Detroit Teachers To Emergency Manager: We Will Fight!

If Detroit Emergency Manager and Rick Snyder appointee Roy Roberts thought it was a good idea to pink slip all of Detroit's teachers, gut funding for schools and then force a contract on those teachers who were returning, he hasn't come face to face

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If Detroit Emergency Manager and Rick Snyder appointee Roy Roberts thought it was a good idea to pink slip all of Detroit's teachers, gut funding for schools and then force a contract on those teachers who were returning, he hasn't come face to face with AFT President Randi Weingarten recently. She and over 500 angry teachers had a message for Roberts: You had better sit down at the table and start negotiating rather than dictating.

Weingarten met with Roberts for about 45 minutes Friday after firing up the troops at a general session of about 3,000 teacher-delegates. As things stand now, the "new", imposed contract by Roberts ignores teachers' concerns while he imposes total control over the schools. As Weingarten said, "[Roberts] has used that power to gut school funding, pink-slip every teacher and slash teacher pay. He has refused to negotiate with us to solve the deep challenges that Detroit schools face."

Those paragraphs tell you a story, but they don't tell you the story. My last encounter with Randi Weingarten was last November, when I got to see her vision of "solution-driven unionism" in action in McDowell County, West Virginia. Recognizing that poverty is one of the biggest barriers to students' success in school, the AFTis partnering with local and state government, private enterprise, and charitable organizations to not only educate children, but improve their lives and the lives of their families.

It's working, too. As Weingarten pointed out in her keynote today, Cincinnati students are achieving at a higher rate than other schools in Ohio based on a similar model of uniting those they represent with those they serve. Or in simpler terms, widen the community from the ranks of union members to the community. If you think union membership is simply about strikes and contracts, I challenge you to think again.

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I saw AFT members bringing in backpacks stuffed to the gills with supplies for Detroit schoolchildren. I saw AFT members organizing to support not only teachers, but children who are in need without any safety net at all anymore. And I've overheard stories. One teacher with 20 years in the classroom decided to give it one more year, provided she could work with a particular principal who was a collaborative problem-solver. Her words: "I can handle bullies in the classroom, but not in the administration." And more poignantly, her declaration that she "has a lot more years of teaching inside, but no heart for bullying from up top."

What a loss for kids.

These are the people on the front lines in their communities, and they're facing a perfect storm, with right wing governors working fast and furiously to end public education altogether. And make no mistake about that. Every attack on teachers and their unions is a proxy hit on public education. These are teachers who believe in community schools, in caring for the whole child, in being a part of that community. They aren't interested in for-profit efforts. They are on the front lines of the battle for the middle class, and they are not weary. They are angry.

In fact, Weingarten's approach is not unilaterally embraced. I received some very angry tweets from some who believe negotiating isn't enough, more should be done, that teachers' unions and their leadership have been timid and too passive in the face of these attacks. There's a roiling anger and frustration that there have been too few strikes and too much negotiation. I should also note that the ones promoting this point of view are challenging Weingarten's leadership with another candidate.

On a national level, they all have no use for Arne Duncan, and frankly, neither do I. This is one area where I am at complete odds with the Obama administration. Duncan doesn't seem to grasp how damaging it is for him to attack teachers from the left while they're under a barrage from the right and so he keeps on with his dreams of education "deform" that actually does grave harm to public schools. Teachers are tired of being humiliated with unreliable test results, forced to dole out cookie-cutter education to all students, regardless of whether it works, and they're especially tired of being the ones who give up their pay, their pensions, and their job security because Wall Street was irresponsible and taxes have become the newest swear word in the American dictionary.

Because of the incessant attacks on the right to collectively bargain, an amendment to the state constitution has been proposed which would bar states from stripping employees of the right to collectively bargain. Republicans hate it, and are lying as much as possible about what it actually does. I will be tagging along tomorrow as they reach out to the community to counter the right-wing lies about what they are doing, while they educate the public on the value of collective bargaining. More on that tomorrow.

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