A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

ConCon Gave Us an Organizing Success

The vote against holding a constitutional conventional in New York was over 80 percent – 80 percent! That massive outpouring of voters is largely attributable to the efforts of the state’s unions that both educated their memberships to the dangers posed by a convention and organized them to work against it. The work to defeat the convention was the best union organizing we’ve seen in a long time. It should serve as an example to a weakened labor movement of what can still be done when memberships are led to take on difficult issues that threaten them.

The kind of effort that went into the defeat of the constitutional convention can and must be replicated to insulate ourselves from the threat of the loss of agency fee and due s deduction. Why hasn’t every public sector union developed an organizing campaign against the worst possible outcomes of an adverse decision in the Janus Case currently before the Supreme Court? Why aren’t plans in place to protect our unions from the loss of dues deduction? Why do we appear to be accepting the conventional wisdom that says that public sector unions can expect to lose upwards of 30 percent of their membership from an adverse decision in Janus?

Before I left office in my local, I started a process of signing members up each year in anticipation the real possibility of losing agency fee. My local has continued that process. Should we lose agency fee tomorrow, 100 percent of our members are signed up for next year. The card signing process in addition to protecting the local has served to educate members to the ongoing threat from the so-called Right to Work Movement to eviscerate what remains of our labor movement so as to strip from American workers the rights and protections a century or more of union struggle has provided. It is additionally empowering to a membership to know that they have collectively worked to protect themselves. That membership success makes it easier to organize the next collective effort.

The constitutional convention issue awakened the organizing talents of our unions. Those talents must now be unleashed on the continuing existential threats before us.

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Bits and Pieces

Handmaidens of High Tech

Leaders of teacher organizations are often heard to say, “Ask teachers to organize a firing squad, and they form a circle.” I couldn’t help but notice the tweets from some of the administrators in my home school district. Almost every one has pictures of kids staring
at computer screens. Nowhere is a teacher to be seen. The message is clear to anyone who cares to think about it. Teachers are at best tangential to the education of children. How almost effortlessly the tech companies are getting teachers to become the means of their own destruction. How subtly they are defining education in their own business interest.

ConCon

Yesterday, I spoke to a group of retirees from my home district, urging them to oppose the constitutional convention that is up for a vote in New York this November. It was heartening to see their understanding of the threats to public education and public employees from such a convention. As I spoke, many were taking notes, obviously getting ready for what they knew would be my final point – that they can have an important impact on the defeat of the referendum if each member sets a goal to motivate family and friends to vote NO in November.

Kids and Guns

Long term the way to dial down the passion for gun ownership in this country is the educate generations of children to the fact that their safety and the safety of their families is imperiled by the indiscriminate way in which the United States permits gun ownership. The gun lobby has been winning the propaganda war for decades in the absence of any serious and sustained countervailing argument. Public schools played a significant role in teaching children the dangers of smoking. The can and must do the same job on gun violence.

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New York’s 1967 Constitutional Convention

Every twenty years, citizens of New York State are asked whether they think there should be a constitutional convention. I did a little work yesterday preparing for a talk I’m scheduled to give on the question in October. Constitutional conventions are opportunities for political mischief, mischief that can seriously erode the rights and opportunities of working people. We don’t need a constitutional convention to amend our state constitution. Amendments can be made through the regular process of being passed by two successive sessions of the legislature followed a vote by the people. Numerous such amendments have been made over the course of years.

The last New York constitutional convention I’ve learned was in 1967. Voters were convinced to support it out of the generally held belief that New York’s constitution had become antiquated and stood in the way of effective government. Although there was apparently intense party jousting from April to September, the convention did some up with a package of amendments that broadened the rights of New Yorkers. In the political give and take of shaping a package, in the log rolling that inevitably take place when politicians practice their craft, repeal of New York’s Blaine Amendment found its way into the mix. The Blain Amendment prevents the expenditure of state monies to support religious schools in any way other than providing transportation. Religious communities had been seeking its repeal for a long time. After spending about six months debating amendments and forty-six million 2015 dollars, the package of amendments was put to the voters of the state. In their wisdom, they rejected the package.

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Wake Up New York

Given the current state of our politics, can anyone imagine a New York constitutional convention broadening worker or union rights? Is it remotely possible that public employee pensions will remain a right or that our freedoms as citizens will be enlarged? At such a convention, the state’s economic elites will be disproportionately represented and will undoubtedly propose amendments tour constitution that privilege them further than they already are. That why I’m shocked to read of a recent poll showing a huge majority of New Yorkers favoring such a convention. That 60 percent of union members favor opening up our constitution to who knows what is but the latest indicatory of a defeated labor movement in what we like to think is a labor state.

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