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On the picket line

January 5, 2007 | Page 15

Los Angeles Unified School District
Ohio janitors

Los Angeles Unified School District
By Randy Childs, United Teachers Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES--A state law that would have given LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a substantial measure of authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was struck down by a Superior Court judge last month.

The Los Angeles Times described the ruling as a "stunning setback" for the mayor. By creating a major obstacle to Villaraigosa's efforts to put LA schools under mayoral control, the ruling is a huge victory for LA's teachers and the hundreds of thousands of predominantly Latino and Black working-class families who send their kids to LAUSD schools.

Mayoral control has been a means of attacking teachers' union rights and silencing the voices of working-class communities in the education of their children in several U.S. cities, including New York and Chicago. The essence of the ruling asserts that mayoral control would violate the State Constitution by weakening the authority of democratically elected school boards and disenfranchising parents and community members.

Villaraigosa's scheme, known locally as Assembly Bill (AB) 1381, was the result of a compromise struck last summer with leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA).

Seeking to neutralize teachers' opposition to his desire for full mayoral control and a vast expansion of charter schools in LAUSD, the mayor agreed to a complex power-sharing arrangement that would have given the mayor direct authority over roughly 10 percent of LAUSD schools. But AB 1381 was intended as a first step toward full mayoral control, and UTLA members rightly repudiated this rotten deal in a September referendum.

Outrageously, UTLA President A.J. Duffy and other union leaders have continued to defend AB 1381 even though the referendum result changes UTLA's official policy to opposition to the mayor's scheme. Even after the judge's ruling, Joel Jordan, Duffy's chief political advisor, defended AB 1381 and "the possibility of [the mayor's schools] helping to bring about much-needed reform."

For UTLA members, the most important lesson of this debacle is that the liberal darling Antonio Villaraigosa shares a fundamentally reactionary education agenda with the machine Democrat Richard Daley in Chicago and the Republican billionaire Michael Bloomberg in New York.

When politicians of both mainstream parties talk about "school reform," they're really talking about scapegoating teachers, busting unions, disenfranchising working-class parents and ignoring the real problems of underfunded and overcrowded schools. The interests of teachers, students and parents have nothing in common with this reactionary agenda.

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Ohio janitors
By David Hughley

COLUMBUS, Ohio--Latin American and Somali janitors spoke out about the discrimination and unsafe work conditions they face at Mid-American Cleaning Contractors' (MACC) at a community meeting on December 7. Greater Columbus Jobs with Justice hosted the event in commemoration of International Human Rights Day.

Central Ohio is home to more than 100,000 immigrants and refugees. Community leaders estimate 45,000 to 60,000 Somali immigrants and refugees--many that fled war and violence--make Columbus the second largest Somali population in the U.S.

Three Somali-Muslim women--Fordosa Mohamed, Sahro Ahmed and Sirad Jama--described violations of their rights to pray and constant racist discrimination. After being denied the opportunity for prayer, "nine workers filed a complaint at the headquarters, our supervisor said that he would fire us one by one, the next day four were fired right away and my hours were cut in half," said Sirad.

Fordosa was told that her job would be made easier in exchange for clothes and money after she refused to stand on a chair and clean the ceiling when she was eight months pregnant.

"Listening to Fordosa saddens me, because that same situation happened in our building," said Isabel Romero, a janitor at the Chase Corporate building. "I heard about a Somali girl that lost her baby...Our work is very hard...We clean everything they mess up. It's not fair."

In June, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated several "serious" health and safety violations at Chase--failure to offer hepatitis B vaccinations and proper training to handle blood-borne pathogens--after janitors reported having to clean up blood spills without proper cleaning supplies and rubber gloves.

"One thing I tell you, every time you get your check they are stealing something, a couple of dollars or hours," said Isabel. "They ask us to arrive 15 minutes early and leave 15 minutes late, but they do not want to pay us," said Ivan Reyes. Ivan was recently fired for attempting to organize a union.

Sahro was also fired for working to organize a union. "I wanted to improve my job, and for those I work with so that we all will have fair jobs," said Sahro. "This is a company that violates, not only Latinos, but all races," said Ivan.

Abigail Nava, a janitor at Columbus Academy, explained that the company tries "to divide Somali, Latinos and Black Americans. They discriminate and try to get us to fight with each other at work, and the managers are fine with this."

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