Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wisconsin Grinches Attack Teachers

Wisconsin Republicans are outgrinching Dr. Seuss’s Grinch.

Like the Grinch who swooped into Whoville to steal all the Christmas gifts, the Wisconsin Grinches will invade villages and hamlets through out the state to steal the right to organize unions during this holiday season.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court vacated a contempt of court ruling by a lower court. The result: for the first three weeks of December – perhaps starting as soon as the day after Thanksgiving – tens of thousands of teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, janitors and other public sector workers will be forced to “recertify” their unions.

The Republicans wrote the recertification requirements to make it as hard as possible to win – unions need support from 51% of all workers eligible to be in the union, not just those who vote.

“Only in Walker's Wisconsin can a union get 329 ‘yes’ votes and 14 ‘no’ votes and lose a certification election,” a veteran Wisconsin labor leader commented on a recent recertification election of an AFSCME education local.

A History of Attacks
The Republican’s attack on public sector unions in the past few years has followed a game plan similar to that of Seuss’s Grinch who left “nothing but hooks and some wire” and only a “crumb that was even too small for a mouse.”

It wasn’t enough for Gov. Scott Walker and the Koch brothers-financed legislative henchmen to outlaw Fairshare and payroll dues deduction.

It wasn’t enough that they eviscerated collective bargaining rights for any and all public sector unions (except for the few unions that endorsed Walker for governor in 2010).

Nor did the largest cuts to public education in Wisconsin history satiate the thirst of those who would replace democratically controlled public institutions with private marketplace options. This summer the legislature expanded a failed private school voucher program from Milwaukee to all corners of the state.

The Republican’s claim that the purpose of the voucher expansion was to provide a “choice” to beleaguered public school students proved to be a sham when the DPI released enrollment data. Under the new statewide program nearly 75% of the voucher recipients did not transfer from public schools, but were already enrolled in the religious schools. The essence of the program: transfer of public funds to private schools.

Universal Human Right
On November 21 the Supreme Court resuscitated one of the most toxic provisions of Act 10 – the requirement that public sectors unions annually “recertify.”

The recertification provision is unprecedented in US labor relations and is a direct attack on the universal human right to organize unions. The United Nations’ 1948 Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23) states, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

While numerous provisions of Act 10 have seriously compromised the people’s “right to form and join trade unions,” this December public sector workers will reminded of the odious aspects and consequences of the recertification provision:
  • A recertification election every year.
  • A 51% “yes” vote of all those eligible to be in the union, not just of those who vote. (A standard that, if applied to elected officials such as Governor Walker, would mean they are not actually elected.)
  • 51%, instead of 50% + 1, the universally established definition of a “majority”
  • That the unions pay for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to conduct the vote. For the MTEA that’s an annual cost of several thousand dollars.
  • The entire process diverts time and resources of teachers and their unions away from important matters such improving teaching and learning and advocating for their students.

Fight Back Against the Grinches
Despite these toxic requirements, I’m confident that majority of union locals across the state will “recertify” this holiday season.

When Dr. Seuss’s Grinch came to Whoville and stole all the Christmas presents, the Whos did not despair. They joined together in song and demonstrated the true meaning of Christmas.
This holiday season when the Grinches of Wisconsin descend on towns and cities across the state to steal the “right to form and join unions” I believe teachers, educational assistants, secretaries and janitors will join together in songs such as “Solidarity Forever” and vote “yes” for their union.

We will stand up to the Grinches of Wisconsin. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

WI Supreme Court to hear Act 10 but excludes six unions from oral arguments

On Monday the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Act 10, the anti-collective bargaining law that led to the largest worker uprising in Wisconsin history in the spring of 2011.  

Late Friday night the Court issued an order barring six unions from participating in the oral arguments. Those unions had successfully filed suit asking Dane County Circuit Court Judge Colas to find the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) in contempt of court, thus prohibiting the WERC from conducting “recertification” elections that were to have started November 1. The mandatory annual recertification elections were one of several anti-worker components of Act 10.

The three dissenting judges in Friday night’s 4-3 ruling called the denial, “unfair and illogical.”

They noted that both the defendants and the plaintiffs suggested that the six unions and the WERC be allocated 10 or 15 minutes each to make their arguments regarding the contempt of court finding which the Supreme Court is going to be ruling on as part of the overall case.

The majority denied that request.

The dissenting judges wrote, “the court’s order today undermines this court’s role as a neutral, fair, impartial and non-partisan arbiter by excluding (without adequate explanation) the victorious-at-the-circuit-court unions from arguing at the supreme court about the contempt motion that the unions filed and won at the circuit court.”

The six unions that successfully sought and won the contempt of court finding include WEAC (which includes the MTEA); AFT-Wisconsin; SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin; Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Care Professionals; Kenosha Education Association; and District Council 40, AFSCME.

The original case, Madison Teachers, Inc. v. Scott Walker, will be argued by Madison attorney Lester Pines representing the MTI. The other plaintiff is Public Employees Local 61, AFL-CI0.

The only other time Act 10 came to the Wisconsin Supreme Court was on a procedural matter regarding whether the way the Republicans passed the law violated the states open meetings law.  During deliberation there was a physical confrontation between two justices. Conservative Justice David Prosser put his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Crucial Milwaukee Vote on Public School Plan

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Milwaukee Common Council is expected to vote on the Milwaukee School Board’s proposal to sell the Malcolm X school property to a community-based developer so that the broader community can be served and so that a new, high-quality public middle school can be established.

The back story is complicated, but boils down to a conflict between pro-public education forces led by the democratically elected school board versus corporate-driven, pro-market education forces led by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

It appears that the majority of the Common Council members will support the MPS proposal, but nothing is certain. Public school supporters should contact their alderperson on Monday to insist they support the public schools.

The MMAC has a long history of supporting voucher schools and privately-run charter schools. Their financial and political support has spanned decades, and included multiple fights at state and local levels.  The MMAC initiatives have garnered support from conservative forces like the Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation and Walton Foundation.

Most recently the MMAC has promoted a “recovery” or “achievement” zone in Milwaukee, patterned after similar corporate-backed school privatization schemes in New Orleans and Memphis.

Tuesday’s Vote
When St. Marcus School, a publicly-financed voucher school, attempted to pressure the Milwaukee School Board to sell it the Malcolm X school site, the school board refused. The MMAC stepped in and had their staff draft legislation that Senator Alberta Darling introduced into the state legislature. That legislation, SB 318 would force MPS to sell “surplus” property to private school operators.

Because all school property is technically owned by the city of Milwaukee, property transactions of the school board have to get final approval by the city government. The MMAC and the privatization advocates have been working to convince alderpeople to turn down the school board plan.

Some council members have raised concerns about St. Marcus after they realized that the church is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The church and synod have a pro-creationist, anti-Catholic, homophobic theology. It does not allow women to vote for the Church Council, which in turn appoints the School Council, the head of which has to be a male.

MPS on the other hand requires school councils to be elected by parents (male AND female). The Milwaukee School Board’s intention is to have the Malcolm X site be a multi-use venue with low-income housing, a cultural and artists center and a public middle school.  

The City Council has had a weak record when it comes to protecting public schools. Milwaukee was the first city in the nation to get authority to charter their own privately-run charter schools. The city has done so with little public oversight or accountability. There is little understanding of the negative impact such schools have had on MPS. A recent report showed that the Milwaukee Public Schools have three times as many English Language Learners and twice as many special education students as the privately-run charter schools chartered by the City of Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Two years ago, the MMAC and the pro-privatization group, Schools that Can-Milwaukee, pressured the Common Council and Mayor to approve an  “umbrella charter” allowing for eight Rocketship schools in the city.  The first Rocketship School opened this past August on the near south side. Opposition by community groups were partially responsible for Rocketship not reaching its goals.

Tim Sheehy, President of the MMAC is also President of the Rocketship Milwaukee Board of Directors. The MMAC, Rocketship, Wisconsin School Choice, and St. Marcus School all testified in Madison in favor of Senator Darling’s “land grab” bill.

Community opposition to the bill and to the attempt by St. Marcus to take over the Malcolm X site has been strong. Last month the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover held a massive press conference in front of North Division High School. News reports and video demonstrate the depth of opposition. A large "Public Education is a Civil Right" march in September targetted MMAC's takeover plan. 

The Milwaukee Common Council has an opportunity this Tuesday to show the people of Milwaukee that they support the Milwaukee Public Schools. They can do so by voting to support the plan proposed by the democratically elected school board.