Things to Come? The Philadelphia Case

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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

The growing disjunction in education policy

This article originally appeared on The Hill.

By Basil Smikle Jr.

A flurry of activity among education reformers across the country exposes a growing bifurcation within its ranks, uncovered by recent challenges to teacher tenure in New York. Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice, which recently recruited renowned attorneys David Boies and Laurence Tribe, seeks to reform teacher tenure laws, mirroring activities that led to California’s controversial Vergara ruling. But earlier this month, the New York City Parents Union filed suit separately alleging that Brown’s group failed to include scores of minority parents in their complaint. This troubling yet pervasive tableau has bedeviled modern reform movements since their inception: Leadership has remained predominantly white, even though the target populations are overwhelmingly black and Latino. And these battles are contributing to a growing disjunction in education policy and among stakeholders within communities and across cities.  Continue reading The growing disjunction in education policy

Hillary Clinton’s commitment to civil rights

This article originally appeared on The Hill.

By Basil Smikle Jr.

On a subfreezing morning in January 2003, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) walked to the pulpit of Trinity Baptist Church’s Martin Luther King Day celebration in the Bronx to make a startlingly rousing speech to their predominantly African-American congregation. Typically, such speeches are principally aspirational — they acknowledge that society has largely rebuked racial discrimination’s ugly past but urge steadfastness in tackling challenges that lay ahead. But it was Clinton’s stirring repudiation of Trent Lott, then the Republican Senate Majority Leader from Mississippi who a month earlier praised Strom Thurman’s 1948 pro-segregation presidential campaign, that enthused the audience. Her remarks suggested changes in leadership alone will not eradicate racism and discrimination but the rigidity of the pathways to political and economic enfranchisement must acquiesce to the strength inherent in this country’s diversity. Continue reading Hillary Clinton’s commitment to civil rights

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