ALBANY — The Teamsters local that represents state Thruway Authority workers has filed an unfair labor complaint alleging its members were improperly threatened with layoffs if they failed to make concessions during contract talks.
"They used the layoffs instead of negotiating," Teamsters Local 72 President Martin Latko said, referring to the authority's decision last month to eliminate about 8 percent of its workforce, or about 234 of 2,968 employees.
The Teamsters union represents toll collectors as well as maintenance and clerical workers, who account for 153 of the targeted positions.
The union filed its complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board.
Teachers go on strike in Chicago and Lake Forest. Chicago symphony musicians walk out. Machinists walk picket lines in Joliet, and Wal-Mart warehouse workers stop working in Elwood. Gov. Pat Quinn gets chased from the state fair by angry government workers, and talk of a state workers strike is rumbling.
"There's something happening here. What it is, ain't exactly clear," wrote Stephen Stills in a 1968 song that came to symbolize the 1960s as a decade of social movements and rapid change.
The same words aptly describe labor relations in the United States today. It seems, as 1960s icon Bob Dylan sang in 1964, "the times they are a-changin'."
In February 2011 we witnessed the Wisconsin workers' uprising. When Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature passed unprecedented anti-union legislation that also deeply cut social services, hundreds of thousands of people came to the state capital to protest, and several thousand occupied the Capitol for two weeks.
That movement ended with the governor beating a recall effort. Similar legislation in Ohio, though, was overturned when, instead of a recall, organizers turned to a referendum and won 61 percent of the vote in support of workers' rights.
Then in September 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted and rapidly spread to hundreds of cities across the country. Tens of thousands of previously uninvolved young people took to the streets — and tents—– to protest the Great Recession and income inequality, and made "1 percent" and "the 99 percent" part of our national discourse. That movement dissipated as winter weather hit and police tore town tent cities.
Things turned quiet again, leading pundits earlier this year to suggest that Wisconsin and Occupy were blips on an otherwise quiet labor relations landscape.
Then the Chicago Teachers Union strike happened. What was most notable was that this was not a typical strike of recent years, where a small number of strikers passively picket a site and the real action is going on at the bargaining table. Instead, the CTU mobilized nearly all of its 26,000 members in daily mass rallies and marches, and drew in large numbers of supporters.
Historical change is often best understood by looking at turning points — key moments when history began to dramatically change. Three citywide labor strikes in 1934 ended a period of relative passivity and heralded the country's largest and most successful worker uprising. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott initiated the nation-changing civil rights movement.
So are Wisconsin, Occupy and the CTU strike another turning point that future historians will see as the beginning of a new mass workers' movement demanding social change?
If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on it. One key ingredient in the making of historical turning points is that people begin to view street protests as normal instead of weird. Instead of viewing a mass march on TV or the occupation of a building as strange and scary, many people watch those same events and think to themselves, "Good for them. That's what it takes to get anything done in this country. Maybe I'll join them."
You could feel that if you picketed or marched with the Chicago teachers — the constant horn honking in solidarity, the waves and smiles of people from building windows or porch stoops, even the nods of approval from police officers.
Another ingredient in the making of historical turning points is the creation of hope. Occupy and Wisconsin inspired hundreds of thousands of people — but neither succeeded in making change. But the Chicago teachers strike was a clear victory for the union.
Teachers nationwide watched this strike closely and drew hope. The success of the seven-day CTU strike will undoubtedly encourage teachers unions across the country to stand their ground and escalate their efforts to defend public education.
And unionists across the country noted that the foundations for the teachers' victory were laid over the past two years, as the CTU launched a "contract campaign" to educate, organize and mobilize its members. Every school established an organizing committee. Every member was talked to, their concerns discussed, their activism encouraged. In May the union put 6,000 teachers in the streets of downtown Chicago. In June the union overcame a unique anti-CTU law, Senate Bill 7, and turned out 92 percent of its members to nearly unanimously give the leadership strike authorization.
And during the strike, nearly all of the 26,000 teachers participated in enthusiastic, daily marches; picketed daily at schools; and met regularly to discuss strike issues and actions. They were joined by sizable numbers of supporters who came as a result of two years of the union building strong ties with community and parent organizations, and honing the message that the union fought first and foremost to defend a quality public education for every student.
This is the template for successful organizing. This is the soup from which hope emerges.
The Chicago Teachers Union has done the seemingly impossible. At a time when teachers are pilloried in the press and attacked by Democrats and Republicans alike, Chicago teachers walked out for seven days in a strike that challenged every tenet of the corporate agenda for overhauling education.
Though on paper the strike was about teacher evaluations, in fact the battle was waged over conflicting visions of public education.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his corporate cronies seek to privatize public education into oblivion, creating profit-making opportunities as new charters are opened and new curricula and tests are adopted. Pushing high-stakes testing is key, as student test results supply a justification for shuttering schools as well as firing veteran teachers en masse.
CTU, on the other hand, says public schools are necessary community institutions. Class sizes should be small; students should study a rich curriculum with more art and music than standardized tests; social workers, nurses, and counselors should help students beat back the effects of poverty on their chances of academic success.
Teachers should be respected as professionals, fairly compensated, and given the supplies and the breathing room they need to do their jobs.
Teachers believed so strongly in this vision of education for all that they risked legal sanctions and financial hardship to brave further vilification.
“They’re my heroes,” said Kerry Motoviloff, president of the Madison, Wisconsin, teachers union. “Because of what they’ve done, they’ve taken control of the debate. They are saying that teachers have ideas on what real reform looks like—you are just not funding them.”
The new contract gains ground.
Teachers kept the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that will be based on student test scores to 30 percent, the legal limit after the Illinois legislature passed an anti-teacher law last year. The board had sought 45 percent. The union also earned the first-time ever right for teachers to appeal a rating.
The union forced merit pay off the table and maintained almost all the traditional salary structure, with raises for experience and advanced degrees.
Teachers made major gains on recall rights, previously nonexistent.
Seniority had existed only at the school level.
Now, if a school closes, teachers will have the right to “follow their students” if a position opens up at the school where students are sent. Laid-off teachers will have 10 months of recall if their old position is reinstated. And at least half of all new openings must now be filled with laid-off teachers.
Six hundred teachers will be hired in art, music, and phys ed.
The union won break time for nursing mothers and a $250 reimbursement when teachers buy supplies. Students are guaranteed to get their books on the first day of school.
The new deal is by no means perfect.
Teachers won a new evaluation system they think will be more objective. But despite the flaws in principals’ rankings, low-rated teachers will not have seniority protection when layoffs take place.
Laid-off teachers will now get paid for just six months, down from 12.
The contract does little to address class size—which state law forbids only Chicago teachers to bargain over—preserving toothless policies that have allowed classrooms to balloon to 40 or 50 kids despite caps of 35. Still, the status quo is a minor win given that the board wanted to gut it. A panel to monitor class size will get more funding and must now include a parent.
The board agreed to hire more social workers, counselors, and school nurses, but only if new sources of revenue are found. Emanuel is pushing for a Chicago casino to bring in tax money, which Governor Pat Quinn has vetoed, but it likely will eventually be approved.
Teachers nationwide were elated to see someone resisting the tide of corporate-backed concessions teachers have accepted in recent years, often at the prodding of national Teachers (AFT) officials.
The national AFT played a small role in Chicago. A senior staffer sat in on negotiations, but AFT otherwise deferred to the local, lending money and staffers to help with strike logistics.
Once the strike started, AFT President Randi Weingarten “didn’t really have much choice,” said Debby Pope, a strike coordinator.
Merit pay and evaluations based on student test scores were two national trends that Chicago teachers bucked.
Teachers in Pittsburgh took a deal in 2010 that introduced merit pay for new hires and raised the number of years to gain tenure.
When Baltimore members nixed a merit-based contract, AFT top brass swooped in to pressure members to change their votes. Weingarten touted the agreement, but earlier this year, an unprecedented majority of Baltimore teachers received unsatisfactory mid-year evaluations, in what teachers say was a deliberate attempt to avoid merit raises.
In the face of these defeats, CTU’s electrifying stand could spark resistance. Los Angeles teachers are now in negotiations over incorporating student test scores into evaluations. Union board member Joe Zeccola said, “One thing is for sure: it emboldened us in negotiations and we’re sticking to our guns more than we were.”
After a favorable court decision, Madison teachers are seeking to reopen bargaining immediately. “Boy, is the shoe on the other foot now,” Motoviloff said.
The strike didn't come out of nowhere: Chicago teachers, energized by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, have been organizing for years.
“To watch the change in the national discourse just in the course of this week, it shows what the power of, first, a small number of people in our caucus and then a large number of people in our union could accomplish,” said Xian Barrett, a history and law teacher.
They also built strong parent connections fighting school closures.
To cement relationships from school closure fights, the CTU developed a community board composed of neighborhood organizations. During the strike, these partners responded.
Albany Park Neighborhood Council organized busloads to attend a 35,000-person rally on the strike’s first day, turned out members to picket lines across the neighborhood, and held a forum on the strike issues.
A city-wide youth project organized a protest against high-stakes testing, highlighting how standardized tests misrepresent and punish students and teachers alike.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association organized a “freedom camp” for out-of-school kids. A week of lessons on Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. capped off with parents and students demonstrating in support. Waving handmade signs, the kids performed the civil rights classic “We Shall Not Be Moved” for beaming teachers.
Ofelia Sanchez, mother of five, said she knows from her experience as a classroom volunteer that “you can’t teach a class of 40 students. It’s impossible. Students learn at their own pace.”
She said she backed the strike because she didn’t want to see her children’s teachers beg for help from parents.
Lauren Mikol, a Madison teacher, says other unions would do well to take a page from CTU’s community engagement playbook.
“They’re showing the way,” she said. “We have to do the same thing—convince everyone that public schools have to be stood up for.”
In Chicago, that fight will soon relaunch. By December the district is expected to announce 80-120 more school closures.
“We lit a fire under parents and community groups,” Cavallero said, “and with our support, they can take on that struggle to fight for their neighborhood schools. People realize that this is just the beginning.”
A Wisconsin judge on Friday struck down the state law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled Friday that the law violates the state and U.S. constitutions and is null and void.
The law took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most workers and has been in effect for more than a year.
Colas' ruling comes after a lawsuit brought by the Madison teachers union and a union for Milwaukee city employees.
For city, county and school workers, the ruling returns the law to its previous status, before it was changed in March 2011, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. However, Walker's law remains largely in force for state workers, it reported.
Walker's law prohibited state and local governments from bargaining over anything except cost of living adjustments to salaries. Haggling over issues such as health benefits, pensions and workplace safety was barred.
Gov. Walker said in a statement Friday that he expected the ruling will be overturned on appeal.
"The people of Wisconsin clearly spoke on June 5th," he said in the statement posted on his Facebook page. "Now, they are ready to move on. Sadly a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process."
"We believe the law is constitutional," said Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck.
The proposal was introduced shortly after Walker took office in February last year. It sparked a firestorm of opposition and huge protests at the state Capitol that lasted for weeks. All 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois for three weeks in an ultimately failed attempt to stop the law's passage by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The law's passage led to a mass movement to recall Walker from office, but he survived the recall election, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to do so.
Teamsters members working for years without a pay raise conducted an informational picket Friday morning outside the Lake County Government Complex's main entrance.
Some 20 county highway department workers who are members of Teamsters Local 142, got smiles, hellos and handshakes from Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, one of the three county executives with whom they are locked in contentious negotiations for a new labor agreement.
"They've got a legitimate complaint," Scheub said.
"All of our employees, who haven't had raises, have a legitimate complaint. These guys make less than other highway workers. I met with them Thursday and gave them a proposal, which they didn't accept. but I don't begrudge them for that," Scheub said.
The highway department, like other branches of county government, has been downsizing in recent years as property tax revenue has shrunk under state mandates, and a poor economy has reduced the number of people who can afford to pay their taxes.
Larry Regan, local president, said, "They haven't had a pay raise in six years. Some of these guys haven't had one in eight years. They do the road repair and clearing and overhaul highway vehicle engines. They are a first responder when it comes to snow removal. Police and ambulances can't get through without them."
Other union members said they have saved the county $40,000 in fuel and other operational costs by agreeing to work four 10-hour days during summer weeks instead of the usual five eight-hour days. They said austerity measures have eliminated 10 jobs in the department, but not the workload.
Regan said members also have agreed to reduced retirement benefits from the county.
"They just want something back in return. They were offered a proposal with some incentives, but they voted it down because we want to recover what they lost," he said.
June 1, 2012: Our newest Teamster local has been put into trusteeship. Local 2010 is the Coalition of University Employees, which affiliated with the Teamsters in 2010. CUE represents nearly 14,000 employees throughout ten campuses of the University of California.
The problems with the union are long standing. Active members have repeatedly informed the International union that the union is dysfunctional. The question is, why did Hoffa wait two years to take action?
The trusteeship hearing was initiated just as a local union election was scheduled, so the effect has been to delay democracy in this local. In his letter announcing the trusteeship, Hoffa acknowledged that petitions and members at the trusteeship hearing “generally advocated conducting an election of officers within a relatively short period of time.”
Hoffa should live up to that membership request. These Teamsters deserve a chance to elect their own officers and rebuild a strong union for the clerical and allied workers who run the country’s largest university system.
March 16, 2012: On Thursday morning the New York State Legislature agreed to a deal limiting pensions for future public employees. The state thus joins 43 others that have recently enacted legislation curtailing public retirement benefits.
Though New York needs to reduce its spending, the cuts come at a particularly bad time: over a third of New York workers, both public and private, approaching retirement age have less than $10,000 in liquid assets. As a result, those workers are projected to be poor or near poor in retirement, with an average budget of about $7 a day for food and approximately $600 a month for housing.
Click here to read more at The New York Times.
July 15, 2011: This spring politicians passed the worst anti-union law in Ohio history.
But we aren’t hanging our heads low. Teamsters are working with other unions and community groups to repeal the new law through a citizen’s veto.
Senate Bill 5 eliminated binding arbitration for public sector unions, and makes 50 percent of teacher pay based on test scores—all while our anti-union governor is giving tax breaks to his corporate buddies.
Packing the Senate
We fought hard to stop the bill from being passed. On the first day of hearings on SB-5, I piled into the Senate chambers with firemen, police officers, teachers, and fellow Teamsters. We spilled into the hallways.
We rallied and marched through the streets of Columbus. But the corporate politicians rammed it through anyway.
After the bill was passed, we only had 90 days to get 231,149 to get a repeal of the new law on the ballot this fall.
At the teachers’ union hall, truckloads of blank petitions would show up and Teamsters were there to unload them. I spent eight hours with another Teamster brother unloading tens of thousands of petitions—only to see other union members pick them up as fast as we could unload them!
On June 29, we marched to the Secretary of States office to hand over the petitions. It was amazing how many people showed up on a weekday—there were bagpipes and a Harley squad.
Then the final count was released: we collected 1,298,301 signatures! We beat the number of signatures needed by a million.
The politicians thought they could ram through this massively-unpopular bill and take away our union rights. But now the people of Ohio will get to decide this fall.
By Nick Perry, UPS Part-Timer Local 413, Columbus, Ohio.
April 4, 2011: Local 320 represents over 11,000 public sector workers across Minnesota.
The Anyone But Hoffa Slate just swept the Local 320 delegate election.
We asked elected Teamster Convention Delegate Erik Jensen about the attacks on public sector Teamsters and what our union can do to meet the challenge.
Q: What are the challenges that public sector workers in Minnesota are facing?
Erik Jensen: Our governor has said he will veto any Wisconsin-style legislation, but we still are facing calls to slash the public sector.
In the 1990s, when the economy was booming, the state cut the taxes on the highest income people. Now we have a budget deficit.
Our other problem is that private sector unions are so much weaker, including our own Teamsters Union. Fewer and fewer voters are in unions. So it becomes easier for politicians to target us.
Here in Minnesota, we get a defined-benefit pension. But it’s pretty modest. And we pay half the contribution.
Corporate America has been working for years to convince the general public that public employees get much better wages and benefits than we actually do. It’s not true, but that hasn’t stopped them.
Q: What is Local 320’s response?
EJ: Our local leaders are taking a very inside strategy, working their relationship with the governor.
Our Joint Council lobbyist is also getting a paycheck from the governor. That’s a conflict of interest! We need someone who can speak up when we don’t agree with what the governor is doing.
We need more than just an inside strategy. Look at Wisconsin. That did more than all the lobbying in the last 12 years to win public support for state workers.
Q: What about Hoffa?
EJ: Hoffa hasn’t done anything to help. The IBT has very little staff dedicated to help 200,000 Teamster public sector workers.
Their money isn’t going to help members organize to fight these attacks. It’s going to multiple salaries for officials.
Q: What should the IBT be doing to defend good jobs and benefits in the public sector?
EJ: First of all, we need to strengthen the private sector. We can’t survive on our own.
Second, we need to be willing to criticize the politicians that we endorse, and work to hold them accountable. Right now we’re just writing them a blank check.
And finally, we need to win back public support. A lot of times when we’re bargaining, we’re just talking inside baseball. Wisconsin shows that the public still does support basic fairness for public workers.
Q: Your team, the Anyone But Hoffa slate, just won your delegate race. Why did you win?
EJ: The fundamental issue for us was multiple salaries for officials.
Our members are taking mandatory furloughs, benefit cuts, and wage freezes almost everywhere. But the head of our local union is pulling down three salaries. She made over $200,000 last year.
The same with Hoffa. Our members were really angry when they saw what he took home. They were ready to look at someone new. They want to have an election.
Officials Need to Sacrifice
“Our members are taking mandatory furloughs, benefit cuts, and wage freezes almost everywhere.
“But the head of our local is pulling down three salaries.
“Our members were angry when they saw what she and Hoffa were taking home. They are ready to look at someone new. They want to have an election.”
Erik Jensen, Elected Convention Delegate Local 320, Minnesota Public Sector