Archives for category: Unions

We are living in a perilous that demonstrates the need for tenure and unions. With so many astroturf parent groups making spurious charges against public schools and their teachers, who will dare to stand up to bullies? In New Hampshire, it’s the president of the state AFTDeb Howes.

Contact:
Deb Howes
president@aft-nh.org
603-930-9248


AFT-NH Statement on Bill on ‘Obscene Materials’ in K-12 and Higher Education Classes, Public Libraries

CONCORD, N.H.—The following is a statement from AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes on HB 514, a bill to provide a procedure for people to complain about so-called obscene materials in K-12 and higher education classes and public libraries but that does not even clearly define what would be considered obscene:

“For all intents and purposes, this legislation about the dissemination of obscene materials is a book ban bill. Incredibly, the bill’s sponsors don’t even have the guts to clearly define what would be considered obscene, so it’s really meant to intimidate teachers and deprive students—both school-aged and adults—of books that one person who files a complaint deems objectionable. It practically begs parents or guardians to complain about a particular book to their local school board in the case of public schools, opening the way to a chaotic free-for-all. For public universities, public libraries and museums, it adds the Department of Education to the agencies that can initiate legal hearings to find material ‘obscene’ after receiving anonymous citizen complaints. Higher education faculty actually could be arrested, charged and indicted if they are found to be using a book that is judged to be obscene, whatever that means.

“This is disgusting and meant to censor students’ education and deprive them of quality books. Book bans have no place in New Hampshire K-12, public libraries or higher education classes. We will fight vigorously to ensure that our students have the books they need to receive a well-rounded, honest education. We also will stand firm for the right to access the whole world of ideas through public libraries and universities.”

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Jan Resseger looks behind the daily news and ties together fast-moving events in the red states. The sudden proliferation of voucher programs is no accident, she writes, nor is it a response to public demands. It is a carefully crafted, well-funded strategy to defund public schools, to smash teachers’ unions, and to implement a rightwing ideology that does not benefit students or improve education.

She writes:

This week in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed an Education Savings Account, universal voucher program into law. And last week in Utah, the same kind of voucher plan took the first step toward adoption when it was passed by Utah’s House of Representatives.

The Des Moines Register reports on Iowa’s new vouchers. The program will “phase in over three years and eventually allow all Iowa families to use up to $7,598 a year in an ‘education savings account’ for private school tuition. If any money is left over after tuition and fees, families could use the funds for specific educational expenses, including textbooks, tutoring, standardized testing fees, online education programs and vocational and life skills training. The $7,598 per private school student is the same amount of funding the state provides to public school students and is expected to rise in future years… The bill allows the Iowa Department of Education to contract with a third party to administer the education savings accounts, but the state has not yet issued a request for proposals from companies seeking to manage the funds.”

It would appear that the Iowa Legislature tried to calm the fears of the public school community by promising that, “Public school districts would also receive an additional $1,205 in funding for students receiving education savings accounts who live within the public school district’s boundaries.” But despite that promise, a drop in overall public school funding is expected: “By the fourth year, the (Legislative Services) agency estimates public school districts will receive $49.8 million in new per-student funds for private school students within the public district’s boundaries. The agency also expects a net decrease of $46 million in public school funding as a result of more students attending private schools.”

It is hard to keep track of all the states that now have school vouchers or are considering voucher programs and to know which states have the latest flavor of vouchers—Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Most ESA programs, unlike Iowa’s, don’t even require that families use the vouchers at private schools. In most places, ESA’s can be used for educational programs, for educational tools and materials like books and computers, and for homeschooling. In some states families can use the money for so-called micro-schools in which families come together and hire a teacher to work with children in someone’s home.

Why is there so much so much legislative activity about expanding vouchers? Several factors are important to consider, and many of them were the subject of economist Gordon Lafer’s analysis in The One-Percent Solution. Lafer’s book focused on the public policy that flowed from state legislatures after the Tea Party wave election in 2010, but his observations are still on point as we begin 2023. Lafer enumerates all the reasons why far-right ideologues and big corporate moneyed interests seek to undermine and privatize public schools: “At first glance, it may seem odd that corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation for Independent Business, or Americans for Prosperity would care to get involved in an issue as far removed from commercial activity as school reform. In fact, they have each made this a top legislative priority… The campaign to transform public education brings together multiple strands of the agenda… The teachers’ union is the single biggest labor organization in most states—thus for both anti-union ideologues and Republican strategists, undermining teachers’ unions is of central importance. Education is one of the largest components of public budgets, and in many communities the school system is the single largest employer—thus the goals of cutting budgets, enabling new tax cuts for the wealthy, shrinking the government, and lowering wage and benefit standards in the public sector all coalesce around the school system… There are always firms that aim to profit from the privatization of public services, but the sums involved in K-12 education are an order of magnitude larger than any other service, and have generated an intensity of corporate legislative engagement unmatched by any other branch of government. Finally, the notion that one’s kids have a right to a decent education represents the most substantive right to which Americans believe we are entitled, simply by dint of residence… (F)or those interested in lowering citizens’ expectations of what we have a right to demand from government, there is no more central fight than around public education. In all these ways, then, school reform presents something like the perfect crystallization of the corporate legislative agenda.” (The One-Percent Solution, pp 128-129)

It is hard for public school advocates to mobilize nationally against the expansion of vouchers. Voucher battles are fought state by state because public education and the funding of public education is a state-by-state issue. Advocates are likely to focus on public education legislation in their own state and not to pay attention to what’s happening elsewhere. And citizens are not likely to pay much attention to what is happening in the legislature. Once again, Gordon Lafer identifies the problem: “(M)any of the factors that strengthen corporate political influence are magnified in the states. First, far fewer people pay attention to state government, implying wider latitude for well-funded organized interests… Apart from labor unions and a handful of progressive activists, the corporate agenda… encounters little public resistance at the state level because hardly anyone knows about or understands the issues… So, too, corporate lobbies’ financial advantage is magnified in the states. Citizens United marked a sea change in state as well as federal politics.” (The One Percent Solution, pp. 34-36)

Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University who has studied the impact of school privatization and the politics around privatizing public schools, recently published a reminder that school privatization is driven by the power of the corporate agenda. Expansion of vouchers has never been an expression of voters’ overall preference: “School choice is continuing to expand across the United states…. But these successes often come in spite of overwhelming voter opposition to school choice programs… According to the pro-voucher organization EdChoice.org, the U.S. has over 75 publicly funded private school choice programs, including vouchers, and education savings accounts, as well as another 45 charter school programs. But all of these programs have been implemented by legislators, not the electorate… In fact, voters have been allowed to weigh in on school choice programs only nine times since 2000, and they almost always reject them, often by overwhelming margins. Only twice did school choice programs pass through the ballot box. In 2012, Georgia voters empowered their legislature with the ability to create charter schools. That same year… Washington voters passed a charter school referendum.”

Who are the far-right advocacy groups and think tanks powerfully promoting Education Savings Account vouchers? They include the usual suspects: the American Legislative Exchange Council and a state- by-state group of think tanks that are ALEC’s partners in the State Policy Network, EdChoice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Justice, which provides two model laws—“Education Savings Account Act: Publicly Funded,” and “Education Savings Account Act: Tax-Credit Funded“—so that state legislators can merely adapt a canned statute to their own state’s particular needs. SourceWatch reports corporate funding streams for these and other far-right think tanks that promote vouchers—funding from the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and investments from the Donor’s Capital Fund, a powerful investor of corporate dark money since the 2010, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.

In the past two years, the campaign to undermine public schooling and promote the expansion of vouchers has developed a new strategy to convince parents that their children in public schools are being brainwashed by critical race theory and surrounded by discussion of gender and sexual orientation. In a new report published by the Network for Public Education this week, political scientist Maurice Cunningham traces the money behind what may appear to be a spontaneous emergence of parents’ groups—Parents Defending Education, Moms for Liberty, and No Left Turn in Education. Cunningham points to clues that these are not local grassroots groups of parents; their websites, for example, betray a big investment in communications. And while, for example, the founders of Parents Defending Education (PDE) claim to be a bunch of working moms, Cunningham explains: “PDE took in $3,178,272 in contributions and grants in 2021… Donor’s Trust, a dark money donor associated with the Koch network donated $20,250 to PDE in 2021. The Achelis & Bodman Foundation which funds voucher and charter school programs and targets public education, contributed $25,000. Searle Freedom Trust, another right-wing donor with ties to Donors Trust, contributed $250,000 in 2021. We don’t know all the names on the checks, but we do know that those checks had to be pretty large, that the attorneys and consultants sit at the hierarchy of right-wing operatives, and that the board members and staffers are connected to the highest levels of conservative donors including the Koch network.”

The same people who are promoting vouchers are working to scare parents with the huge, culture war campaign driven by identifiable funders and a mass of dark money supporting an education marketplace and undermining parents’ confidence in public schools. But as Christopher Lubienski, the scholar who has studied the effect of the privatization of public education reminds us, expanding vouchers has not improved the outcomes for our children: “(R)ecent research is repeatedly showing that… vouchers are not a good investment. Although publicly funded vouchers may be propping up some private schools that might otherwise go out of business, they are not really helping the people they purport to help. In fact… study after study shows that students using vouchers are falling behind where they would have been if they had remained in public schools. Thus, policymakers might think twice about defying voters on initiatives that actually cause harm to children.”

The political theorist Benjamin Barber warns that school choice does not really provide freedom for families: “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu. The powerful are those who set the agenda, not those who choose from the alternatives it offers. We select menu items privately, but we can assure meaningful menu choices only through public decision-making.” (Consumed, p. 139)

KIPP leadership is not pleased by the efforts of KIPP teachers and other staff in Columbus who want to join a union. Major funders of KIPP, like the Walton Family Foundation, don’t like unions. Some of their teachers object to their “Union-busting” tactics.

Megan Henry of the Columbus Dispatch wrote this article, which was also published in USA Today.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers is accusing KIPP Columbus of using a “unionbusting persuasion campaign” as the charter school’s employees attempt to unionize.

The campaign has involved mandatory and voluntary meetings with “antiunion consultants” and a visit from KIPP’s new CEO Shavar Jeffries, according to OFT President Melissa Cropper.

“Public education funding should be used to educate Ohio students. It should not be used to persuade and intimidate workers who are exercising their legally protected right to organize a union,” Cropper said.

KIPP Columbus received at least $15 million in public funding for the 2021-22 school year, which represents the majority of its funding, union organizers said.

“It is incumbent on KIPP to spend that funding on education, not union-busting,” Cropper said. “If KIPP wants to claim that they are paying for their union-busting through a different source of funding, we feel that is essentially a shell game.”

Teachers, social workers, paraprofessionals, intervention specialists and student life coordinators from KIPP’s primary, elementary, middle and high school are attempting to organize as the KIPP Columbus Alliance for Charter Teachers and Staff (KIPP Columbus ACTS) through OFT.

“We believe that unfair labor practices have occurred, and we may file formal charges on that,” Cropper said. “Currently, we are calling on KIPP to do the right thing and allow their employees to have a secret ballot union election without intimidation and anti-union lobbying from management.”

The Dispatch asked KIPP Columbus officials to address the allegations of union-busting, but they didn’t respond to those specific questions in their written response.

“We are encouraging all of our colleagues to consider all relevant information – from multiple sources – about what it could mean to join a union and what the collective bargaining process entails,” KIPP Columbus said in a statement. “Many of our colleagues have asked questions about these topics, and we are working diligently to ensure that those questions are answered promptly.”

Zach Usmani, a social worker at KIPP elementary and a member of the organizing committee, said the anti-union consultants didn’t share their names during the two-hour meeting he was required to attend.

“It seems very strange that they don’t want to share any information,” Usmani said. “It makes me question what’s going on. People are now even more frustrated because they are getting pulled from their students to go to these meetings.”

Jeffries took over as KIPP’s CEO the first week of January and visited KIPP Columbus that same week, but staff questioned the purpose of his visit.

KIPP Columbus, which is part of a national network of college preparatory schools, has about 2,000 students.

“He used this platform to again push anti-union messaging on our staff,” Usmani said.

Jeffries is planning a tour of all KIPP regions and has already been to Atlanta, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, said KIPP Foundation spokesperson Maria Alcón-Heraux. He also plans to go to Washington, D.C. and New Orleans in the coming weeks, Alcón-Heraux said.

“Shavar Jeffries spoke to KIPP Columbus staff and students about his vision for more alignment across KIPP regions as we deliver educational excellence and equity at a nation-leading level,” Alcón-Heraux said of the visit here.

In December, KIPP Columbus charter schools administration declined to voluntarily recognize KIPP Columbus ACTS.

“While we respect our colleagues’ rights to join a union, we believe that our current model is the best way to create an innovative learning environment for students while supporting and empowering our valued teachers and staff,” KIPP Columbus said in a statement.

Seventy-eight percent of KIPP Columbus’ roughly 130-person staff signed union cards. Union cards were filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Nov. 15, but KIPP Columbus hired the Vorys legal firm, which filed a legal challenge with the NLRB on Nov. 16, which has delayed a secret-ballot union election. An NLRB election won’t be scheduled until the legal challenge is resolved, which could take months, Cropper said.

KIPP Columbus began in 2008 as KIPP Journey Academy with 50 students in the fifth grade at a former Columbus City Schools building in Linden and has since expanded to its present 150-acre campus at 2900 Inspire Drive on the city’s Northeast Side. That campus houses the KIPP Columbus Elementary, KIPP Columbus Primary, KIPP Columbus Middle, KIPP Columbus High, the KIPP Columbus Battelle Environmental Center, the KIPP Columbus Early Learning Center, and the KIPP Athletics & Wellness Complex.

KIPP teachers and staff are unionized at the nonprofit public charter school’s operations in New York City, Baltimore and St. Louis.

If the union is approved by KIPP Columbus’ educators, it would be the 10th charter school to join the OFT. The other OFT unionized charter schools in Ohio are in the Cleveland area: Stepstone Academy in Cleveland, Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland, three schools in the Summit Academy chain (Parma, Painesville and Lorain) and four schools in the ACCEL charter chain.

mhenry@dispatch.com @megankhenry

The City of New York wants to cut the cost of health benefits to retirees. The unions support the cuts. This is hard to understand. Many retirees worked for decades at low salaries, assuaged by the guaranteed benefits after retirement. The United Federation of Teachers has taken a leading role in pushing members, active and retired, to switch from Medicare to a for-profit Medicare Advantage plan. Some retirees have fought back, knowing that not all doctors are part of a MA network and that they will have to get pre-approval for major care.

This article was written by veteran New York City Arthur Goldstein and published in the New York Daily News and reposted on Fred Klonsky’s blog.

I have a personal stake in this issue. I am on Medicare. My secondary is my wife’s union healthcare plan. She worked for 35 years as a public school teacher, principal, and administrator in New York City. In 2021 I had open heart surgery. Neither my referring cardiologist nor my cardiac surgeon are part of the city’s MA plan. The total bill for the surgery and a month in the hospital was over $800,000. Medicare paid almost everything and probably negotiated a lower price. The secondary picked up whatever Medicare didn’t pay. The surgery and rehab and six weeks of at-home care cost me $300. Seniors like me who face serious health issues stand to lose a lot if the city sand the union force them off Medicare and into a for-profit Medicare Advantage plan.

Arthur Goldstein wrote:

There was a joke in the movie “Sleeper” about how UFT President Albert Shanker started World War III. Our current union president, Michael Mulgrew, won’t be starting any wars. In fact, Mulgrew is now battling to have the city pay less toward our health care. What’s next? A strike for more work and less pay?

Union can be a powerful thing. It empowers working people. It raises pay for union workers, which tends to raise pay for non-union workers as well. Union enables weekends, child labor laws and workplace safety regulations. There are reasons why wealthy corporations fight us tooth and nail. Without union, they can hire Americans at minimum-wage with no benefits.

Mulgrew wants to move all city retirees backward from Medicare to a distinctly inferior Advantage plan. Far fewer doctors take Advantage plans. If Mulgrew gets his way, retirees will have a NY-based plan like we working teachers have. Retirees, unlike working teachers, often live elsewhere. If they do, they’d better not get sick.

As a working teacher, I’m good in New York, but outside this area I’ll find few to no doctors that take my plan. In fact, while trying to persuade me that Advantage would not be so bad, a union official told me he lived in Jersey and had a hard time finding doctors who accepted our plan.

Then there are the pre-approvals. When you’re over 65 and having a health crisis, you probably don’t want CVS/Aetna deciding between your health and their profit. Mulgrew says there will be a quick appeal process. But what if you lose? Is dying quickly now a benefit?

It’s tough being union when your leaders actively campaign for management. You’d think they’d campaign for improved health care at a lower cost to us. Instead, they’ve gotten the City Council to hold hearings on changing the law so the city could contribute less.

This all stems from a 2018 Municipal Labor Committee deal. Rather than insist the city pay us cost of living raises, the MLC geniuses agreed to fund them ourselves, via health care cuts. On Oct. 12, 2018, Mulgrew told the UFT Delegate Assembly his deal would result in no additional copays. Time has proven that untrue. He also promised no significant costs to union membership. Yet any couple wanting to keep traditional Medicare, under Mulgrew’s plan, will pay almost $5,000 a year.

How can we trust our leaders when they clearly don’t know what they’re doing? Are they simply incompetent, or outright lying?

Rank and file had no voice in the MLC deal that was done behind closed doors. It seems the backroom dealing continues. Weeks ago, the Council was “lukewarm” about revising 12-126, which sets a minimum the city must meet for our health care. Now, they’ve done a rather sudden and spectacular turnaround.

What has changed? I can’t help but suspect my union leadership, along with others, quietly reached out. Maybe those union contributions would slow for Council members who voted to uphold health care contributions. After all, it isn’t us, but rather leadership holding union purse strings. And will Council members get funding from Mayor Adams for their pet community projects if they don’t vote his way?

Mulgrew wrote us an email saying we would have to pay $1,200 a year if we didn’t change the law and screw our retired brothers and sisters. This is a classic zero-sum game. America has never achieved universal health care because that’s how it’s presented. If we give those people health care, it will damage yours. Frequently based on racism, Americans accept these ideas and thus reject proposals that would improve things for all of us.

A fundamental notion of union is that a rising tide raises all boats. Rather than embrace that notion, Mulgrew threatened us. If we didn’t support diminished health care for retirees, our own health care would be diminished. By pitting one union faction against another, Mulgrew and other union leaders took a fundamentally anti-union position.

Union ought not to be in the business of abbreviating health care for its members. Union ought to be in the business of not only expanding our care, but also ensuring the rest of our community enjoys the same benefits we have. That’s why it’s sorely disappointing that Mulgrew opposes the New York Health Act, which would provide health care for all New Yorkers. Rather than work out differences with its sponsors, UFT takes shortcuts. In doing so, we hurt the most vulnerable of my union brothers and sisters.

First they came for the retirees. And if you don’t think they’re coming for current employees next, I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

I asked AFT President Randi Weingarten to respond to David Brooks’s claim that “the teachers’ unions” were to blame for long school closures during the pandemic, which caused grievous harm to students.

She answered with a resounding “NO” and sent me the following timeline. If I had NEA President Becky Pringle’s personal email, I would have asked her the same question. Being that it’s Christmas holidays, it will be several days before I can reach her. I will try.

Meanwhile, Randi sent this comprehensive rebuttal of Brooks’ allegations.

Since the first months of the pandemic, the American Federation of Teachers has worked with parents and communities to safely reopen schools and other institutions vital to the nation’s social and economic health.

Even before COVID-19, educators knew that remote education, relentlessly championed and invested in (https://www.edweek.org/technology/betsy-devos-backtracks-on-remote-learning-options-she-had-championed/2020/07) by then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, was only ever a supplement, not a substitute, for in-person learning. Remote learning can serve as a backstop during a public health emergency, but only if we address equity issues, including broadband accessibility, services and support. In-person learning is a prerequisite to fostering the deep social and emotional ties and close relationships with educators that are essential to kids’ development.

Throughout the pandemic, AFT members have consistently (https://www.aft.org/press-release/new-data-shows-majority-educators-willing-go-back-school-if-key-safety) expressed (https://www.aft.org/press-release/new-poll-shows-americas-teachers-want-return-classrooms-amid-growing) support (https://www.aft.org/press-release/americas-educators-are-vaccinated-and-back-person-poll) for in-person instruction with safety protocols in place. Those protocols served as the pathway, not the barrier, to returning to classrooms. The union held (https://www.aft.org/news/latest-town-hall-dives-afts-reopen-plan) numerous (https://www.aft.org/news/member-town-hall-showcases-back-school-all-campaign)town halls (https://www.aft.org/news/words-wisdom-mark-aft-back-school-town-hall) on the crucial importance of face-to-face instruction.

Since April 2020, the AFT has published four proposals for safely reopening schools and addressing the challenges of the pandemic.1 In the fall of 2021, the AFT invested $5 million in 28 states (https://www.aft.org/press-release/major-speech-randi-weingarten-reimagines-public-education-nation-emerges) to get kids back in classrooms, through billboard and radio ads encouraging reopening as well as health fairs and vaccination clinics.

At the same time, parents in major cities often elicited (https://www.chalkbeat.org/2021/2/18/22289735/parents-polls-schools-opening-remote) a strong preference (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/08/world/most-families-of-color-have-chosen-remote-learning-over-an-in-person-return-to-nyc-schools.html?referringSource=articleShare) for remote learning. Charter schools were more likely (https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2022-03-15/how-traditional-public-private-and-charter-schools-responded-to-the-pandemic) than other public schools to shift to remote learning, and stay remote, and private schools were just 4 percentage points more likely than public schools to stay open. In October 2020, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz said (https://www.chalkbeat.org/2020/10/14/21516486/city-charter-schools-take-reopening-slow-similar-roadblocks-neighboring-school-districts), “The best way for us to protect teaching and learning was to stay remote and have a level of predictability.”

After a year of failed efforts under President Donald Trump, the Biden administration invested in and successfully reopened schools, with 98 percent open in January 2022 (https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-one-year-biden-harris-administration-us-department-education-has-helped-schools-safely-reopen-and-meet-students%25E2%2580%2599-needs), compared with 46 percent a year earlier. Teachers across the country advocated for the American Rescue Plan, which included $126 billion for public K-12 schools and funding specifically to address learning recovery.

Tale of the tape

On Feb. 4, 2020, as Trump downplayed COVID-19’s seriousness (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/20/what-trump-did-about-coronavirus-february/), the union held a press conference (https://www.afacwa.org/aft_afa_join_coronavirus_prevention) with Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson and others to push for a coordinated response to the emerging pandemic.

In April 2020, the AFT launched its landmark plan (https://www.aft.org/press-release/aft-launches-landmark-plan-safely-reopen-americas-schools-and-communities)to safely reopen America’s schools and communities—months before many other groups, including the federal government. In July of that year, the AFT launched its detailed follow-up plan (https://www.aft.org/press-release/aft-launches-landmark-plan-safely-reopen-americas-schools-and-communities)to safely reopen school buildings.

On April 24, AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote an op-ed (https://thehill.com/opinion/education/494521-what-comes-next-for-public-schooling/) with former Education Secretary John King calling out the shortcomings of remote education and pushing for multi-week summer school to deal with learning loss.

In May 2020, Weingarten was appointed to (https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/amid-ongoing-covid-19-pandemic-governor-cuomo-announces-members-reimagine-education-advisory) New York state’s Reimagine Education Advisory Council, which was charged with safely reopening and reinventing schools.

In July 2020, the union joined (https://www.aft.org/press-release/pediatricians-educators-and-superintendents-urge-safe-return-school-fall) with the National Education Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the School Superintendents Association to commit to doing everything possible to safely resume in-person schooling at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

In November 2020, the AFT launched a new blueprint (https://thehill.com/opinion/education/528004-a-blueprint-to-safely-open-schools/) to reopen schools.

In January 2021, Weingarten joined Rajiv Shah of the Rockefeller Foundation to write an op-ed saying that schools could reopen (https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/01/24/re-opening-schools-precautions-and-testing-column/6661567002/) with comprehensive testing, before the vaccine was widely available. In February 2021, Weingarten reiterated her position (https://www.wgbh.org/news/education/2021/02/05/teachers-union-president-weingarten-vaccinations-arent-precondition-for-school-reopening-but-need-to-be-priority) that vaccinations are a priority, but not a prerequisite, for in-person learning.

In February 2021, the New York Times published a profile (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/08/us/schools-reopening-teachers-unions.html) titled “The Union Leader Who Says She Can Get Teachers Back in School.” It reported that Weingarten was calling for schools to reopen, in person, as soon as possible.

Later that month, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Weingarten issued a clarion call (https://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/full-interview-teacher-union-pres-there-s-no-perfect-solution-to-reopening-schools-101356613515?cid=sm_npd_nn_tw_mtp) for in-person learning, arguing that if the NFL could resume in-person football games, schools could resume in-person classes.

Professor Maté Wierdl teaches college-level mathematics in Tennessee; he is a native-born Hungarian and travels there regularly. In this post, he reviews the teachers’ strike in Hungary, which has dragged on for more than a year.

Throughout the strike, the Hungarian government has shown its disdain for the teachers’ union and the teachers. American right-wingers love the growing authoritarianism of the Hungarian government, even inviting Hungarian President Victor Orban to speak at the annual meeting of CPAC, the conservative political action committee.

Wierdl writes:

Hungarian teachers have been openly protesting for almost a year now. The formal protests began in January. As a response, Orbán, Hungary’s Prime Minister, basically took away the teachers’ right to strike (they cannot skip their teaching obligations while they “strike”), and quite a few protesters have been fired from their jobs. Just this week, 8 teachers were fired since they protested during school hours.

Why the protests? I think Hungarian teachers used to have a pretty good job. But in recent years, their load increased a great deal, more testing was introduced and kids need to go to school more. I have to say, I see the US influence, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone after seeing in the news that Orbán was invited to the US to give the keynote address at CPAC, and then he paid a visit to Trump.

I have many teacher friends and they say the main issue is not just about money but the general worsening conditions of teachers, and as a result, there is a huge teacher shortage.

Though numbers don’t tell everything, they clearly indicate serious problems. For example, here is a chart showing teachers’ salaries relative to other college educated people’s salaries (I think most of the countries’ names are recognizable; EU22 is the EU average). Note how the US (Egyesült Államokin Hungarian) and Hungary are the last two

The next chart shows the mandatory classroom hours in several European countries. Hungary is at the top (meaning, most hours) and in fact, since there aren’t enough teachers, the average teaching load is close to 27 hours. (US teachers teach even more, like 6 classes per day which means a 30 hour load)

Below, I put together some reports of the protests in the international media in the last two months.

Bloomberg writes this about today’s (Dec 2) protests

Hundreds of Hungarian teachers joined a widening strike action across the nation’s school system following a government decision to fire more educators for protesting low pay.

Almost 700 teachers from 71 schools walked off the job on Friday, forcing several institutions to suspend classes, according to the Teacher for Teachers Facebook page, which compiles the information.

Thousands of students joined in solidarity, many of them placing black tape over their mouths. They decried what they called a hardline response by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to silence teachers who earn among the lowest wages in the European Union.”

Nov 18

BUDAPEST, (Reuters) – Hungarian teachers, students and parents stepped up their protest calling for higher wages and education reforms on Friday, forming a 10-km (six-mile) human chain in central Budapest, with smaller rallies held across the country.

Teachers launched their “I want to teach” movement in September, calling for civil disobedience to demand higher wages for teachers and an adequate supply in the workforce. They are also protesting against restrictions on their right to strike.

Here is a video of the protests a few weeks earlier. As you can see many students support the teachers.

Oct 6:

Wednesday’s rally, which started with students forming a chain stretching for kilometers (miles) across Budapest in the morning grew into the biggest anti-government demonstration since nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s April re-election.

 Protesters carrying banners saying “Do not sack our teachers” and “For a glimpse of the future, look at the schools of the present” crammed a Budapest bridge near parliament, blocking traffic amid light police presence.

Our reader Joel is a retired union worker. He shared his thoughts about the deal that the Biden administration and Congress imposed on the nation’s rail workers’ unions to avert a strike. Biden feared that a rail strike would cripple the economy and lead to widespread layoffs. Critics of the deal complained that rail workers get only one paid sick day a year (members of Congress get unlimited paid sick days). The critics are right to insist that rail workers get more paid sick days, but Joel points out that a national strike now would do incalculable damage to organized labor.

Joel writes:

Union Leadership understands that one has to pick your fights carefully.

The cause of the workers’ grievances focuses on forced overtime and being on call far too often with little input in scheduling . This has been caused by efficiency measures that cut nearly 30 % of the workforce. If the gripe is the forced overtime than the answer is to bring back the workers whose dismissal caused the need for that overtime. Not that the employers would be happier with that than the paid sick time .

The contract negotiated between Biden, the Union Leadership, and the Railroads back in September did provide for sick days. It provided for scheduled doctors’ visits. It provided 1 additional paid holiday. It provided a 24 % wage increase retroactively, graduated from 2020 through 2024. It called for more flexibility in scheduling, and it froze health insurance premiums, I believe, beyond the contract period. Without those PAID sick days it was a damn good contract that the leadership of the 12 unions pushed their members to accept. 8 of the 12 did, Including the IBEW of which I am a retired member as a construction electrician.

But if grueling working conditions caused by forced overtime and standby status is your beef, why would being paid for the day off come into play. The answer is it does not. Most like the overtime or they would insist on bringing staffing levels back up to eliminate it . More workers equals less forced overtime for each and less grueling schedules . That proposal was not put on the table to my knowledge. And I understand why . The leadership would have their heads handed to them by the same members asking for paid sick time to alleviate the grueling schedules.

Been there seen that, in the 1970s in a time of high unemployment in NYC’s construction industry. Overtime was eliminated by my Union. Accomplished by forcing the worker to take a day off if he worked more than 3hrs OT in that week . That forced the contractor to either not work overtime. Creating work for more members by, if anything, forcing projects to take longer or hiring additional workers to be able to man the job during regular hours. The union’s noble object was to put the unemployed members to work. In the 1990s when unemployment returned that was dropped. The leadership decided that it was better to hear 10-15 % gripe about unemployment than the 85% bitch about taking the bread and butter out of their mouths.

So I suspect the dynamic is similar.

That said what are the down side risks for the economy, the Democrats, the workers, the employers and the Unions?

This is not a Cheerios factory closing down .This is not Air travel shutting down as in 1980 . A strike that lasts as little as a week will effect vast portions of the economy. It will cause a huge spike in prices and unemployment. A total no win for Biden and Democrats that will hang around their neck like an albatross. The workers may or may not get what they are getting now if Congress is forced to step in after Economic Armageddon sets in. The Employers: if I were the employer knowing how quickly Americans turn against other workers or any policy that calls for personnel sacrifice, I would stretch this out till Public Sentiment turned massively against the Unions and the Administration. The Republicans were so concerned about the working conditions that only 3 in the House and 6? in the Senate voted for the additional sick days . Both the Employers and the Republicans would salivate at the opportunity to drive Democrats from power, driving a stake in the heart of organized labor. And you can be sure the oligarchy who owns the media would be all over it.

Sitting in front of the Taliban 6 in the SCOTUS is a case that could bankrupt almost every Union that chose to strike. It would allow employers to sue for losses caused by the strike. For example: A supermarket chain could sue for lost produce , dairy ,meats … I don’t hold much hope out for them not supporting the employers in this case. A rail strike not only will give them cover to do so but will have a huge majority of the American Public supporting them.

A wave of strikes in 1947 allowed Republicans and Dixiecrats to gut the NLRA with Taft Hartley . That was when Unions were 31 or 32 % of the workforce.

After Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers, he set an example that led to an orgy of Union busting when Unions were 22% of the workforce. The American people overwhelmingly re-elected Reagan in a race against one of the most pro-labor Senators in the Country. Sending Democrats into the wilderness until they became under Clinton and Obama, Eisenhower Republicans at best. All but abandoning the New Deal and Great Society as well as relegating Labor to lip service, while passing Trade agreements that decimated American Labor worse than anything Reagan did.

A rail strike would make the media frenzy about Inflation, Crime and Afghanistan look like a practice run. Organized Labor would take the hit opening us up to the effective repeal of all union rights in the NLRA.

In a comment yesterday, Joel amplified his argument on behalf of the Biden settlement, pointing out that Biden has no authority to issue an executive order.

Joel wrote:

An executive order to do what (either way)? This is private sector commerce. The President can do little other than ensure Public Dollars are used in certain ways. So he can sign an order calling for Project Labor Agreements in the spending of Federal Dollars, or Buy American provisions with those dollars . We see he can not even mandate life saving vaccines using OSHA .

Article 1 section 8 clause 3. So now envision a strike that lasts 3 weeks into the new Congress. A strike that puts up to 7 million out of work as supply chains snarl and prices soar . Now envision the contract that could be ordered by that Fascist Right Wing House of Congress. A strike would give them a Scott Walker moment they have dreamed of for decades. As the American people spurred on by daily media stories of the pain caused by strikers called for the Guillotines.

The new Congress, under the Commerce Clause the only Branch entitled to regulate private Commerce, would deliver those Guillotines.

If I were the Railroad CEOs and the Oligarchy, I would assure the baskets were in place to catch the heads .

Blogger Robert Hubbell analyzes the choices that President Biden had to make to avoid a shutdown of the nation’s rail system and concludes that he made the best decision. Some support—any support—from Republicans would have made it possible to include paid sick days, but Republicans adamantly oppose a perk that they themselves enjoy.

The Republicans know what they are against: anything that helps middle-income people, low-income people. They don’t know what they are FOR. Do you know? Well, tax breaks for the rich and corporations.

Democrats lead the way in the effort to avert a rail strike.

The House passed a bill to avert a rail strike, which passed with broad bipartisan support. The House also passed a separate bill authorizing seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers; Republicans voted in near lockstep against the bill providing for sick leave—221 to 207. Of course, the Republicans who voted to deny sick leave to rail workers have unlimited sick days themselves. See Newsweek, Republicans With Unlimited Sick Days Vote Against Time Off for Rail Workers.

Senate Republicans will vote against the paid sick leave bill but support the bill to end the strike, thereby forcing a contract on rail workers they rejected over the absence of sick leave. In a truly perverse display of GOP deceit, Senator Rubio tweeted that he would “not support a deal that doesn’t have the support of the rail workers.” Of course, if Rubio voted to support the sick leave bill, that would be the “deal” that rail workers want. Rubio gives politicians a bad name—and that is saying a lot!

Many readers sent emails and made comments in support of the rail workers’ demand for paid sick leave. For an explanation of the arguments in favor of allowing a strike over paid sick leave, see Ryan Cooper’s op-ed on MSNBC, Biden picked the wrong side in the rail union strike. As Cooper explains, the refusal to grant sick days will harm the operations of rail carriers and eventually lead to many of the supply chain issues that Biden is seeking to avoid.

Mr. Cooper’s arguments are unassailable, but he describes only one side of the argument. He does not address whether a strike now that would impose $2 billion in daily losses to the economy and cause the loss of 700,000 jobs is an appropriate way to secure a benefit for 115,000 rail workers.

Mr. Cooper could reasonably say, “Yes, the loss of jobs and harm to the economy is worth it because we must draw a line in the sand somewhere” (as one reader said in an email). But simply ignoring the harm to the economy and job losses is hardly fair to President Biden if your thesis is that Biden picked the “wrong” side in the dispute. It was a difficult choice and Biden made a tough call. As with almost every issue, Biden will be blamed for seeking to protect the interests of tens of millions of Americans. It comes with the territory!

The New York Times reported that rail workers’ unions felt betrayed by President Biden’s support of legislation that imposed a settlement and averted a national strike.

This is the same president that Trumpers call a “radical,” a “socialist,” and a”communist.”

The agreement Mr. Biden asked Congress to impose would raise pay nearly 25 percent between 2020, when the last contract expired, and 2024, and allow employees to miss work for routine medical appointments three times per year without risking disciplinary action. It would also grant them one additional day of paid personal leave.

It would not provide paid sick leave, however, a provision that many workers argue is the bare minimum they can accept given their grueling work schedules, which often leave them on the road or on call for long stretches of time. Rail carriers say workers can attend to illnesses or medical appointments using paid vacation.

Four of the 12 unions that would be covered by the agreement voted it down, and several others approved it only narrowly.

Tony Cardwell, the president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division — International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which voted down the agreement Mr. Biden has asked Congress to impose, said that simply asking Congress to include paid sick days in the agreement would have gone a long way toward satisfying his members.

“If he would have said, ‘I want this one thing,’ it would have changed the whole narrative,” Mr. Cardwell said in an interview on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members on Tuesday night that she would hold a vote on a separate bill that included seven paid sick days, but it was unclear whether it could pass both houses of Congress.

Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just proved that he is the stupidest person in the world. He said in an interview that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is “the most dangerous person in the world.”

More dangerous than the President of China, Xi Jinping, who is threatening the survival of Taiwan and re-imposing a repressive regime across China.

More dangerous than President Kim, the dictator of North Korea, who is threatening South Korea and the rest of the world, with his intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

More dangerous than Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who is trying to destroy the people of Ukraine by destroying their access to heat, light, and water as winter begins,in addition to raining deadly missiles on them.

No, Pompeo says, Randi is “the most dangerous person in the world.”

Why? Because she leads a teachers’ unions, and unions are evil.

Teachers too are evil, Pompeo believes, because the children of America can’t read, write, or do math.

He said,

“I tell the story often — I get asked ‘Who’s the most dangerous person in the world? Is it Chairman Kim, is it Xi Jinping?’ The most dangerous person in the world is Randi Weingarten,” Pompeo said.

“It’s not a close call. If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teacher’s unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids, and the fact that they don’t know math and reading or writing,” the former top U.S. diplomat added.

Randi replied:

In a thread on Twitter, Weingarten said she didn’t know if the remarks should be considered “ridiculous or dangerous.”

“At the state department, Pompeo defended Middle East’s tyrants & undermined Ukraine. He was more focused on pleasing Trump than fighting 4 freedom, national security & democracy. To compare us to China means he must not know what his own department says,” she wrote.

“Maybe spend a minute in one of the classrooms with my members and their students and you will get a real lesson in the promise and potential of America.”

Pompeo’s blast is ridiculous and stupid. But it’s also dangerous for Randi. It makes her a target of extremists in search of targets. This country has a surfeit of lunatics with guns. Pompeo should pay the cost of personal security for her.

His uninformed, ignorant remarks are insulting to teachers.

I challenge him to name a non-union state that outperforms unionized states.

Every teacher should belong to the AFT or the NEA. They would have higher salaries, health care, pensions, and job security. They would have state and national organizations to protect them in state legislatures and Congress.

The teaching profession is under fire by ignorant politicians like Pompeo. Consequently, many experienced teachers have resigned, and there is a national teacher shortage.

The best way to support teachers and their noble profession is to improve their stature, their salaries, and their working conditions. The only way that will happen is if there are strong unions to stand up for teachers, who alone are powerless.

Only strong unions will fight for the profession against the hostility of bombastic fools like Pompeo.

Pompeo can’t tolerate strong women or strong unions.