California Educator

October 09

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Q&a interview by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin CALIFORNIA EDUCATOR: Is this a new era for labor and unions? BERNARD: Definitely. We have elected a new president. Obama understands the value of labor and unions and comes from a background of community organizing. Community and organizing are what la- bor and unions are all about. What about public support? Over the past 10 years, the percentage of Americans who are not in unions but who support unions has grown to more than 50 percent. Among people who do not belong to unions, a majority now say they would vote to join a union in their workplace if they had the opportu- nity. That tells us that in spite of a sus- tained campaign by big business against unions for many decades, workers rec- ognize the need for a voice in the work- place. After a massive mobilization effort with more than 10,000 CTA members attending a rally in Sacramento, public schools receive $1.84 billion. CTA members defeat a second voucher initiative, Proposition 38. CTA launches an effort to draw attention to the challenges facing lower- performing schools and to bring more resources to them with the Schools of Greatest Need Bus Tour across the state. Harvard labor leader: Teachers unions help public good We had a chance to sit down with Elaine Bernard, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard University, and discuss some of the exciting changes and challenges facing teachers unions in California and the rest of the country. Here’s what she had to say. Has there been backlash agains t teachers unions? Education and the public sector are the most densely organized [highly unionized] sectors within our economy. Unions in ed- ucation have given teachers a voice not on- ly in their workplace but in shaping the ed- ucation sector. And specifically, teachers unions have fought to maintain education as a public good and prevented our public schools from becoming simply another business. I think there has been a concert- ed campaign by business leaders who say things like, “What would teachers know about education? Better leave it to politi- cians.” But what they’re really thinking is, “How dare workers organize!” What’s the biggest accomplishment of teacher unionism? Public education is still strong, even with business pushing for vouchers and priva- tization. There have been all sorts of at- tempts to undermine public education, but that hasn’t happened because of the power of teachers, united with voices in the community and the voices of parents. Because the education sector is so well or- ganized, teachers have prevailed. By con- trast, the health care sector has not been as well organized, which is why the costly, inefficient private sector prevails and health care is a business rather than a pub- lic service. Are unions still relevant? Unions are especially relevant in times of crisis, because it is in the interest of all Americans to make sure that the next generation is an educated, productive, knowledgeable group who will be look- ing after us in our old age. Having a thriving economy is based on having an educated, high-quality workforce with an economic strategy of sustainable growth that is green, not wasteful, and which is geared to meeting people’s needs. The current economic crisis in America is a testament to the limitations of our private sector management. When workers have a voice, good things happen. Economists talk about “voice versus exit.” Nonunion teachers have no CTA wins passage of a $12.3 billion statewide school bond. CTA members lead a broad coalition effort with other public sector labor unions to defeat Governor Schwarzenegger’s initiatives that would have cut school funding, destroyed teachers’ due process rights and silenced the voices of public employees. Efforts include two major rallies at the State Capitol and Pershing Square in Los Angeles that draw over 30,000 people. CTA fi les a lawsuit against the state to get back all money owed to schools under Proposition 98. CTA wins passage of a $13 billion statewide school bond. State budget defi cit of more than $35 billion results in cuts of nearly $2 billion for schools. Page 16 14 California Educator | october 2009 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005

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