On the picket line
June 4, 2004 | Page 11
Los Angeles Unified School District
LOS ANGELES--Over 600 members and supporters of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) picketed and rallied outside the School Board meeting on May 25. The protest targeted the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) with four major demands: no health care cuts, no job cuts, reduce LAUSD bureaucracy, and lower class sizes. The School Board plans to slash $60 million from employee health care and eliminate hundreds of school site jobs.
This protest represents the boldest independent initiative of rank-and-file UTLA members yet this year. Dissident union activists in Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC) were the driving force behind the successful mobilization and electric atmosphere at the protest.
Instead of waiting for approval from union officials, PEAC members took proposals for the protest to the more democratic UTLA Area Assemblies, several of which passed the proposals enthusiastically. Then PEAC members hit the ground running--publicizing the rally and organizing buses to get a large turnout.
At the rally we distributed stickers with slogans like "Tax the Rich! Fund our schools!" and leaflets calling on teachers to build a movement to defend public education. All this pushed UTLA's conservative President John Perez to eventually endorse the action and speak at the rally.
Now Perez is now calling for a mass mobilization at the next school board meeting June 8. Let's bring even more people out to show LAUSD that we will not accept their cutbacks!
NEW YORK--More than 1,300 professors from the City University of New York (CUNY) rallied outside a Board of Trustees meeting to protest having to work without a contract for the last three years. Their demands, to name only a few, include better salaries, smaller class sizes, benefits for adjunct faculty, office space, restoration of the drastically reduced dental plan and an end to secretarial duties.
One adjunct pointed out that, though the union had won health insurance for him, actually qualifying to receive the benefit was impossible. Many protesters agreed that PSC CUNY will have limited negotiating power as long as it continues to respect the Taylor Laws, which prohibit CUNY professors and other city employees from exercising their right to strike.
Members of the Transport Workers Union rallied in solidarity with PSC CUNY, as did Columbia University graduate student instructors from GSEU, janitorial workers from SEIU Local 32BJ, the International Socialist Organization, the Internationalist Group and some CUNY students.
A graduate student who teaches chemistry at Queens College said that, although PSC leader Barbara Bowen gave an excellent speech, a protesting adjunct should have addressed the crowd. A faculty member from City College pointed out that the union could do more to build support among students.
Nonetheless, a professor from Brooklyn College said the rally was the largest he had seen in his five years on the faculty--and that the show of support from other unions was unusually strong.
MADISON, Wis.--After a successful two-day strike in late April, the Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will head into summer without a new contract.
At an early May bargaining session, the state's bargaining team declared that negotiations had reached an "impasse" and left the table. But under Wisconsin law, "impasse" has no legal definition, and the state cannot arbitrarily declare an impasse. What's more, the state has not retracted its latest offer, which includes a 4.6 percent pay increase in the second year of the contract, but would force TAA members to pay health insurance premiums for the first time.
The TAA's previous offer had teaching and project assistants paying $1 monthly health care premiums and a 5.7 percent pay increase in the second year of the contract. Some union members think that the state's action is the beginning of a legal strategy to break the union, but most think that it was a stall tactic to halt the TAA's momentum after the strike. In fact, the state's action amounts to a de facto extension of the previous contract that includes no health insurance premium.
This summer, the TAA is planning to build coalitions with other state unions and to pressure the state legislature. State unions still without a contract should take a page from the TAA's playbook. The threat of a strike won concessions that no other state unions have won. "We noticed that the TAs were offered [a] 4.6 percent [pay increase]," one state union leader told a reporter. "That's not on our table."