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Harsh Prison Sentences: A Labor Issue?

Is mass incarceration a labor issue? According to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

According to Dave Jamieson, writing in the Huffington Post, Trumka is prepared to give remarks on Friday “offering robust support” for California’s Porposition 47, a proposal that would downgrade non-violent crimes to misdemeanors, thereby rendering thousands of state and county prisoners eligible for immediate release or sentence reduction.

Trumka’s prepared remarks state, “It’s a labor issue because mass incarceration means literally millions of people work jobs in prisons for pennies an hour — a hidden world of coerced labor here in the United States…It’s a labor issue because those same people who work for pennies in prison, once they have served their time, find themselves locked out of the job market by employers who screen applicants for felony convictions.” Continue reading Harsh Prison Sentences: A Labor Issue?

Students Fight Back in Philadelphia

By Steve Brier

In the latest ominous sign of the ramping up of the neoliberal agenda to undermine public funding for public institutions, the state-appointed Philadelphia School Reform Commission (PSRC), which has managerial control over the city’s public school system and its 130,000 students, on October 6th unilaterally cancelled the longstanding contract it had with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), as reported earlier on the Murphy Institute blog.

This public school crisis was the result of decades of systematic underfunding of public institutions by the state of Pennsylvania, which is now firmly in the political hands of Republicans — especially the reactionary Governor Tom Corbett, who cut close to $1 billion from the state’s education budget over the past few years.

While the city’s teachers are understandably dispirited by the cancellation of their contract, the schools’ students and parents are helping them fight back. One parent criticized the PSRC for trying to have teachers underwrite their own health care costs, concluding that this was tantamount to “robbing the children.”

Students have refused to remain idle in the face of this struggle, using social media like Twitter and Facebook to organize a walkout and a series of mass demonstrations in support of their teachers. Continue reading Students Fight Back in Philadelphia

Things to Come? The Philadelphia Case

Photo via Wikipedia

By Stanley Aronowitz

Appointed by the Republican Governor Tom Corbett, the School Reform Commission (SRC) unilaterally canceled the Philadelphia Public Education contract on Monday, October 6th. The agreement covers 15,000 teachers and other staff workers. And SRC announced that it intends to take over the union-controlled benefits program and impose 5%-13% employee contributions instead of its current fee-free features. The union was not notified of the Commission’s move in advance. Its president Jerry Jordan promised to fight and said the union would consider “job actions” if members were ready for them.

Since the financial depression of 2007-2008, public sector unions have been on a seven-year defensive. Many contracts have been negotiated with below-inflation rate salary increases, or none at all. Health and pension benefits almost inevitably require employee contributions, and many programs are diluted. In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers negotiated a nine-year agreement (four of them covering the past years of zero salary raises) that fails to match the actual inflation, although the benefits program remains unchanged.

Philadelphia education workers are not plagued by a Taylor Law prohibiting strikes or job actions, but the Pennsylvania bargaining environment is no less grim. Continue reading Things to Come? The Philadelphia Case

Philadelphia Teacher Contracts Cancelled

Photo Credit: Kara Newhouse via Flickr

The latest cost-cutting strategy by the cash-strapped Philadelphia School Board strikes a shocking blow to educators in the city. Yesterday, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted unanimously to unilaterally cancel its teachers’ contract, throwing into question what it means to be an employed teacher in Philadelphia.

From “SRC cancels teachers’ contract” by Kristen Graham and Martha Woodall in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The district says it will not cut the wages of 15,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries and other PFT members. But it plans to dismantle the long-standing Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, which is controlled by the union, and take over administering benefits.

Going forward, most PFT members will have to pay either 10 percent or 13 percent of the cost of their medical plan, depending on their salaries. They now pay nothing. Officials said that workers would pay between $21 and $70 a month, beginning Dec. 15.

Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, vows that the union will not give up without a fight:

“I am taking nothing off the table,” a clearly angry Jordan said at an afternoon news conference. Job actions could be possible, once he determines what members want to do. “We are not indentured servants.”

Read more at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

September Protests

Photo Credit: Leung Ching Yau Alex via Flickr

By Stanley Aronowitz

September was an eventful month for social protests.

Here at home, an estimated 400,000 marchers filled the streets of New York City to demand urgent action to stem climate change. Global warming is only the tip of the crisis: flooding, severe hurricane activity, droughts and unexpected heat waves have recently afflicted large portions of the planet. The climate march comprised a wide range of groups, including large contingents from the unions, environmental organizations and a surprising array of unaffiliated citizens.

On Monday, September 29 hundreds of members of the Professional Staff Congress, the union of faculty and staff of the City University of New York rallied for a raise on the street facing the main entrance to Baruch College, where the CUNY Board of Directors was meeting. Like other city and state workers, the union’s 23,000 members had not received a raise for four years.

The pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong exemplified a more militant response. Continue reading September Protests