California Ruling Ignores Real Factors Behind School Performance

Earlier this week in a suit financed and backed by corporate and wealthy benefactors—including those with investments in charter schools and educational technology—a California judge ruled that the state’s teacher tenure and seniority-based layoff statutes were unconstitutional.

Students Matter, the group that initiated the suit (Vergara v. California), claims tenure protects bad teachers and is the root cause for student underachievement, especially in schools that serve low-income students.

AFT President Randi Weingarten noted that on the day the decision was handed down:

Thousands of California classrooms were brimming with teachers teaching and students learning. They see themselves as a team, but sadly, this case now stoops to pitting students against their teachers. The other side wanted a headline that reads: ‘Students win, teachers lose.’

The suit, said California Federation of Teachers (CFT) President Joshua Pechthalt, “is not pro-student.”

It is fundamentally anti-public education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty and economic inequality.

California ranks at the very bottom of all states in its per-pupil expenditures, at $8,342 (in 2011), according to the quality index published by Education Week. That’s 30% below the national average of $11,864, “reflecting the consistent shortchanging of the K-12 system by the state,” writes Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik.

Hiltzik also points out that the backers of the suit blame the teachers for the state of education in California but:

Not the imbalance of financial resources between rich districts and poor. Not the social pathologies—poverty, joblessness, racial discrimination, violence—that affect educational attainment in disadvantaged communities.

Says Weingarten:

It’s surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.  We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.

Read Weingarten’s full statement here.

The ruling will be appealed.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Moral Monday’s Focus on Education Gets Lawmaker’s Attention

Photo via Hannah Rose Mendoza's facebook page

More than 1,000 North Carolinians called on the state legislature to restore funding for public school students’ education and to back off its attack on teachers’ rights and its support of school privatization in a Moral Monday rally at the state Capitol in Raleigh.

The Moral Monday protests began last year in response to Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) and the Republican legislature’s extremist agenda that has attacked voting rights, education, the environment, unemployed workers, health care and women’s rights.

Showing Moral Monday’s mounting pressure and its growing state and national high profile, for the first time a leader of the legislature met with the protesters who had been prepared for a sit-in and possible arrest.

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) met with some 15 teachers and student outside his office for about two hours. According to news reports, it was an occasionally heated but mostly civil conversation about the cuts to public education funding, the elimination of nearly 700 teaching assistants, public funds for private school vouchers and tying teacher raises to eliminating tenure rights.

While protesters said they appreciated that Berger met with them, they said they would continue their drive to protect students and public education. Bryan Proffitt, a 10-year teacher, said:

I won’t be satisfied until my students have what they need and our schools aren’t bleeding every day….We’ll be back if these conditions are not met. The reality is, with all the media attention we’re getting right here and all this conversation, we’re going to be back with a whole lot more folks.

The Next Moral Monday on June 16 will focus on workers’ rights.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Lawmakers Duck Moral Monday Protesters

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Several hundred people rallied at the state Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., yesterday in a Moral Monday action focused on environmental and health care issues. Eleven of the protesters were arrested on trespassing charges after a sit-in at the Capitol building, but none were arrested for violating the recent “imminent disturbance” gag rule.

The Moral Monday protests began last year in response to Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) and the Republican legislature’s extremist agenda that has attacked voting rights, education, the environment, unemployed workers, health care and women’s right.

Those arrested were trying to deliver a letter to McCrory whose office, normally opened on a Monday, was closed. The letter urged the governor to:

“Reverse course by repenting, repealing and restoring our state to higher ground by eliminating the laws and policies pushed by this N.C. Legislature, led by Speaker [Thom] Tillis and Senate Leader [Phil] Berger and signed by you.”

Also, the legislature, which normally holds Monday evening sessions, was adjourned yesterday in an effort, some said, to avoid the demonstrators from faith, civil rights, labor, environmental, women’s health care and other groups. Said Rakhve Devasthklia.

“Deliberately not showing up on Monday for their constituents to speak with them shows who they’re representing. I don’t think they would do this when Duke Energy shows up.”

In February, Duke Energy’s Dan River plant was the site of the nation’s third largest spill of toxic coal ash that spread 70 miles downriver. Also, in March, North Carolina regulators said Duke Energy illegally pumped 61 million gallons of contaminated water from a coal ash pit into the Cape Fear River.

Moral Monday demonstrations are set for the next several Mondays, including next week, highlighting education and a June 16 action focused on workers’ rights.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.

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Hey North Carolina, Our Freedoms Were Built Through ‘Imminent Disturbance’

North Carolina lawmakers want to use a new gag rule to silence growing Moral Monday protests over their extremist agenda that has attacked voting rights, education, the environment, unemployed workers, health care and women’s rights.

The “imminent disturbance” rule allows police to arrest anyone who poses a threat to create a disturbance through chants, singing or anything that might interfere with normal conversation levels at the State Legislative Building in Raleigh. In other words, just the possibility of an “imminent disturbance” could put the civil rights, union, student, environmental and other activists in jeopardy of arrest.

But as this new AFL-CIO video shows, “the greatest moments of America’s  history were borne of ‘imminent disturbance’,” from  the Boston Tea Party to the women’s suffrage movement to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and more.

“Silence the people and you’ve silenced America.”

AFL-CIO Communications Director Eric Hauser said:

“We stand together with the thousands who have spoken out against these reprehensible rules, and call on North Carolina’s leaders to reverse course and restore the basic rights we fight for every day”

For more information, text DISTURB to 235246 (data and message rates may apply).

In a related development, members of the Moral Monday movement staged a special lobby day at the State Legislative Building Tuesday urging lawmakers to “repent for their immoral actions last summer and to repeal these disastrous laws that are hurting our state’s most vulnerable.”

When House Speaker Thom Tillis (R)—who is also running for the U.S. Senate—refused to meet with them, more than a dozen staged a sit-in in his office at about noon. After legislative police ordered the sit-in’s supporters and a large group of media to leave the area that evening, they arrested 14 of the protesters at about 1:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to news reports.

 

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and one of the founders of the Moral Monday movement, said the Moral Monday protests will continue:

“Speaker Thom Tillis and his aides have refused to engage in a serious discussion over the deep and weighty issues, and now they are playing a waiting game in hopes that we will lose heart, pack up and go home. But we are not here to play games. These are serious, life-and-death questions. Where can the unemployed go for help? Where can those hardworking North Carolinians without health care access go? Where can those who have been disenfranchised go?”

Are You Trapped in the Walmart Economy?

Workers at Walmart are mounting a new initiative not only to get their stories of how Walmart’s low wages, disrespect and intimidation are trapping them in a Walmart economy, but how millions of other workers and their families are caught in that same economy.

A Walmart economy is an economy of inequality manipulated by corporations like the $16 billion-a-year-in-profits retail behemoth and other corporations and 1 percenters like the Walton family, the richest in America.

To workers at Walmart, a Walmart economy means “having to decide between paying my bills and being able to take a day off work to stay with my sick daughter,” says LaShanda Myric, a Walmart worker in Denver.

For Richard Wilson who works at a Chicago Walmart, it means “….Working full-time, but not being able to pay back my student loans.”

What does the Walmart economy of inequality mean to you? Is it struggling to pay your bills or drowning in debt? Is it forgoing health care because you can’t afford health insurance or being unable to retire?

Use the hashtag #Walmarteconomy to tweet or post a photo or video to Instagram to say what the Walmart economy means to you. You also can go to the new Walmart Economy website and share your story.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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U.S. Rated Alarmingly High in Global Survey of Worst Places for Workers’ Rights

U.S. Rated Alarmingly High in Global Survey of Worst Places for Workers’ Rights

The United States lags far behind other nations in protecting workers’ rights, according to a new survey from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The rankings are based on 97 internationally recognized indicators and standards to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:

“Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labor laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind. A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions or simply join a union at all.”

The nations are ranked on a scale from 1 (the best with just irregular violations of workers’ rights) to 5 (with no guarantee of workers’ rights at all).  The United States received a mark of 4, which, according to the ITUC system, means:

Workers in countries with the rating of 4 have reported systematic violations. The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.

Along with the United States, 29 other nations received a 4 rating, including Argentina, Botswana, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan and Thailand. Belgium, Finland and South Africa were among the 18 nations that received a 1 rating, while 24 countries were rated 5, including Belarus, Bangladesh, Egypt, Guatemala and Qatar. Eight countries where the rule of law has broken down received a special 5+ grade.

The report also found that in the past year, governments of at least 35 countries have arrested or imprisoned workers as a tactic to resist demands for democratic rights, decent wages and safer working conditions and secure jobs. In at least nine countries, murder and disappearance of workers were commonly used to intimidate workers.

Burrow also noted that the ITUC Global Poll 2014 found nearly two-thirds of people want governments to do more to tame corporate power.

“The World Bank’s recent Doing Business report naively subscribed to the view that reducing labor standards is something governments should aspire to. This new Rights Index puts governments and employers on notice that unions around the world will stand together in solidarity to ensure basic rights at work.”

In the map above, nations in red have the worst workers’ rights ratings while lighter-shaded nations are rated progressively better.

Read the full report, ITUC Global Rights Index: The World’s Worst Countries for Workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.

Moral Monday Is Back!

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Today, civil rights, union, student and other working family activists will kick off another round of Moral Monday actions at the state Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., as the year’s legislative session begins. They will be there even as new rules to suppress and gag the protesters passed last week are now in effect.

In more than a dozen Moral Monday events last year and earlier this year, thousands of North Carolinians protested attacks on voting rights, education, the environment, unemployed workers, health care and women’s rights by the extremists who control the state legislature and governor’s mansion.

North Carolina State AFL-CIO President James Andrews said:

“Today, we are back to call on the General Assembly to build an economy that works for everybody, that raises wages and puts people to work. We call on legislators and the governor to stop bullying ‘the least of thee’—the poor, our children, students, seniors and the unemployed. They may not want to hear from or see us, but we will never be obedient in the face of injustice.”

We will bring you a report on the Moral Monday action tomorrow.

For more information, visit www.naacpnc.org and follow the North Carolina State AFL-CIO on Twitter for live updates. Also check out the hashtags #ForwardTogether and #MoralMonday on Twitter.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.

New FLOC Campaign Brings Justice to N.C. Tobacco Farm Workers

ITUC photo

Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez’s appearance before British American Tobacco’s shareholders meeting in London on Wednesday kicks off a new intensive campaign to win justice and workers’ rights for thousands of farm workers in North Carolina.

Many farm workers who harvest and tend tobacco often live in labor camps with inadequate or nonfunctioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below-poverty wages.

Velasquez says the new initiative “will ensure Reynolds American takes real action to give American farm workers the voice they deserve.”

At the London meeting Velasquez and a number of allies, including the AFL-CIO and the global union movement, will urge British American Tobacco to use its influence as a 42% stakeholder in Reynolds American Inc. (and a major customer) to persuade Reynolds to respect and protect the human and workers’ rights of its migrant tobacco farm workers and to meet international labor standards, including the right to freedom of association and worker representation.

On May 8, several hundred FLOC members and supporters will march and rally outside the Reynolds American’s shareholder meeting in Raleigh, N.C. On that day, more than 50 FLOC supporters, including the NAACP and other civil rights and faith leaders will question Reynolds American CEO Daniel Delen about what FLOC says is his failure to guarantee freedom of association.

This summer, FLOC organizers and members will reach out to the estimated 5,000 North Carolina farm workers in the tobacco industry and help them gain a voice on the job. The “Respect, Recognition, Raise!” campaign will highlight farm worker demands for dignified working conditions and adequate housing, recognition of the right to join a union and negotiate with their employer for fair terms and the raising of wages to an equal and fair wage for all workers.

In late July, two of the 41 members of the British Parliament who have supported the fight for farm worker justice, will join Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and FLOC leaders in tour of the tobacco labor camps.

Click here and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to British American Tobacco Chairman Richard Burrows asking him to urge Reynolds to guarantee the human right to freedom of association and worker representation on its contract farms by signing an agreement with FLOC.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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FLOC Takes Fight for U.S. Tobacco Workers’ Rights to England

Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez will be in London, England, on Wednesday to urge British American Tobacco (BAT) to use its influence as a 42% stakeholder in Reynolds American Inc. (and a major customer) to persuade the company to respect and protect the human and workers’ rights of its migrant tobacco farm workers.

You can add your voice to the chorus of those urging BAT to take responsibility for ensuring the rights of workers in its supply chain. Click here and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to BAT CEO Richard Burrows asking him to urge Reynolds to guarantee the human right to freedom of association and worker representation on its contract farms by signing an agreement with FLOC.

A 2011 report by Oxfam America and FLOC, A State of Fear: Human Rights Abuses in North Carolina’s Tobacco Industry, showed that many farm workers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below poverty wages.

At the annual BAT stockholders meeting Velasquez, along with a number of union allies, including the AFL-CIO, will challenge British American Tobacco on its labor practices in the supply chain and the need to implement concrete measures to ensure that farm workers can exercise their fundamental rights in accordance with international labor standards.

The living and working conditions on tobacco farms are often deplorable. Reynolds American claims that it ensures acceptable conditions on its supplier farms, but Velasquez said that independent worker representation is the only way to sustain real improvements and full respect for workers’ rights.

FLOC has a serious proposal to address rights and conditions on tobacco farms and he said BAT should play its role in making sure Reynolds and other tobacco companies engage with us about the workers’ concerns.

Photo by Farm Labor Organizing Committee on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers Memorial Day: Honor the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living

Workers Memorial Day: Honor the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living

Today is the 25th annual Workers Memorial Day, and around the country workers, workplace safety activists and community and faith leaders are honoring the men and women killed on the job and renewing their commitment to continuing the campaign for strong job safety laws and tough enforcement of those laws.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Workers Memorial Day honors “the ultimate sacrifices working people make to achieve the American Dream.”

No worker should die on the job. Every one of the 150 working men and women who die every day from injury or occupational disease serve as a constant reminder of the dangers too many face at the workplace.

There have been major improvements in the workplace safety rules and significant reduction in fatalities, injuries and illness on the job since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began operations and the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect April 28, 1971.

But those key workplace safety milestones didn’t just happen. They came about because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded action from employers and their government. Virtually every safety and health protection on the books today is there because of working men and women who joined together in unions.

Much more still needs to be done.

In 2012, 4,628 workers lost their lives on the job (up from the 4,400 previously reported). But that is only a part of the deadly toll. Each year, 50,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by exposures to toxic chemicals and other health hazards. That’s a total of 150 workers dying each and every day.

Some employers cut corners and violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives. Workers who report job hazards or job injuries are fired or disciplined. Employers contract out dangerous work to try to avoid responsibility. As a result, each year thousands of workers are killed and millions more get injured or contract diseases because of their jobs.

The Obama administration has moved forward to strengthen protections with tougher enforcement and a focus on workers’ rights. Also much-needed safeguards stalled for years due to business opposition have finally started to advance, including a new proposed OSHA silica standard to protect workers from this deadly dust that causes disabling lung disease.

But other protections from workplace hazards have stalled in the face of fierce attacks by business groups and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives who have launched an all-out attack on all government regulation and safeguards.

Trumka said that as the nation remembers those who have died on the job:

We should rededicate ourselves to holding companies accountable for putting profits over people, and we must demand stronger safety standards in the workplace. Until every worker, from the farm to the factory, is guaranteed the peace of mind of a safe workplace, our job will never truly be done.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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