You Are Standing Up and Making a Difference for Public Education!


By Cynthia McCabe and Mary Ellen Flannery

Turning on the news lately can be a daunting proposition. Each day brings word of a new attack on public workers’ rights and devastating cuts to the funding educators need to best serve their students.

That’s why several recent victories are so significant. In a climate in which union bashing is politically expedient, it’s heartening to see NEA members nationwide standing up and fighting back. Their message: We’re tired of politicians who bash public servants to please their corporate donors and give yet another advantage to big businesses more interested in profits than what’s best for students. Those NEA activists’ phone calls, emails, letters to newspaper editors and sign-waving at rallies are making a difference.

Let’s take a look.

Georgia Voucher Scheme Defeated

In a resounding win for public school students in Georgia, the Senate last month tabled consideration of a bill that would have expanded a private school voucher program at a time when the state could least afford it. Just as it appeared poised for passage, lawmakers dropped Senate Bill 87, which would have provided taxpayer-funded payments to private schools not subject to state accountability measures. That was due in large part to the effective work of Georgia educators and their supporters, who argued that the bill would take money from public schools that desperately need it.

Lawmakers, “took the time to listen and at least for now have decided that vouchers are not the direction Georgia needs to follow,” Georgia Association of Educators President Calvine Rollins said.

Georgia Association of Educators members made more than 900 calls to their representatives to argue against the program’s expansion, and sent hundreds of emails. One of those activists, retired member Elizabeth Filliat, was motivated by her decades of experience working with the same students that voucher advocates purported to be helping.

“Even with vouchers, the poorer students cannot afford private schools,” says Filliat. “Taking public money and giving that money to private schools, through vouchers, will create another class stratification in schools, but this time by wealth and by class status.”

Alabama Wins Payroll Deduction Fight

Educators in Alabama can continue to pay their association dues through payroll deductions, following a decision by the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta this week that added yet another hurdle for Republican lawmakers in the state attempting to curtail union workers’ rights.

A law passed in December that was to take effect in March would have banned the payroll deductions. The Alabama Education Association fought back, suing in federal court on the premise that the law was overreaching.

Dr. Paul Hubbert, president of the association, told an Alabama reporter that the courts have continually upheld members’ rights to designate how they want to pay their dues.

Oklahoma Union Members’ Financial Decisions Protected

A few weeks ago, a bill to prohibit the Oklahoma Education Association from collecting dues or contributions to their Fund for Children and Public Education through paychecks was offered by a state legislator from Enid, Okla. If approved, it would have made it very difficult for the association to effectively represent employees and the interests of public education students.

But it wasn’t – thanks to the efforts of teachers and support professionals who personally reached out to that lawmaker, their neighbor and representative, asking him to take a minute to listen. “I just felt like he needed to hear from us directly, to make that personal connection,” said Rhonda Harlow, president of the Enid Education Association.

Wisconsin Judge Halts Gov. Scott Walker’s Anti-Worker Law

A judge last month ruled that the publication of the collective bargaining law that strips workers of their rights to bargain contracts had to be halted, because its passage may have happened illegally.

Judge Maryann Sumi, appointed by a former Republican governor,  issued a temporary restraining order preventing the secretary of state from publishing the law until she could rule on the case. The matter came before her in a complaint by the Dane County district attorney on behalf of public officials who believe Republicans violated the state’s open-meeting law while maneuvering to get the law passed.

While legal wrangling over the law’s publication continues, Sumi’s ruling sent the message to Gov. Scott Walker and like-minded Republican politicians that someone was watching. Not just the hundreds of thousands who have packed the statehouse grounds in recent weeks, but also the judicial branch.

West Virginia Public Employees Win Salary Increase

At a time when many politicians are targeting public employees’ hard-earned pay, a conference committee consisting of West Virginia delegates and senators agreed on a pay bill that includes a nearly $1,500 pay raise for all teachers. The victory won by the West Virginia Education Association also contains a 2-percent pay increase for education support professionals, with a $500 minimum and $1,200 maximum. The salary increase takes effect at the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Virginia Saves Retirement System, Stops Vouchers

One of the most daunting challenges faced by the Virginia Education Association this year was the threat to the Virginia Retirement System. Bills introduced required public school employees to suddenly make significant boosts in their personal retirement contributions and would have established a defined contribution plan which is much riskier for public servants than a defined benefit plan. But work with allies on the Senate Finance Committee helped preserve the retirement system.

Public education activists in the state also helped beat back a voucher scheme that would have drained $25 million in potential revenue from the state’s general fund. The plan sought to give tax credits to corporations for funding scholarships to private schools.

Is Your State Next? How Will You Help?

What made the difference in these and other states where victories large and small are coming in every week? Members just like you saying, ‘Enough’ and getting active. If you’ve had enough, there are some easy ways you can get started to join them:

1. Sign up as an online volunteer with Recruit five colleagues to do the same. Once you sign up, you’ll be the first to get valuable information about rallies and calls to action happening in your area.

2. Sign NEA’s National Petition for Workers’ Rights. It’s a simple step but one that sends a powerful message about how highly you value the rights of the American worker.

Reader Comments

  1. Thank you Fred for your comment. You have just inspired me to write ANOTHER letter to my legislators to protect workers rights. People like you are what have inspired union members across the country to unite and get politically involved. Keep spreading your negative comments and lies so that my fellow union brothers and sisters will continue to take positive steps to protect our rights. We are making a difference and will continue to fight for each other so that we ALL can maintain a quality of life.

    The UAW is not the reason why younger employees are paid less. If anything, they have to fight for everything they can keep. The UAW fights for ALL of its workers. If what you said was true, then people in their twenties would be fighting to make states like Michigan a right-to-work state. We are doing the exact opposite. We realize how important our unions are and would NEVER willingly give them up. It is the corporate millionaires that want to take every penny from their employees just so they can have record bonuses. I live in Dearborn, Michigan (home of Henry Ford) so if anyone knows it would be me.

    Again, thank you for inspiring me to keep writing, keep protesting, and to get even more involved politically than I already am. It’s people like you that have inspired a generation of young adults in their twenties to get involved and stand up for what is right.

    In Solidarity!!!

    1. Good and competent workers don’t need Unions, if they lose their jobs, they find another. Unions support older workers with more time on the job, at the expense of younger workers….A case of point is the UAW, they are forcing younger workers to take jobs at less pay than the older workers that have been on the same job for longer. Is it fair to have the UAW dictate that new younger workers get less pay for the same job than older workers??…NO of course it isn’t, but that’s Unions for you! In addition, Unions are the number one reason many of our jobs have gone to other countries, Unions demand wages and benefits that are too expensive for the companies to pay and make a profit in the globally competitive world.

    2. Hey Fred…You may want to do your history check on unions. You talk a big game but the corporations are making millions and get out of paying millions in taxes. And no union is perfect as you know. So what you are saying is that unions are down grading the economy??? Why don’t you go work at Wal-Mart for a couple of years and see how you like being at the mercy of your employer for little pay with little chance of making anymore for the rest of your years there regardless of how hard you work. To all Wal-Mart employees or former employees, you got my respect. Fred its people like you who are misinformed and should probably stop blogging.

  2. The Unions have had their day destroying America’s greatness, it is past time that Public Employee Unions are legislated out of existence, and individuals freed to seek employment without the albatross of forced Unionization hung around their necks.

    1. Politicians bankrolled by corporate donors are using the current economic downturn to attack teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers. It’s nothing more than a political power grab, and the middle class is saying, ‘Enough is enough!’ We don’t mind paying our fair share, but we won’t accept radical agendas that demonize the hard-working people who teach our children, care for our elderly, and protect our families.

  3. It’s good to read some good news! Joining forces is proof that we can make a difference. I hope we can continue to see GOOD NEWS!!!!

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