence in the standards and provide educators, parents and students with the tools and supports they need to make the standards work in the classroom.

The resolution, “Role of Standards in Public Education,” resolution passed following an intense, extended debate on the convention floor. Educators expressed their frustrations and anger with how the standards were developed and rolled out, without sufficient input from those closest to the classroom and without the tools and resources educators need to make the transition to the new rigorous standards, even as states and districts rushed to test and hold teachers and students accountable. AFT members also voiced their distrust of efforts by those seeking to make a profit off the new standards. No matter where members stood on the issue, there was clear anger over the deprofessionalization of teachers throughout the implementation process. At the same time, however, many educators shared how they’ve witnessed, when done right, how these standards more from rote memorization to provide children with the deeper learning the standards were designed to produce and that the standards remain the best way to level the playing field for all children. Proponents of the resolution made clear that it resolution offers solutions to fix the poor implementation and includes a call for greater teacher voice.

“We heard a lot of passion today—all in support of student needs and teacher professionalism,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “And where our members ended up is that we will continue to support the promise and potential of these standards as an essential to tool to provide each and every child an equitable and excellent education while calling on the powers that be in districts and, states and at the national level to work with educators and parents to fix this botched implementation and restore confidence in the standards. And no matter which side of the debate our members were on, there’s one thing everyone agreed on—that we need to delink these standards from the tests.”

The resolution lays out key action steps the AFT is taking to make the standards work for kids and educators, including:

• Rejecting low-level standardized testing in favor of assessments aligned with rich curricula that encourage the kind of higher-order thinking and performance skills students need;

• Supporting efforts by affiliates to hold policymakers and administrators accountable for proper implementation;

• Advocating that each state create an independent board composed made up of a majority representation of teachers and education professionals to monitor the implementation of the standards;

• Fighting to ensure that educators are involved in a cohesive plan for engaging stakeholders, and, that they have a significant role in the implementation and evaluation of the standards in their schools, and that there are adequate funds provided by all levels of government to ensure successful implementation of the standards; and

• Reaffirming the call the AFT made more than a year ago for a moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of Common Core-aligned assessments for students, teachers and schools until all of the essential elements of a standards-based system are in place.
“What educators and parents are saying is,: ‘Yes, we want our children to have the knowledge and skills they need for life, college, career and citizenship.’ But to make that a reality, our voices need to be involved in a meaningful way, and we actually have to focus on the learning, and not the obsession with testing,” said Weingarten.


Here are my thoughts;

If the standards are decoupled from the tests, as the AFT hopes, the standards will be a very costly and very toothless tiger. With or without the tests, they will drain every district of desperately needed resources.

One very promising idea to emerge from the conference was Randi Weingarten’s proposal to give grants to groups of teachers to revise the standards. This makes sense, especially in light of the fact that the writing committee for the Common Core standards did not include a single active classroom teacher nor anyone who had experience teaching early childhood edition nor anyone who had taught children with disabilities.

To those who say that the standards can’t be revised because they are copyrighted, I say nonsense. Let’s see if the National Governors Association or Achieve or the Council of Chief State School Officers has the gall to sue the AFT or its surrogates for trying to fix the CCSS. Bring it on.

No matter how many resolutions are passed at this or any other convention, the Common Core standards are going nowhere. State after state is dropping them or the federal tests or both. The standards ignore the root causes of low academic achievement: poverty and segregation. There is no proof that they will fulfill their lofty goals. They will end up one day as a case study in college courses of the abuse of power: how one man tried to buy American education and bypass democratic procedures. Even in states with high standards, like Massachusetts and California, there are large achievement gaps. Even in the same classrooms with the same teacher, there are variations in test scores.

We live in an age of magical thinking, of unrealistic expectations and of lies dressed up as goals and promises. For more than a dozen years, politicians have insisted that testing and accountability would leave no child behind. Then in 2009, the politicians said that testing and accountability would create a “race to the top.” Now we are told that common standards and common tests will bring about equity and excellence. What fools these mortals be. The politicians never run out of excuses or slogans. At some point, the public will tire of their know-nothing meddling. Let us hope that day will come soon.

Leading Democrats have announced the creation of a new organization called Democrats for Public Education.

It will be led by Ted Strickland, former governor of Ohio, and Donna Brazile, political consultant.

Its name is a swipe at Democrats for Education Reform, which is dominated by hedge fund managers, and which funds candidates who support charter schools, Teach for America, and any other group that is antagonistic to public education.

Last year, the California Democratic Party passed a resolution calling on DFER to cease using the name “Democrats,” since their program is a front for the Republican and corporate agenda.

A teacher from North Carolina wrote the comments below. I don’t agree with his conclusion that unions are responsible for teachers’ loss of control over their work. What he describes can be found in states that never had unions, that were always “right to work.” Who is the villain of the piece? Testing companies? NCLB? I would put the blame on the accountability movement, which now belongs to Congress and legislatures. They want to know “are we getting our money’s worth?” Can’t trust teachers to tell you, must trust standardized tests.

Mr. Worley of North Carolina writes:

There was a day when teaching was considered a profession. As a profession, those who taught were trusted with the education and the evaluation of the student. I grew up in schools that worked that way. Many of you did as well.

My first few years in teaching, it was still pretty much that way. While I dreaded the work of creating fair final exams and then grading them, there was satisfaction in knowing that my kids were doing the same kind of work they had done all year, and that I was the one doing the grading of it.

What has happened?

In my 18th year of teaching now, I no longer write any finals – the state writes them all. I no longer grade any finals – a bubble reading machine does that. I no longer have to consider whether and how to set a curve on their final exam – the state does that. I no longer am even allowed to administer the final to the students I have spent a whole semester with – a teacher outside of my content area must do that. I can’t even proctor the exam.

I spend months building a relationship with my students, slowly but surely getting to know each of them, and them getting to know me. We laugh together, we struggle together, we get mad at each other sometimes. Some days are hard, some not so much, but all of them are interesting.

My favorite comment from my kids remains, “Mr. Worley, you don’t understand. I so look forward to coming to your class each day.” It doesn’t matter whether they like math or not, whether they are particularly good at math or not. In our class, we are united in the notion that our day can be better as a result of having been in math class that day. For whatever reason.

What has happened?

It’s easy to point the finger at politicians and power-wielders who have precious little understanding of just what K-12 education looks like on a daily basis. And certainly these people continue to harm public education for what appear to be selfish reasons.

But we in the education camp have to take some responsibility as well. For far too many years we allowed union representatives to dig in their heels on issues related to rethinking education. We tolerated teachers who should have been quickly removed, protecting with union rights instead of taking a stand for a high level of professionalism. And with every story in the news, trust deteriorated.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have belonged to the teachers union. I was a building representative and believe strongly in the value of collective bargaining rights.

What I’m saying is, we allowed the union to take our voice. And, as a result, we lost our place at the discussion table. Now that sentiment is generally anti-union across the country, teachers are no longer welcome to have a voice, because they don’t feel they need to welcome us. Here in North Carolina we see a state General Assembly passing one piece of vicious attack legislation after the other against educators.

At some point we, the teachers, the ones who love this profession and who are passionate about the kids we serve, need to rise up and reclaim our rightful place as professionals. I’m not sure how. I’m not sure who can or will lead such a rising. But I am certain it needs to happen soon, before public education is dismantled and turned in to a private sector business.

Because education will be dead then…


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