News from the Daily Kos Labor
- West Virginia teachers strike (yes, again) to protest attack on public education
February, 19 2019
This is not a blast from the recent past: West Virginia teachers are on strike again, just a year after they kicked off a wave of teacher uprisings that is still reverberating around the nation. The teachers won a badly needed pay raise last year, but now they’re protesting as their state legislature considers a bill that would undermine public education across the state.
Schools were open in only one of West Virginia’s 55 counties on Tuesday, ABC News reported, but “school parking lots were nearly empty anyway” in Putnam County. Teachers again flooded the state capitol. Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia, said “We are left with no other choice.”
The teachers are protesting an education bill that would chip away at the state’s already fragile and underfunded public education system by creating charter schools and allowing education savings accounts to pay for private schools. “It’s really disheartening to see the process play out and to see that people are using public education as a form of retaliation,” Mingo County high school English teacher Katie Endicott told USA Today. “But, at the same time, we’re really resolved in the fight and we’re not going to back down. We’re not going to quit because we know that the future of public education is at stake.”
One way to gauge the continuing rage among teachers and their willingness to keep up the fight is that, when the Denver teachers strike ended on Feb. 14, with the Los Angeles teachers strike having ended on Jan. 23, it seemed remarkable that Oakland teachers were on the brink of striking. The Oakland strike is planned to start on Thursday, Feb. 21—a week after Denver teachers got a deal. That seemed soon! But somehow West Virginia teachers have slid into that one-week gap to remind us all of their place in this movement, and of the severity of the attack on public education in the U.S.
- Republicans stand between two-thirds of working poor and a raise, this week in the war on workers
February, 16 2019
Every year it feels like this must be it: the low-hanging fruit and some of the pretty damn high-hanging fruit have been picked when it comes to raising state minimum wages, and momentum is surely going to grind to a halt. Somehow, it doesn’t. Already in 2019, New Jersey has passed a $15 minimum wage bill and the Illinois legislature has done the same, with new Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritztker expected to sign. (The two states’ laws are different, but the end point is $15.)
But the place we never see any progress is where it would affect the most people. The federal minimum wage last rose in 2009, to $7.25 an hour, and congressional Republicans were in a position to block further increases for the rest of Barack Obama’s presidency. Now, Republicans in Congress and the White House stand in the way of a non-poverty level minimum wage. Democrats have introduced a $15 minimum wage bill, but until Democrats take the Senate and the White House, it’s not going anywhere.
Let’s talk about what that $15 minimum wage bill would do, though, because Republicans should have to face consequences for their actions, and working people should know what Republicans are doing to them. Here’s the bottom line, from the Economic Policy Institute: “All told, raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would directly or indirectly lift wages for 39.7 million workers, 26.6 percent of the wage-earning workforce.” The average worker who would be directly affected—that is, who would get a raise because they earned less than the new minimum wage—would get an extra $4,000 in pay if they work all year.
The workers who would get raises would be disproportionately women, disproportionately people of color, and more than half would be between the ages of 25 and 54. The impact on black workers would be especially pronounced: 38.1 percent of black workers would get a raise, compared to 23.2 percent of white workers.
Across the board, “Two-thirds (67.3 percent) of the working poor in America would receive a pay increase if the minimum wage were raised to $15 by 2024.” Republicans always claim to value work, but they are dead set against two-thirds of the working poor getting a raise.
- Federal contract workers won’t get back pay after shutdown: ‘The president won’t sign that’
February, 14 2019
Donald Trump is blocking back pay for as many as a million federal contract workers who lost wages during the recent government shutdown. Democrats have introduced legislation to pay those workers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, but “I’ve been told the president won’t sign that,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, because “I guess federal contractors are different in his view than federal employees.” So the provision isn’t included in the spending bills that will keep the government open.
Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have signed on to the Democratic plan to pay federal contract workers, but as we’ve seen again and again, that doesn’t matter. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell almost never does anything Trump wouldn’t like, and he’s definitely not going out on a limb for low-wage workers.
Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, both Democrats, naturally, introduced the legislation, of which they wrote in the Washington Post that “The federal government relies on these working men and women. And the failure on the part of politicians in Washington to do their jobs shouldn’t rob people of the financial security they’ve earned.”
While Republicans insist that back pay for contract workers is complicated and messy, Smith and Pressley disagree: “Federal agencies have already budgeted the money they would have used to pay these contractors had the shutdown not happened. And there’s already a mechanism in place to help contractors get reimbursed for other costs incurred during the shutdown.”
But Republicans want the companies with federal contracts to be made whole. The same can’t be said of working people struggling to get by.
- Teachers strike ending as union declares ‘Denver teachers win for Denver students’
February, 14 2019
Denver teachers “may return to the classroom,” their union let them know early Thursday morning, after a tentative deal was announced by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Denver Public Schools. If it’s ratified, the strike will formally end, and the union, saying that “Denver teachers win for Denver students,” seems confident that teachers will approve it.
The teachers and district management had earlier come to an agreement on a starting salary level of $45,800, but teachers were pushing for structured raises rather than unpredictable bonuses they say hurt teacher retention. In the tentative deal announced Thursday, base salaries will increase by seven to 11 percent, but equally importantly, there will be a “transparent” salary schedule plus “The ability to use professional development units—free in-district courses offered to advance teachers’ education—to move up lanes on the salary schedule.” According to the union, “The tentative agreement, which must be ratified by the full DCTA membership, reforms a pay system which largely relied on unstable bonuses, and provides stability for students who, for the past ten years, have had their education disrupted by a compensation schedule that drove their teachers away from the district.”
Teachers have been in attendance at bargaining sessions, often vocally expressing their approval or disapproval. At the final, decisive session on Wednesday, the Denver Post reports, “As DPS unveiled its latest plan, teachers in the audience—who normally chant protest songs during breaks and occasionally heckle the district during bargaining talks—clapped and snapped their fingers in approval.”
As Denver teachers likely head back to school, teachers in Oakland, California, continue to gear up for a strike. The wave of teacher uprisings isn’t over.
- Denver teachers draw support from students and senators as strike continues
February, 12 2019
Denver teachers stayed out on strike for a second day Tuesday as union representatives and school district management resumed negotiations. In fact, by some reports, the number of striking teachers grew on Tuesday. Students at one high school walked out in support of their teachers, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both tweeted that they stand with the teachers.
Negotiations revolve around teacher pay low enough to drive many into second and third jobs or out of teaching altogether. Teachers are also seeking changes to a bonus structure they say leads to high teacher turnover at high-poverty schools, arguing that a better way to support disadvantaged students is by reducing class sizes and hiring more support staff.
A week before the Denver teachers went on strike, one of the finalists for National Teacher of the Year in 2016 offered important context for the past year’s wave of teacher strikes. Nate Bowling’s tweet thread traced where he and his three fellow finalists have gone professionally since 2016. One, Oklahoma’s Shawn Sheehan, is doing a policy fellowship in Washington, D.C., after an unsuccessful run for Oklahoma state Senate. A second, Daniel Jocz, was recently on strike in Los Angeles. Bowling himself was also on strike last fall, in Washington state. And the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes, is now in Congress. Bowling’s kicker:
Dear reader: What does it say about the state of US schools that half of us felt drawn to DC to do policy work and the two of us that remained in the classroom both went on strike this year?
It doesn’t say anything good, that’s for sure—and with Denver teachers on strike and Oakland teachers preparing to strike, the uprising for public education continues.
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