The joint effort known as the “Oregon Organizing Project” has helped more than 3,000 Oregon workers win a voice on the job in the past several months. In the most recent campaign, several Oregon unions pitched in and worked together to help more than 300 Head Start workers at Mount Hood Community College who wanted to form a union to address serious workplace concerns.
Monday night in Portland, those workers took the first official step in winning that union when they filed a petition with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to recognize the Oregon State Employees Association (OSEA)/AFT as their union.
The efforts include not just union organizers, but rank-and-file union members who share their experiences and explain how union membership has benefited their co-workers and their families.
The Mount Hood campaign was formed around such issues as greater job security, having a voice in day-to-day operations and crucial budget decisions, equitable health care for part-time workers and proper job training.
The astounding diversity of the Head Start employees required literature and outreach in several languages, including English, Spanish and Russian. AFT organizer Lesly Salinas says her own bicultural experience helped her understand the perspective of a Head Start employee who experiences what Salinas calls “two different ways of being.”
“We found other ways to relate,” says Salinas. “I don’t think there was a big cultural divide. They’re just a big, big family and they treat each other with respect.”
In Oregon, no election is necessary if more than 50% of employees in a proposed bargaining unit sign a union authorization card as the Head Start workers did. The ERB could certify the petition sometime in May.
Working America members are in the midst of a fight to protect public education in North Carolina.
Since 2011, the state’s public school budget has been cut by $450 million, leading to overcrowded classrooms and outdated textbooks. Now the state legislature wants to continue weakening our public schools through the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs.
Both charters and vouchers take public money to send children to private and sometimes for-profit corporate-run institutions. These corporate run schools have little accountability, and make large profits by underpaying teachers.
Do we really want corporations teaching our students – and using tax-payer money to do so?
Working America member Joyce Mers is taking a stand against privatizing education. Joyce organized a church forum to discuss issues surrounding public education and promoted the event though her church newsletter. She even enlisted the help of education policy expert Dot Kearns to answer questions.
When discussing the immediate threats to public schools, Joyce referenced a bill that would restructure the oversight of charter schools. Under the proposal, charter schools would no longer be held accountable to the State Board of Education, which oversees all K-12 public schools. Rather, charter schools would have a separate board, whose members would be appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory and the legislature. The bill also has provisions to eliminate certain charter school requirements.
“Right now only 50 percent of teachers in charter schools are required to have a teacher’s license and this bill would do away with that requirement completely,” said Joyce, “Also, the schools would not be required to perform a background check, which just doesn’t make sense to me – especially when there is a bill in the legislature trying to put armed guards in schools.”
Under this proposal, corporations have even more power to use taxpayer money to create and oversee charter schools.
When discussing public school funding, both Joyce and Dot noted that despite past cuts, student performance is high. “It’s a popular thing now to say everything is failing, but that just is not the case,” said Dot. She then cited the increase in North Carolina’s graduation rates. However, it will become difficult to maintain this success if more charters and vouchers drain public education resources and are held to different accountability standards.
The forum ended with Joyce collecting a dozen petition signatures from the group, which urge Governor McCrory to protect public school funding. But we need to continue this pressure. Our state needs to fully invest in public schools. If you’re in North Carolina, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can help.
A beat-up van pulls to a stop just up the road. A creaky screen door opens from the apartment at the end of the building. A young African-American girl runs out toward the van, barely hanging onto a large gym bag that was obviously not meant for such a pint-sized carrier. The driver of the van, a middle-aged white man with glasses and a beard, throws the passenger door to the van open and the little girl tosses the bag onto the floor before climbing in. The apartment door, which had banged shut in the meantime, creaks open again as the girl’s mother waves goodbye.
“Be good. Have fun,” she tells her daughter.
“I’ll have her back by eight,” the driver replies as the little girl shuts the van door and waves goodbye to her mom.
As the van pulls away and disappears around a turn up the street, the girl’s mother allows herself to slump against the door frame for just a moment. She lets go of a long sigh that betrays just how tired she is. She almost doesn’t notice me as I approach her door to introduce myself.
I ask her how she’s doing. I tell her I’m out in the community tonight with Working America to gather support for public education in Pennsylvania.
Even if you don’t live here, you probably know the story. Governor Tom Corbett and his allies in the legislature have cut nearly a billion dollars from public education, hiked tuition at state universities up to 40 percent, and pushed a voucher plan that will further gut public schools. I don’t have to tell this young mother.
“I know,” she says. She glances in the direction of the van’s departure. “My daughter does gymnastics after school. Loves it. They told us they’ll probably have to cut back next year.” She pauses a moment, perhaps considering just what that means. “I can’t afford to send her to a private dance studio. What’s she going to think when I tell her she just has to quit? What are any of our kids going to do after school when they cut all these programs?”
I can tell there’s another question she’s probably too proud to ask, which is, “What am I going to do when there’s no more gymnastics class?” She works all day. She obviously came home and made sure her daughter had dinner and did her homework and had everything ready for the gym. The long sigh as the van pulled away and the moment she allowed herself to rest against the door frame were the first moments she’d had to herself all day. I feel bad for interrupting it.
But she is more than eager to help. She signs up to become a member of our fight for Pennsylvania’s public schools. She writes out a letter by hand telling her state senator what she had just finished telling me. She asks him what she’s supposed to tell her daughter when she can’t send her to gymnastics anymore.
And then she thanks me. Wishes me luck. I can only thank her and tell her we’ll be doing all we can to make sure that’s a question she never has to answer.
As I walk away, I wonder if “all we can” will be enough and if it will be in time for this proud, tired woman and her energetic, hopeful little girl.
This is just one story that I have to share from my first week in training to be a field organizer for Working America. The office is an hour’s drive from where I’m currently living and I’ll probably have to move for the second time in a year to keep at it. But the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard in just my first week of training have convinced me that it’s the absolute right decision. I’ve spent too much time reading from books and pondering the possibilities. It’s time to get on the ground and join in the fight. And it’s a fight we absolutely have to win.
One street over from the mother and her little girl, I pass by building after building of empty apartments. Many have huge padlocks on doors decorated with the faded, tattered remains once brightly-colored utility shut off warnings and notices. Some of the windows are boarded up, but through the broken ones you can see the evidence of a place long abandoned. Paint peeling off the walls. Piles of trash on the floor. A broken stair. But this place was abandoned long before the apartments were empty.
I am surprised as the first door in a long time actually opens. A middle-aged white woman tells me her story.
She’s about to lose her job. Not because she’s lazy or incompetent or because she’s unwilling to work. She’s about to lose her job because she can no longer get to work.
It’s not just education that’s being cut here. They already cut back on mass transit. This small, previously middle-class community no longer has bus service.
“I don’t have a car,” she says. “Always took the bus to work.” She’s done things “the right way.” She never asked for a government handout. She worked at a low-wage job to support herself. It was enough for a small apartment and to pay the bills, but it wasn’t enough to buy a car – let alone afford the state mandated insurance payments on one on top of it. She’s been getting rides from friends or family when she can now, but she’s already missed work several times. Now her boss is saying she’s “unreliable.” She confesses she probably doesn’t have much time before she joins the ranks of the unemployed.
She, too, is very helpful. She signs onto our fight for education and good jobs and quality healthcare, even though she says she doesn’t believe it will change anything. She, too, writes a letter to her state senator. She, too, thanks me before I can thank her.
I’m touched as I walk away. I know this is a battle we have to fight even if we lose. I shudder at the thought of walking down this same street a month or a year from now and seeing a padlock on this woman’s door.
A few nights later, in a neighborhood consisting of streets lined with small suburban houses with well-kept front yards and even tiny little back yards where neighbors still gather together on front porches or out on their lawns, one could see the planted battle flags of the plutocracy in the “for sale” and “foreclosure” signs stamped into the yards of houses that are now empty. Fewer padlocks here, of course, and more spread out. Perhaps I should have done an accurate statistical tally. One in fifteen houses, maybe? Perhaps on the way to one in ten? After all, I talked with several people who had been laid off and were nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. No new jobs to be found, at least not jobs that could keep up with a house payment. And no, we’re not talking about people who went out and bought McMansions with loans they could never have paid back. We’re talking about very modest middle-class homes affordable on modest middle-class incomes. We’re talking the stuff of the old American Dream.
These people in the middle are waking up. Sure, there are some in those neighborhoods that have bought into Fox News and seem intent on punishing themselves and their neighbors with brutal budget cuts, all while worshiping the idle rich who dance across their television screens.
But most people in these middle-class neighborhoods realize they are getting screwed by the big corporations and the political power they wield. They know for a fact that they’re not lazy, that they’ve worked hard, that they’ve done all the things that they’re “supposed” to do. And yet many are just barely hanging on for dear life. Many are in danger of sliding down into those boarded up, vacant apartments just a mile or two away. And they voiced their support for those of us going door to door fighting for a quality public education for every Pennsylvanian. Their own kids and grandkids will be the ones who suffer if we lose it.
Just a little further west live the people who have fled these suburban, middle-class ghettos. In isolated communities with names like “Whispering Woods” you find winding streets lined with huge cookie-cutter mansions. It’s just a few miles from that neighborhood of abandoned apartments where you could film a post-apocalyptic movie without having to do much to dress the set. But it’s an entirely different world.
People with BMW’s parked in their driveways and huge plasma TV’s complain that government spends too much money. We all have to tighten our belts, they say. My kids go to private school. Why should I have to pay for public education? The unions have too much power. Teachers are overpaid. One person even went so far as to say, “Close the public schools. They’re worthless. The sooner we shut ‘em all down the better.”
If I could take one of them by the hand and walk up and down Juniper Street and Delaware Avenue where I began this diary, would they see? Would they really still demand more tax cuts if they were the ones who had to tell a little girl she had to give up gymnastics? Would they still demand drastic budget cuts if they had to tell that quickly aging single woman to walk five or ten miles to work alone?
There’s only one road leading out to the world of abandoned, padlocked apartments. There are only two leading into Whispering Woods. And now there are no bus stops in either. When will these people ever see each other face to face?
It’s our job to make the introductions. It’s our job to stand up and fight. It’s our job to head to the front lines and build support. It’s our job to bring communities back together again. It’s our job to take up a pen as a sword and a clipboard or iPad as a shield and to hold the line.
It’s our job to tell a little girl she can still take gymnastics.
Tomorrow, February 12, 2013, there is a special election in Minnesota for two state house seats. We have the chance to grow the pro-worker majority in the legislature and defeat two allies of Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The first is in House District 14A, which covers part of St. Cloud, Waite Park, St. Augusta, and two precincts in St. Joseph Township. The seat was vacated when Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) announced his resignation last month.
The second is in House District 19A, which covers parts of Mankato as well as Blue Earth, Le Sueur, and Nicollet Counties. The seat was vacated in December, when Rep. Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter) announced his retirement shortly after winning reelection.
Holding 19A and picking up 14A for the DFL will help pro-worker advocate Gov. Mark Dayton and his legislative allies enact a progressive agenda that works for working families, including but not limited to infrastructure investment, expansion of Medicaid, and raising the minimum wage.
For House District 14A, Working America endorses Joanne Dorsher. Ms. Dorsher is a former member of the St. Cloud School Board, and wants to invest in the right priorities for Minnesota. She will champion our schools and colleges and close wasteful corporate loopholes to make our budget sustainable in the long term.
For House District 19A, Working America endorses Clark Johnson. Mr. Johnson is a longtime educator here in Nicollet County. He’ll make sure we have a fair, progressive tax system and a budget that supports our priorities, like infrastructure and good schools. He’ll protect collective bargaining and fight privatization of important state services.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, the incendiary anti-worker member of Congress and presidential candidate, nearly lost her seat in November 2012. Nevertheless, she is still wielding her influence in Minnesota politics, advocating for Ms. Dorsher’s Republican opponent Tama Thies in 14A and former Republican Rep. Allen Quist in 19A.
Not only would victories for Dorsher and Johnson expand the pro-worker majority in the legislature, it would also signal that Bachmann’s brand of divisive politics is no longer accepted in Minnesota, from the top of the ballot down.
Prepared and paid for by the Working America Minnesota Political Fund, 815 16th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20006, in support of Joanne Dorsher. This is an independent expenditure not circulated on behalf of any candidate or ballot committee.
The truth is, this is just the latest in Gov. Corbett’s longstanding pattern of cutting or privatizing anything in the Keystone State that isn’t nailed down.
Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits stores, run by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), generate nearly $500 million every year for the state treasury. These funds are used to pay for education and other public services. The stores also account for about 5,000 family-sustaining jobs, many of them union.
Gov. Corbett says “getting the state completely out of the liquor business” and instead auctioning off up to 1,200 liquor licenses to individual stores could generate $1 billion over the next four years, to be used toward “the education of our children.” We don’t believe that for a second, and here’s why:
In the past two years Gov. Corbett has shown apathy or downright hostility towards the education of Pennsylvania children: starting with his first budget that cut state education funding by $1.1 billion, so deep that teachers in the cash-strapped Chester Upland School District famously worked for no pay. On top of that, he has made giant cuts in funding for state colleges, reduced funding for early childhood education, abandoned “costing-out” studies that are used ensure poorer school districts get adequate funding, and trumpeted privately-run charter schools at every turn. One columnist called it “bombing public education back to the stone age.”
It’s also worth noting that Vahan Gureghian, owner of one of the state’s largest charter schools, is a huge Corbett campaign donor.
So no, we don’t believe Gov. Corbett when he says this privatization plan is about the education of our children.
More likely, he is interested in generating revenue for private liquor companies, shrinking the available funds the state treasury (to give him an excuse for the next round of cuts), dismantling the PLCB, and busting up the union that advocates for thousands of Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits employees.
That he is doing so while claiming to care about educating our children is nauseatingly cynical – preying on the insecurities of Pennsylvania parents and teachers to sneak through a plan that benefits private corporations.
As hard as Michigan’s winters can hit, so has our latest lame duck session.
Before last December, there were 23 states with fair bargaining bans, also known as “right to work” states. Sadly, the cradle of labor holds the title as number 24. On December 11th, the Michigan legislature rammed through numerous controversial bills, exploiting the advantage of a lame duck session.
Through a shameful display of cowardice, they passed so-called “right to work” legislation in record time with no debate in both the State House and Senate, no committee hearings and with a $1 million appropriation attached to it, effectively making it impossible to bring this issue to the voters in an election. “Why can’t you take this to the voters? Because you know what will happen. You’re doing this in the lame duck because you know in the next session you won’t have the votes!” Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids).
The Republicans chose to ignore their constituents, and rolled back decades of workers’ rights that many made deep sacrifices to achieve.
Now that the lame duck session is over, a new legislative session has begun. Along with it come concerns that banning fair bargaining in Michigan isn’t far enough for Republican legislators. The threat of privatization hangs over the heads of teachers and staff in our public schools. Possible efforts to roll back MIOSHA, the state agency overseeing worker safety, could make workplaces across Michigan even more unsafe.
But currently what concerns Working America’s members in Michigan the most is the repeal of Prevailing Wages. In government contracting, a prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area. These standards are crucial and necessary to provide a livable and fair wage to skilled workers that build our roads, highways, schools and other government funded projects.
When you eliminate the prevailing wage standard, it encourages contractors to take short cuts. It compromises work quality, increases injury rates and lost work time, and results in higher maintenance costs.
This will also bring more outsourcing into Michigan. Predatory contractors will gain the incentive to underbid established businesses by using unskilled or low-skilled workers that come from other parts of the country who are willing to work for less than the local labor market is paying.
Our organizers have been reaching out to members, and overwhelmingly they agree that this is the wrong direction to go.
“The state of Michigan’s economy is very important and fair wages must be paramount for the workers. As a stay at home mom it is important that the wages of my husband be protected. You can protect prevailing wage laws. Please keep the wages with the workers” says member Trisha Zessler of Monroe.
Rich CEO’s and their lobbyists would like to make you think that repealing prevailing wage would save taxpayers money. But in reality, it will cost us more in the long run. Pension plans that were previously privately covered will force tax payers to pick up the tab. Roads that were constructed and repaired by qualified and highly skilled workers will be built with lower standards, making it more likely to need repairs sooner and be replaced frequently. And you can count on dramatically slashed wages for our workers.
This is the last thing that we need here in Michigan. This isn’t carrying the message of more jobs. Instead, it is clearly sending a message that we deserve to be paid less and put more of our hard earned tax dollars in the pockets of rich CEO’s.
The Walden Media film Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis, opens in theaters today. The film dramatizes a parent fighting to improve her child’s school, but it’s actually a dishonest Hollywood portrayal of the problems in our educational system – funded by the very people who want to privatize and profit from our schools. Here are ten reasons to skip it:
Won’t Back Down is “inept and bizarre.” Andrew O’Hehir, reviewing for Salon.com, writes that Won’t Back Down is “a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product.”
Won’t Back Down promotes an ALEC model bill. The film promotes the “parent trigger” law, an ALEC-created policy proposal that turns public schools into privately-run charter schools. ALEC also brought you Arizona’s draconian immigration law, Pennsylvania’s disenfranchising voter ID law, and Wisconsin’s union-busting Act 10.
Won’t Back Down is deeply deceptive. The “parent trigger” law promoted by the film has only been used twice in real life. Both instances have created “legal and community disasters,” writes Salon.com’s Alexander Zaitchik
I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie…The teachers I know are women and men who have devoted their lives to helping children learn and grow and reach their full potential. These women and men come in early, stay late to mentor and tutor students, coach sports teams, advise the student council, work through lunch breaks, purchase school supplies using money from their own pockets, and spend their evenings planning lessons, grading papers and talking to parents.
Won’t Back Down avoids the real issues. Writing in variety, Peter DeBruge points out the film is “grossly oversimplifying” education reform. Rather, it’s a “disingenuous pot-stirrer [that] plays to audiences’ emotions rather than their intelligence.”
Won’t Back Down is a “heavy handed lecture disguised as art.” Elizabeth Weitzman, reviewing for the New York Daily News, begins “I am neither anti-charter schools nor anti-union.” In the film, however, “the plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe….Every so often they remember they’re writing a movie and not attending a debate, so they’ll shove in a rushed romance, or an out of nowhere personal revelation.”
Jamie [the film’s protagonist] leads the fictional takeover because her daughter, who is dyslexic, can’t read. Yet not a word is said in the movie about the need for more services and teachers for special needs kids…
Never mind those wonky details. The problem, we’re repeatedly led to believe, is the teachers’ union. But if unions were to blame for failing schools, wouldn’t unionized public schools in Princeton or Scarsdale also suck?
Hollywood hasn’t been known to let logic get in the way of a good story, and neither do education reformers.
Finally: Won’t Back Down isn’t your best option. Going to the movies this weekend? Try the musical comedy Pitch Perfect, the sci-fi thriller Looper, or, of course, this classic re-release about a brave teacher (well, archaeology professor).
The investigation revolves around Seminole County, Florida, and its Seminole Virtual Instruction program, provided by K12 Inc., a for-profit company that is the nation’s largest virtual school provider. A series of internal emails sent to Seminole County by a former K12 Inc. employee suggest the company tried to skirt state teacher certification rules to use less-qualified—and, in turn, less-compensated—teachers, according to the report, by John O’Connor and Trevor Aaronson. Those emails sparked the state’s investigation, the report said.
This investigation comes after years of K12 Inc. using its influence and enormous cash reserves (it made $522 million in profit last year) to push their mo del of for-profit education across the country, including states like Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, the Michigan legislature sought to pass SB 619, a bill to lift the cap on the expansion of online charter schools, also known as “cyber schools.” The expansion of cyber schools would come at the expense of Michigan’s already cash-strapped public school system – with the potential to siphon as much as $7.2 billion away from public education. The bill was heavily pushed by K 12 Inc., a for-profit online school company and member corporation of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Working America and community members rallied against the bill, which ended up passing by only one vote.
In schools operated by K 12 Inc., students are receiving an inferior education, and dropping out at a higher rate. According to a study from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) only 28 percent of K12 Inc. schools reporting meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards, and only half of parents intended to keep their children in a K12 Inc. school for more than two years. “Part of K12’s problem seems to be that it skimps on special education spending and employs few instructors, despite having lower overhead than brick-and-mortar schools,” said the NEPC Director Kevin Welner.
As we stand in solidarity with Chicago teachers striking for better schools for their students, we should remember that the attack on public education is broad, well-funded, and comes from multiple directions. K 12 Inc. is just part of the story.
Working America member Mary Karscig from Shaler, Pennsylvania, is fed up with the Corbett agenda. Since he arrived in office, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has used his post to make deep, painful budget cuts, including a nearly $900 million cut to public education, while leaving loopholes and corporate handouts intact.
In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of corporations pay no income tax thanks in part to the “Delaware tax loophole,” which allows those corporations to set up headquarters in Delaware, which has different tax laws. Oftentimes this headquarters are nothing more than a P.O. box, or a building smaller than a supermarket. The Delaware loophole and other loopholes cost Pennsylvanians $4.4 billion last year.
Mary understands that it isn’t rocket science: why do average Pennsylvanians pay their fair share only to see their school budgets slashed, while companies can legally shirk their responsibility – and with the Governor’s blessing, no less? Her letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Close the loophole,” is below:
Pennsylvania schools and social services can be helped by collecting taxes from corporations currently sliding by in the Delaware loophole. Although corporations are subject to a corporate net income tax, 71 percent of corporations in Pennsylvania pay no tax to Pennsylvania. Why? Because many corporations establish their “home office” in Delaware, a state whose tax laws require no tax payment to other states. Such home offices often equate to a post office box or file drawer. Is it legal? Yes. Is it fair? No!
These corporations often pay lower taxes than a family making approximately $36,000 a year pays. What will happen when the middle class is wiped out and no tax base exists? We must genuinely close the Delaware loophole now; collect the taxes owed to Pennsylvania; and restore funding to health care, social services and education. This will provide jobs for many people, including people like my son who could not find a job in education and returned to school to earn his master’s degree in education. He is now overwhelmed with student loan debt.
To aid our schools and essential social services and to preserve accompanying jobs, everyone needs to pay his or her fair share, not just the middle class.