Archive for Randi Weingarten

About that Other SCOTUS Ruling on Monday

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With so much focus on the horrific Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, we seem to have forgotten about the millions of workers who'll be screwed by the other decision handed down by the Court on Monday in Harris v Quinn. As my friend Dave Johnson wrote at OurFuture.org, 

In case you were wondering why it is so hard for regular working people to get ahead in our economy, look no further than today’s Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision. In the usual 5-4 pattern, the corporate-conservatives on the Supreme Court struck another blow against the rights of working people to organize and try to get ahead.

Home care workers (mostly women) in Illinois (like elsewhere) were on their own, working long hours for very low pay. They were treated poorly and did not have any job security. So they organized and a majority voted to join a union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care Illinois-Indiana (SEIU-HCII). The union then worked with the state of Illinois to forge a contract to deliver services to elderly and disabled state residents. Since they formed the union, they were able almost double their hourly wages and they get health insurance, regular professional training and representation from the union.

An anti-union organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) – funded by the Koch and Walton families and others – brought the Harris v. Quinn suit against the union. This suit wound its way through the courts and finally the Supreme Court decided to rule on it.

The Court decided that a contract between the state of Illinois and Medicaid-funded home care workers cannot require the covered workers to pay a “fair-share fee” that covers the costs of benefits they receive from union representation. This “fair-share fee” (union dues) covers the costs of the union’s activities – collecting bargaining, implementing and enforcing the contract including making sure people are paid the right amounts, representing employees at grievance hearings, etc.

The Court decided that the “free speech” interests of those who object to paying for representation outweigh the right of the democratically elected majority that formed the union and the state to enter into a contract that requires home care workers to pay those costs in exchange for the services those costs bring to the employees.

Justice Samuel Alito said that “free speech” means this union cannot collect this fee, writing, “The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not wrote to join or support the union.”

The workers can still join unions. They can still collectively bargain. The union is still their sole bargaining agent. They just don’t have to pay fair-share fees because that violates their “free speech.”

As for "Justice" Alito's assertion that this ruling covers only these home care workers who, he claims,  are not the same as other state employees because they work for individuals in private homes, that will now be tested too.

The Washington Post reports

Activists behind a lawsuit pending in federal court in California say the Harris ruling has set the stage for their complaint, which challenges the constitutionality of a California requirement that public school teachers must pay union dues regardless of whether they choose to join the union.

In fact, the majority opinion criticized as “questionable” the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that gave states the authority to compel public employees to pay union dues.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined me on the show this morning to discuss how this ruling could cripple the remaining public sector unions, noting that the private sector unions had already been decimated.  We also talked about the attacks on public education she's facing from all sided - from teacher tenure (which, she explained, is just due process - something all employees should have) and the charter school problem.

For a great explanation of the Harris v Quinn decision, including its history and ramifications, check out Harold Meyerson's "Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More" at the American Prospect.

Every Wednesday morning, I spend some time chatting with Susie Madrak of Crooks & Liars. Today, just as we were discussing the technical problems that plagued me all morning and her explanation being Mercury coming out of retrograde today possibly being the cause, my internet went out! Once we got past that, we talked about the insanity of these Court decisions and the burdens on the average American.

Tomorrow, we'll have our pre Fourth of July show...  compete with the No More Bullshit Minute and some fabulous female facts, and whatever the day hands us..  radio or not!

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Protections for teachers really do matter: Vergara v California continues

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, emphasis on teachers v testing. Please go here for the back story and previous posts. My sources have been keeping me updated, so please feel free to share a story that deserves more attention.

On Thursday, March 6th Dr. Jesse Rothstein took the stand in the Vergara trial. Dr. Rothstein is an economist at UC Berkley.

Rothstein said many important things throughout the day. He effectively made the case that seniority and other protections for teachers really do matter. If you create good working conditions for any worker, you attract better workers. That's pretty basic, not to mention obvious, but these days, that doesn't seem to matter. Ask any fast-food worker, let alone the teachers in this case and so many others like them.

So by attacking teachers, creating uncertainty in the job, and eliminating security, you turn off the best candidates. I can personally attest to that, having worked in public schools for nearly two decades. A stressful work situation isn't good for anyone.

Rothstein also spent a long time critiquing Value-Added Modeling (VAM). This the process by which they measure a teachers effectiveness based on the test results of their students, comparing the gains to other students.

Here's one of the problems with VAM: It assumes students are the same. But we know that poverty exists. And a child who lives in poverty isn't going to do as well or make the same gains as a child who doesn't live in poverty. And poverty is just one of the factors. The truth is that you can't factor everything a child, or a pubescent teenager, might be experiencing, into an algorithm.

You can't judge a teacher based on factors outside of their control. And when you're talking about a person's career or livelihood, it's simply unfair to use such a flawed system. Again, there are so many facets to this, and again, I have witnessed them firsthand.

On the teachers' side, people have been vocal about VAM. AFT President Randi Weingarten has publicly come out against VAM. And here in Los Angeles, the United Teachers of Los Angeles have opposed it. But it's not just teachers who are saying it.

Academics like Rothstein oppose it. It leads to teaching to the test. And as Dr. Fraisse pointed out, testing leads to narrowed curriculum.

To put it bluntly, VAM is a sham, which is what this lawsuit is about. They want to judge teachers based on tests and value-added measurements.

Testing is not new. Testing is not teaching. Testing is not reform. Testing has been the status quo for 20 years. And it doesn't work.

Later on Friday, 20-year math teacher Vickie Decker took the stand. The plaintiffs have named specific teachers as bad teachers in the trial. Students who had a bad experience named their teachers. So these teachers get their moment on the stand to clear their name.

But the lawyers for the plaintiffs have actively sought to exclude the actual evaluations of these teachers. Decker brought the evaluations from the Principal and Assistant Principal at her school, but the lawyers objected and Vickie Decker didn't get to clear her name.

From my own personal observation of how the public school system works (or doesn't), I've seen how a disgruntled or unhappy student who doesn't get along with a teacher or feels they've been treated unfairly can affect teacher evaluations. All too often, those kids don't perform as well as they could in class, making it appear as if the teacher has failed in some way. In some cases, their complaints are valid, but I assure you, in many cases, they aren't. I've also known "bad" (read: good) teachers who have done everything they can to get good results from "bad" (read: recalcitrant, or dishonest, or negligent, or troubled, or vengeful, or needy) students. These are often potentially really good kids with really poor attitudes due to personal or family/parent issues (divorce, drugs, alcoholism, veterans with PTSD, abandonment, apathy, or are "just too busy") that prevent them from succeeding.

It's important to remember that there are two sides to every story, and testing can't and doesn't reveal both sides.

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VIDEO: "We worked hard to fight for queer youth."

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Earlier this month The Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership held it's 4th annual national educator conference focusing on LGBTQIA youth. Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, released this powerful message for the CESCaL educators and counselors at the conference:

 

She covers a lot of vitally important topics. Please watch the whole video. It's incredibly important to see leaders like Randi standing up for these issues.

The labor movement has done a lot for the LGBT community. We need to see more leaders like Weingarten reaching out and making statements like these:

"We worked hard to fight for queer youth. We believe that all schools should be safe spaces for every child to grow and express themselves."

"We've even led the way with bullying campaigns..."

"Today, I could get married in the United States."

"[But] we still live in a country that tells us that our love is unequal."

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