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Fighting Collective Bargaining Attacks

Fighting Back Against Collective Bargaining Attacks

By Dave Arnold

I don’t put much faith in any end of the world predictions for 2012, but if this year’s assaults to our collective bargaining rights are anything like 2011, we’re in for a heck of a fight. If you have been following the news in any of your local, state, or national Association publications or on the Web sites, you know many of our brothers and sisters have had a catastrophic year.

In more than a dozen states, we saw the scope of bargaining — for wages, benefits and working conditions— severely reduced. We saw prohibitions of dues deductions passed. We all have felt the budget cuts and layoffs. We see efforts to privatize and contract out services — transportation, food, classroom and other services —whenever possible. We understand we are in a monetary fix in this country. But why the savage assault on the Association? 

The goals of these laws are to the point: silence public school employees and other public sector unions where they can. Balance state and local budgets on workers’ backs.  Strip employees of the ability to counter these efforts politically in the statehouse or by elections.

Look at what lawmakers in North Carolina did earlier this month. They were annoyed that the members of the North Carolina Association of Educators had the nerve to point out that the proposed budget would hurt students and schools. So the lawmakers cooked up a bill to quiet them by stripping dues deduction. The bill was aimed just at NCAE. It passed. The lawmakers overturned the governor’s veto in a post-midnight session. It is an outrage; the members are already fighting back.

Fighting back is something we all must be doing —or getting prepared to do. At least I would hope so. I was recently troubled when I heard some co-workers question the need for unions anymore since ‘we have labor laws that protect us.’ I can’t relate my exact first reaction to that statement, but after some thought and listening I forgave the lack of understanding. I know the coming months are going to bring these folks around. Experience is a hard taskmaster, but there’s nothing like living, making and learning history on the spot when your back is against the wall.

I recall the words of former NEA ESP of the year Richie Maliza. He said, “You do not have a thing that can’t be taken away from you by the stroke of a lawmaker’s pen.” There is a lot I don’t understand about politics, but Richie makes his point very clear. Regardless of our race, political party, gender, and religion, we have to stand together and fight.

We might not have the financial lobbying power of the corporate giants, but we do know how to organize. At 3 million strong, NEA members can stand together and use tactics that go a long way to even the playing field. Those tactics – member education and mobilization, research and strategic planning, building a broad coalition in our communities, lobbying, reaching across the aisle whenever we can – are our means and ways to success.

These tactics work. You saw it in Ohio, to name one recent well known action, where voters overturned the bill stripping public workers of their bargaining rights. ESP and teacher members were right in there with other union members, neighbors and friends and the law got a deserved thumping. We see it in hundreds of other locals where members stand together to defend, advocate and attain what is right and fair.

We’ll all be at it again this year. I don’t believe 2012 is going to be the end of the world. In fact, we might have a bit of luck working with us against catastrophe.

2012 is the Chinese lunar ‘Year of The Dragon’.  To me that is a good enough signal for all of us in representing the strength and power in our members.

P.S. For background information about those seeking to end bargaining rights, I recommend this link to investigative reporting conducted by the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and Mother Jones magazine. These stories provide details about the influence of the Koch Brothers, major anti-union players in the Wisconsin fight and elsewhere round the country. They are also busy in funding a lot of political action committees for the 2012 elections.

The Koch brothers: all the influence money can buy 
(TheGuardian April 2011) 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: Funded by the Koch Bros.
(Mother Jones, February 2011) 

Additional articles on the Koch Brothers
(Mother Jones, search engine)                                                                       

Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. But most Association members know him best from the editorials he has written over the years for various NEA media properties since 2001.


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