This past week, Murphy Institute Professor Stephanie Luce gave a talk at the James Connolly Forum on the fight for a living wage and the $15 minimum campaign. Couldn’t make it person? Catch the talk here:
Stephanie Luce is an Associate Professor of Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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→
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