California teachers fight to save their union and the schools

march 25 2015

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – Unionized California teachers are among the many categories of workers nationwide whose unions are under attack by anti-labor lawmakers and judges seeking to kill unions by draining them of their financial lifeblood. The teachers are saying, however, that they won’t shrink from the fight to preserve their union’s right to collect fees for the representation services it provides and that they will continue their ongoing fight for quality education for everyone.

Up front at the California Federation of Teacher’s state convention here Mar. 20-22 was the  threat to ending fair-pay (agency-fee) dues for public sector workers, in a case now before the Supreme Court, Frederich’s vs. CTA, which could potentially create a national open shop for public sector labor.  CFT would face a loss of at least 10 percent of its dues, around $2 million dollars, from inability to collect agency-fee dues.

In spite of this threat, the union is pressing its mission to restore economic health to the state’s public education funding. Its a mission the teachers have been carrying out for quite a while.

Proposition 30, a law the union had a hand in crafting and helping to pass in 2010,  has generated over $13 billion dollars in its duration. Before the passing of the bill, the $20 billion dollars in cuts resulting from deficits produced by the Great Recession had caused California to lose 30,000 teachers.

CFT President Josh Pechthalt, in his State of the Union address, said that despite predictions that the wealthy would flee the state in the wake of having their taxes raised via Prop 30, there are more millionaires in California now than before the recession.  Although Gov. Brown is not considering extension of the bill, the CFT sees the state ranking at 46th in per-pupil spending to be insupportable, and will pursue renewal of the initiative.

The University of California system is still cutting classes, while raising tuition.  Support staff and classified staff lost from the recession cuts have not been restored and need to be rehired.

Pechthalt also described other tasks CFT has been involved in, including collaborating with Brave New Films on a documentary about the union’s frustrated efforts to divest their pension funds from the weapons industry in the wake of highly publicized school shootings and gun violence.  Shining a light on the bad practices of for-profit colleges that inflate student debt will also proceed this year, with CFT working to regulate for-profit colleges.

CFT has also been instrumental in working to halt the disaccreditation of City College of San Francisco, by the ACCJC, which accredits community colleges and has been attempting to have the school shut down.  Pechthalt said that CFT opposes the “narrow vision” of the accrediting agency, which uses “false metrics to gauge success.”  The union upholds a vision of community college that is not simply outcome (degree) oriented, but also is open to all, including non-traditional, trades, and ESL students.

The union’s efforts to effect progressive reform for the state’s education system are encompassed in a larger mission of providing the basis for a push for national progressive economic reform.  “Even if we put dramatically more money into our schools and work harder and longer, public education won’t be able to overcome the kind of wrenching poverty that grinds people down into despair,” said Pechthalt

Some 1.3 million school-age children are homeless nationwide. Despite economic hardship and austerity, a populist uprising has not emerged to oppose the agenda of cuts by the Republicans.  “Father Knows Best” propaganda succeeded in swaying the 2014 electorate, although people did vote for measures that raised the minimum wage.  Democrats have failed to offer an alternative pro-union, populist program for people, he said.  In addition, the right wing is using fear and outsized financial resources to attack labor where the labor movement was born, in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana.

Labor faces a Supreme Court that could end both agency fee and collective bargaining for public sector workers with a ruling on Frederich’s vs. CTA, said Pechthalt, “To paraphrase Sinclair Lewis’ great novel of the 1930s, “It can happen here!”

In hand with an unfriendly Supreme Court, the right wing is pursuing an agenda to shrink public programs to weaken them, attacking them for not measuring up, often with coded racist language, and then working to replace them with privatized programs with non-union labor.

In the last election cycle of 2010, CFT joined with community partners to create the Millionaire’s Tax that became Prop 30, and fighting for progressive tax reform has become a key part of CFT’s mission.  Next the union is looking at the inequities caused by California’s Prop 13, a 1970’s era anti-tax measure that kicked off the right-wing tax revolt of the era, and will be crafting an initiative for the ballot.

Tens of billions of dollars have been lost from public schools since corporations exploit a loophole that allows them to keep property in their hands from being reassessed at higher rates.  Today, Disneyland pays proportionally less in property taxes than the modern California homeowner.  Reform of Prop 13, along with a renewal of Prop 30, could raise a projected $15 billion dollars a year.

CFT, along with progressive California politicians and community partners, is training 1,000 speakers to travel in the state to help create a movement to bring success to these ballot initiative for the 2016 election.

Photo: California Federation of Teachers Facebook page

Via People’s World

Silicon Valley rises up for low-wage workers

march 3 2015

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Over 200 labor, religious, and community activists packed historic McDonnell Hall here today to launch Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition aiming to win living wages, benefits, and fair treatment for the many low-wage workers who provide services to the high-tech giants like Apple and Google that dominate the region’s economy. Organizing these workers, which has already scored victories among bus drivers for Facebook and other high-tech corporations, will be key to this effort.

There couldn’t have been a more appropriate place to launch this organizing initiative. McDonnell Hall, originally no more than a shack on the campus of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, is where Cesar Chavez got his start at an organizer, mentored by legendary activist priest Fr. Donald McDonnell; it also saw the beginnings of the La Raza organization.

Fr. Jon Pedigo, pastor of the church and a leading progressive activist in San Jose, kicked off the event by reading from the New Testament letter of James: “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you… You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.” Fr. Jon added, to loud cheers, “But today we offer resistance!”

Another local progressive religious leader, Rabbi Dana Magat, read a passage from the prophet Jeremiah denouncing a king “who makes his neighbors work for nothing and does not give them their wages,” concluding, “It’s time to rise up!” to which the crowd responded with shouts of “¡Sí se puede!”

Ben Field, executive director of the South Bay Labor Council AFL-CIO, declared, “We are standing in the same place where Cesar Chavez began his work.” He lauded the “unprecedented coalition of labor, faith groups, and community organizations” that had come together to fight for the one-third of all families in Silicon Valley – one of the richest areas in the wealthiest country in the world – who are struggling to make ends meet: “Those who serve food, drive for, and protect the high-tech companies that make billions in profits are barely getting by.” He pointed to the “hourglass” nature of economic expansion in the Valley, where the only jobs being created are either high-wage professional jobs requiring specialized skills or less-skilled jobs that don’t pay enough to live on in the pricey San Francisco Bay area. Silicon Valley has 1.1 million low-wage workers, but only 31,000 “middle-class” jobs.

“This is happening nationwide,” he explained, “but it’s happening fastest in Silicon Valley. He noted the sharp racist edge to this development, with the vast majority of low-wage jobs held by people of color, a situation he described as “occupational segregation.” As he concluded, “We need to expand economic opportunity so that people who work for a living can actually make a living!” the crowd broke out into cheers.

Derecka Mehrens of Working Partnerships USA, the community ally of the South Bay Labor Council, explained the three goals of the new coalition:

1.     “To lift the floor for all workers in Silicon Valley” by winning living wages for low-paid workers;

2.     “To work on housing to meet the crisis in Silicon Valley,” which has some of the highest housing costs in the nation; and

3.     “To bring those tech companies to the table-they’re going to pay their workers a living wage!”

“We’re going to rebuild the middle class in this community!” she concluded, to loud assent.

Particularly notable was the strong alliance being built between labor and faith communities, bringing back to life a strong but often-forgotten history of religious support for the labor movement. The Catholic bishop of San Jose sent a message declaring, “We are proud to stand together with you as Silicon Valley Rising. We need to make Silicon Valley a place where all families can thrive together.” Fr. Jon led a rousing prayer-really a call to action-calling for “a more racial and active labor movement” and ending with a plea “that those who are beaten down by the powerful in this Valley may have hope.” Rabbi Dana, quoting a passage from the prophet Amos calling for “righteousness to roll down like an ever-flowing stream,” insisted, “We need a tidal wave of righteousness in Silicon Valley. It is time to rise up!” – and shouts of “rise up” resounded through the hall.

Other organizations in the coalition included two SEIU locals, a Teamsters local, UniteHere local 19, Latinos United for a New America, Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Affordable Housing Network, and Silicon Valley DeBug, an organization of young activists. And members of the Chavez-Ross Club of the CPUSA took part.

The gathering not only looked forward to struggle but also back to some recent victories. The previous Saturday, drivers for Facebook, organized by the Teamsters, won a first contract increasing wages, providing company-paid healthcare and pensions, and ending involuntary “split shifts” that forced drivers to work mornings and evenings with the hours in between idle and unpaid. On the very day of the rally, drivers for Yahoo, Apple, Genentech, eBay and Zynga voted overwhelmingly for Teamster representation.

The rally ended with more than shouts and applause. Almost all those present signed cards pledging to participate in future actions. Next on the agenda is an Apple shareholders meeting March 10, when the coalition will rally to demand that the hugely profitable tech giant see to it that the service workers it uses get a living wage.

Photo: Henry Millstein/PW

Via People’s World