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Labor union gets help from pastors, students... in Mississippi! "God supports the working man."

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When we think of labor union support, Mississippi doesn't usually come to mind. But it may be time to think again, because a union effort is gaining momentum there.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, labor union workers are finding an ally in the South. The United Automobile Workers are getting help from unusual sources in organizing a Mississippi Nissan plant. The plant employs 5,000.

Nissan management has been pushing their employees harder and harder by speeding up the assembly line, leaving them exhausted and feeling mistreated with no way to stand up for themselves. People are noticing, supporting a "more pleasant place to work" so that workers will feel less pressured, demeaned, and become more productive.

In the words of one longtime employee, now "other people are willing to stand up for you. It takes the fear out of you."

This time, union organizers have help from an unexpected source. Pastors and students across this part of central Mississippi have joined the campaign, championing the workers' cause. From pulpits, at leafleting campaigns outside Nissan dealerships and at auto industry events in Brazil, Geneva and Detroit, these new organizers have a message: God supports the working man. [...]

The UAW is very clearly involved with the pastors' efforts, helping them form the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan...

But for the pastors as well as the workers the organizing drive is not just about union membership. For many, it has become a way to shore up a shrinking middle class. Their campaign, they say, is a modern-day civil rights struggle whose antecedents go back more than 50 years to the days when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, the day after he spoke to striking sanitation workers.

Mississippi's conservative Legislature also has waded into the fray. The House of Representatives earlier this month passed a package of bills that would restrict union organizing, one of which labor leaders say is meant to prohibit pastors and outside groups from protesting with the Nissan workers.

Gee, what a surprise: Conservatives trying to bust labor union efforts. And we know how union members tend to vote come election day, right? (Hint: Democratic.)

African Americans have a history of being more open to unionizing than white workers are, so that may be making the difference here, since most of the plant's work force is African American. It will be an uphill battle, but this is good news. One day, pairing the words "labor union" and Mississippi may not seem so extraordinary.

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LGBT educators can be fired for being gay: Vergara v CA

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with the emphasis on LGBT educators and discrimination in the workplace this time around. 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. Also, please note that there is a new Vergara Trial website here.

So. Should a teacher be fired for being gay? No. But does it happen? Oh yes. Yes it does.

One of the horrible realities of the Vergara trial is that if the plaintiffs are successful in eliminating due process, it takes away protections for LGBT educators.

David Atkins has a really important piece about teachers who have been fired without due process: Gay teachers who have been fired for being gay. Here are the opening and closing sentences of his post, but what he wrote in between the two is a must-read:

One of the more insidious aspects of the billionaire assault on teachers is the effort to make public teaching an "at will" occupation in which a teacher can be fired at any time. [...]

This is what will happen to public schools in California and eventually across the nation if Vergara goes the wrong way. All so a few billionaires can get even richer by turning students into commodities.

You see, without tenure, if a teacher irritates an administrator, or many parents complain in a community that happens to be homophobic, that teacher could be let go. They don't have to give a reason, just "We're not renewing your contract."

It has happened in California. And it could happen in our public schools if they are successful.

On Thursday, Shannan Brown, a former Teacher of the Year from San Juan School District, told a compelling story about the need for due process.

She said, "When I was a newer teacher in the district, before I had received tenure, I had shared with my colleagues that I am gay. And they told me not to tell the administrator and to not announce that because it could affect my - the employment decisions regarding me."

This teacher had to stay in the closet. If she had been dismissed because of a homophobic administrator, she would have never been teacher or the year and students would have missed out on having such great teacher.

It's the bigots who need to be educated.

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"Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions": Vergara v CA

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with the emphasis on teachers' working conditions this time around. 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. Also, please note that there is a new Vergara Trial website here.

Before I continue with the latest on the case, I'd like to share two things with you, both express much of what I've experienced personally. The first is an excerpt from a letter to the editor at Californian.com. Please link over to read the entire thing, it's worth it. The writer is president of the Pájaro Valley Federation of Teachers:

There is so much that moves me to tears in our profession: The student who has an “Aha!” moment; the teacher who pays hundreds of dollars out of her own pocket to feed hungry kids; the alumnus who comes back just to say “thanks.”

Improving the quality of public education should be an emotional battle. There is so much at stake. But it shouldn’t be the ideological, political battle that Kerwin, Bhakta and the other backers of the Vergara trial have made it out to be.

Francisco Rodriguez D.

Watsonville

The second is this, from an opinion piece at the Orange County Register written by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, who represents California’s 41st Congressional District and was a former community college trustee:

[R]ather than contemplate recruitment and retention strategies former [Florida Gov. Jeb Bush] joins a new group of conservative education partisans looking to undermine workers unions by pitting teachers against students in the public debate... [I]t is naïve to believe that stripping away teachers’ workforce protections is a panacea. The stories used by advocates for Bush’s position are largely anecdotal and are supported by neither the academic data nor those who work in the classroom. [...]

 Teachers are overworked and underpaid; the line is a bit cliché, but it is still true. For those of us who teach, it is more than a job; it’s a calling, a career and a life-long commitment. It is the classroom teacher who is on the front-line, working to address the deep and complex issues our schools and student are facing. We do it because we want to give back to our communities and see future generations succeed. [...]

A system that does not allow for development and growth, but attempts to motivate with threatening ones job is setting itself up for failure.

Now for today's trial round-up. Working conditions matter. Immensely. Testing, on the other hand, does not tell the whole story, not by a long shot:

Yesterday began with Jeff Seymour. He spent 25 years as superintendent of the El Monte School District. As a former superintendent, he said the current law allows administrators enough time to observe and evaluate teachers before they grant permanent status.

Think about that. An administrator says that it works. But the high-priced lawyers pressed on.<

The second witness of the day was Betty Olson Jones, a teacher and former president of the Oakland Education Association. And she had a lot to say.

She talked a lot about the struggles teachers have in high-poverty schools.  She pointed out that teachers want to help, but if you put them in high-poverty/high-needs schools and don't give them the tools and support they need, you can't expect the standardized test scores to go up.

"Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions," she said. 

This is so true. If you create a toxic environment for teachers, that affects the students. How can it not? And schools in high-poverty areas of Oakland have a higher teacher turnover rate. Again, that. Affects. Students. Continuity is so important for kids to thrive and learn. I say this as someone who worked in classrooms for nearly two decades.

The thing that is becoming abundantly clear in this trial is that the Plaintiffs' argument relies on standardized test scores.

The lawyers keep asking about "learning gains" as evident on state standardized tests. But we know that standardized tests don't accurately reflect either learning gains or a teacher's ability or effectiveness. I wrote about this in previous posts. Again, please follow my Vergara link for those posts.

When they keep asking about "learning gains," it shows that the premise of their argument is wrong. You simply cannot judge teachers based on test scores. But, sadly, that's what they want to do.

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Vergara v California: Painting teachers unions as the bad guys

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with an emphasis on teachers unions this time around. 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.

Yesterday there was testimony for Joe Boyd, the executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach.

The plaintiffs were desperate to find someone to confirm their argument, so they asked Boyd the following question:

“And you don’t know how often Long Beach Unified has refrained from seeking to dismiss a tenured teacher for unsatisfactory performance because of the costs and time required to dismiss him or her pursuant to the dismissal statutes; correct?

When Boyd responded, “I believe I do,” there was no audible gulp from the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Even though this is the crux of their case – that districts avoid removing teachers because of time and money – they didn't want to no the answer to this question.

Boyd’s response: “Never.”

Yesterday the case also took an anti- teachers union turn. We've known all along that this is an anti-union trial. But it was on full display when they began cross-examining Boyd. They asked him about his salary and the California Teachers Association. What does his salary have to do with teachers dismissals? Nothing. And the judge pointed that out.

The plaintiffs' lawyers regularly roll their eyes in court. They're often quite rude, but it went to new levels when they snickered during the testimony of Danette Brown, an elementary school teacher in La Habra.

Think about that. An elementary school teacher is testifying in court. That has to be unnerving enough, to say the least. And the high-priced lawyers, in fancy schmancy suits who went to top-tier law schools, sit there and laugh at her as she testifies. Very Mean Girly, very intimidating, very unprofessional.

They also brought up a strike that she participated in. Hold on, okay, what does the strike have to do with this? Why are they bringing up the legal right to strike during a case that has nothing to do with that? Why, here's the answer now!

They want to paint unions as the bad guys. Oooo, teachers unions bad! They do stuff like protect workers rights and vote Democratic. But they're being called the villains.

Big surprise.

Stay tuned...

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