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New Hampshire And The Common Core: Stop The High Stakes Testing

common core iconOn Monday Laura Knoy and the Exchange took up the issues surrounding the Common Core.  Common Core are standards that define what all student are expected to know and be able to do, these standards focus on what is most essential. They do not tell us how teachers should teach but it will be anew way of teaching which moves away from the test and drill mentality of the past.

The Exchange had three guests on the show:

Heather Gage: Director of the Division of Instruction at the New Hampshire Dept. of Education.
Laura Hainey: President  American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire
Paul Peterson: Director of the Harvard University program on education policy, editor-in-chief of the journal called Education Next, and author of the forthcoming book, Endangering Prosperity: a Global View of the American School.

Everyone agreed that we need to move away from the standardized testing created by No Child Left Behind.  NCLB is failing our children and creating a situation where children are being drilled to pass standardized tests, and does not promote a true learning experience.

One of the biggest points in this discussions is the fact that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)  have serious concerns over high stakes testing that are  attached to the Common Core.  Laura Hainey President of AFT-NH talked about how there needs to be more time to evaluate the Common Core standards. Teachers need time to unpack the standards and fully understand them.

Laura Hainey told the NH Labor News:

“Common core standards will lead to critical thinking, problem solving, apply knowledge and teamwork– compare to what we have now rote memorization and endless test taking but we need to give the teachers the time, resource and tools to unpack these standard and fully understand them.”

AFT and AFT-NH agree to the principles laid out by the Common Core standards because unlike NCLB, teachers were involved in developing these standards that have been adopted by 45 states.

Recently AFT conducted a poll where they found 75% support common core standards.  After the standards were adopted there was an immediate push to use this to evaluate teacher effectiveness.  Though a recent AFT survey  found that “74% (of teachers) are worried that the new assessments will begin—and students, teachers and schools will be held accountable for the results—before everyone involved understands the new standards and before instruction has been fully implemented with a rich curriculum”. This is why AFT  has called for a moratorium on teacher and student evaluations based on Common Core.

“The momentum is building to step on the accelerator of quality implementation, and put the brakes on the stakes,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Teachers everywhere are speaking out. They know these standards can transform teaching and learning. But for that to happen, they need the necessary tools and resources to effectively teach the new standards.”

Teacher’s lack of access to the tools and resources to implement the common core standards is the biggest problem right now.

  • 27% of the teachers polled said their school district has provided them with all or most of the resources and tools they need to successfully teach the standards, leaving 73% without the necessary tools and resources.
  • 78% of teachers in low-performing schools said they have been given just some, few or no resources.

Until teachers are given the proper resources and time to unpack and understand the standards they cannot effectively do their jobs.  We need to take this implementation slowly and ensure that it is done correctly.  We need to be patient and make sure it is done correctly.


Listen to the discussion on The Exchange

Corporations Are Stealing From Hard Working Americans

Cut Tax Breaks

If you do not agree that corporations are stealing from Americans then you do not understand our current tax structure.

It is a well known fact that there are many multi-billion dollar corporations that do not pay any taxes to the federal government. They use the current tax codes to write off everything from shipping jobs overseas to corporate jets.  These tax breaks end up taking away from the revenue that the federal government should be collecting.  It is no wonder why corporate giants like the Koch brothers are so heavily involved in politics, they are protecting their tax breaks.

When you combine these tax breaks with the austerity cuts being pushed by the GOP in Washington we end up in a very depressed economy.  The federal government is now in a position that they must cut social programs like meals on wheels and head start to allow corporations to deduct the cost of their corporate jets.  Am I alone in thinking this is appalling?

Watch this amazing video explanation from AFSCME on how these corporate tax breaks are continuing to hurt our economy and our government.

Free Keene from ‘Free-Keene’: A Story Of Harassment In The Workplace

If you live in New Hampshire you have probably heard about the Free State Project (FSP).  This group of Libertarians who vowed to bring 20,000 members to New Hampshire in an effort to increase their personal freedoms.  “What I propose is a Free State Project, in which freedom-minded people of all stripes…establish residence in a small state and take over the state government,” Jason Sorens the creator of the FSP wrote.  The FSP has caused a significant impact on the state.  While the FSP has not reached their 20,000 person goal, they already have a significant political presence in NH.

Keene NH has been a hot bed of activity for the FSP.  Many have congregated there.  The ones who have settled there are the most extreme of this extremist organization.  There have been stories of Free Staters openly carrying guns onto college campuses, women walking topless in the streets, and videotaping police arrests.

Now there is a new thing happening in Keene that some people like, and others do not.  The group of Free Staters calls themselves ‘Robin Hoods’.  They go around putting money into expired parking meters so that violators do not get tickets.

From the Free-Keene Website:

“Activists in Keene have been “Robin Hooding” for years now. (Here are all our Robin Hood related posts.) The purpose is to rescue motorists like you from being ticked by Keene’s “parking enforcers”. If your meter is expired, Robin Hood and the Merry Men and Women will place a coin into the meter to extend your time, presuming we reach the meter before the King’s enforcers. If a “parking enforcer” is on the street, the Merry Men and Women will usually be seen walking directly in front of him/her and check and feed meters before the enforcer.”

While I am not against the idea of dropping a quarter in a meter every now and then to help someone out, this goes much beyond that.  The part that the Free-Keene site does not say is that the ‘parking enforcers’ as they call it, are being harassed for doing their jobs.  This harassment has become so much that the ‘robin hood gang’ is now being sued.

“In court documents, city officials say the group has “…taunted, interfered with, harassed and intimated the Parking Enforcement Officers…”

The parking enforcement officers say they have been physically bumped. Some say they are considering leaving their jobs.
(CBS News) “

This is where a friendly gesture turns into something different.  Laura Hainey, President of AFT-NH, who represents the Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs), had this to say about the ‘robin hood gang’.

“Members of the Free-Keene movement, calling themselves “Robin Hoods”, have repeatedly taunted, interfered with, harassed, and intimidated Keene’s Parking Enforcement Officers, (PEO’s), in the performance of their employment duties by following, surrounding, touching or nearly touching, and otherwise harassing the PEO’s in groups of one, two, or more in an attempt to prevent them from doing the job they were hired to do.

These employees have a right to do their job without intimidation, interference, harassment or taunts. AFT-NH strongly supports the city’s request for an injunction against the Free-Keene group to keep them at least 50 feet from an on-duty parking enforcement officer.

This has gone on long enough.  These workers are not the enemy of the Free-Keene movement, they are workers doing their jobs. Just because you disagree with their employer does not give you the right to harass an employee.  I do not agree with Wal-Mart but I do not take it out on people who work there.  I hope that the city brings the full extent of the law to prosecute these ‘robin hoods’ for harassing the police officers.

Everyone deserves a workplace free of any kind harassment.

UPDATE 5-19-13

After this post was written the Keene City Manger sent a letter to the public.  You can read it here.

Can You Feel It? Workers Standing Together In Strikes Across The Country

Fair Contract NowSomething’s happening out there.

  • Last week, fast-food workers at more than 30 restaurants in St. Louis walked off their jobs in a one-day strike, seeking better pay and benefits and the ability to form a union.
  • Here in New England, the Brotherhood of Utility Workers reached a tentative agreement with National Grid just three hours before a strike was scheduled to start.  Members will vote on a tentative agreement next week.
  • More than 2,000 registered nurses at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center will hold a one-day strike later this month.
  • After a week-long strike in Iowa, Carpenters Union Local 308 just reached a new agreement with their local contractors.
  • Last month, fast-food workers in Chicago and New York walked off their jobs for a day.

So yes, down in Washington DC, Congress may be trying to emasculate the National Labor Relations Board.

And yes, in state capitals across America, corporate lobbyists may be pushing their so-called “Right to Work” laws.

And the political elite may think they’re winning this battle.

But out there, all across America, people are getting tired of watching corporate profits soar. Tired of waiting for the economic recovery to “trickle down”.  Tired of shrinking incomes and stagnant futures.  Tired – and scared – of rising workloads and lowered worksite safety standards.

All across America, something’s happening.  Workers are willing to go out on strike.  We’re willing to stay out on strike.  We’re even willing to go out on “sympathy strikes”.

Something’s happening, all around this great country of ours.

Something that’s bigger than the political elites.

Can you feel it?

Overtime vs. Comp Time: US House Pushes To Take Away Overtime Pay

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL)

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL)

This week the US House passed legislation to strike down advances made by unions and workers for decades.  Through collective bargaining workers have made significant advances in the areas of time off and overtime pay. The US House, led by their Tea Party Speaker John Boehner, want to take that away.

On Wednesday May 8th, the US House passed HR 1406. The aptly named ‘Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013‘ or aka the ‘Work More for Less Pay Act’.  The bill would effectively allow employers to pay workers in compensatory time off in lieu of overtime.  The proponents of the bill say this would allow workers the ability to bank time gained by working overtime to be used at a later date.

Rep Martha Roby (R-AL) introduced the bill by stating:

“Talk to just about any working mom and dad and they’ll tell you they need more time. They need just one more hour in the day to be able to take care of responsibilities and make life work. We can’t legislate another hour in the day, but we can help working Americans better balance their time by removing unnecessary federal restrictions on comp time in the private sector.”

I would beg to differ on this.  One of the reasons that people do not have enough time in the day is because their level of productivity is continually to being pushed higher and higher.  Now with the invention of smartphones workers are spending more and more of their ‘free time’ to answer phone calls and emails.   CBS News in Chicago highlighted a case in court right now that would force employers to pay workers for time spent answering emails and phone calls after hours. However that is a completely different story.

HR 1406 is said to give freedom to the worker, in reality it saves the employer money by not having to pay out mandatory time and a half overtime rates.  The bill also does not guarantee the employee the right to take time off when they actually need it.

A senior economist for the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes, “Its major effect would be to hamstring workers — likely increasing overtime hours for those who don’t want them and cutting pay for those who do.” (TNDP.ORG)

NH Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) opposes this legislation in part due to the  lack of language allowing the employee to use the time for personal appointments.

“Giving up overtime pay is a big deal for workers, and in return they aren’t even guaranteed they’ll get to use their comp time when they really need it,” Shea-Porter said.  “This is not flexibility for workers. It’s less pay for workers. I urge Speaker Boehner to bring bills to the floor that actually help middle class families by creating jobs and ending sequestration.”

In fact, Congresswoman Shea-Porter offered an amendment to HR 1406, that was crushed by the GOP, that would  not allow employers to deny workers from using ‘comp time’ to attend:

  • Attend a medical appointment
  • Care for a sick child or family member
  • For veterans, to attend counseling or rehabilitation appointments for injuries suffered in combat.

On the floor of the House Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) said “this is one of the saddest days this House of Representatives has ever seen“.

Working families are struggling to pay their bills. Too many are living paycheck to paycheck, and now they want to steal more money out of their paychecks.  For some people overtime pay is what is keeping their heads above water, and this would push millions of working families into a deeper hole.

I applaud all the Representatives who opposed this legislation in the House.  These Reps are the ones who are standing up for struggling working families.  These Reps truly understand the harm that legislation like this would have on all working families.  I hope that the Senate will send this bill to where it truly belongs, the trash.

D.C. Circuit Court Of Appeals Puts Employers Speech Above Workers Rights

NLRB Employee Rights Poster

How many times have you seen this poster? This is the ‘Employee Rights’ poster that was mandated by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to be prominently displayed in over 6 million worksites.   That was until a Circuit Court of Appeals Judge decided the ‘freedom of speech’ of the employer is more important than rights of workers.

The poster was created to inform the workers of their right to organize, and collectively bargain.  A right that is guaranteed to millions of workers, however they do not know it.   This poster was specifically designed to inform workers of all of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Employers have balked at this mandate since it was instituted because they do not want workers to know they have the right to collectively bargain with them.  While some think that unions are bad, polling shows overwhelming support for collective bargaining.  Employers do not want employees to organize and form unions because it is well known that union workers make more money than non-union workers.  When employees make more money, business owners see a reduction in profits.

The other part of this poster that is extremely important is the fact that it is illegal for an employer to question you or take adverse actions against you for union activities.  Companies violate this part of the NLRA over and over because many of the workers do not know their rights.    I remember when I was 19, I got a summer job with the evil empire (Wal-Mart, before I knew how evil they were).  In their basic orientation they forced me to watch a video that basically told me that unions were terrible, money grubbing, organizations that force you to pay due and then do nothing for you.  You know, the complete opposite of what unions are all about.  At the time, I was also taking a college class on Labor/Management relations.  I asked, actually begged, for them to let me borrow the video to use for my class project.  They immediately shut me down, and would never let me view the movie again.  I think they knew they were skirting the NLRA anti-union regulations with their video and did not want anyone outside of Wal-Mart to see it.

The video I remember was very similar to the one that Gawker obtained from the Target.   I am serious, check it out.  See if you think it follows the law.

Once again the corporations right to free speech beats out the workers rights to organize.    Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO responded to this ruling in a written statement.

“In today’s workplace, employers are required to display posters explaining wage and hour rights, health and safety and discrimination laws, even emergency escape routes. The D.C. Circuit ruling suggests that courts should strike down hundreds of notice requirements, not only those that inform workers about their rights and warn them of hazards, but also those on cigarette packages, in home mortgages and many other areas. The Court’s twisted logic finds that “freedom of speech” precludes the government from requiring employers to provide certain information to employees. This is absurd: when workers know their rights, the laws work as intended.

Here, here President Trumka, you nailed it.  The goal of these posters, to inform the workers of their rights.  The fact that they cannot be disciplined, fired, admonished, or any other adverse actions by their employer for activities in forming/joining a union.   This is just another absurd ruling in favor of ‘corporate people’  over the actual people who work for these corporations.   The good news is that President Obama plans to take this case to the Supreme Court if he needs to.

Brigadier General Adams’s And Sen. Murphy Says ‘Our National Security Is At Risk From Outsourcing’

Chris Murphy And The Alliance For America Manufacturing

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Brigadier General Adams’s, and Scott Paul. (Credit Kaylie Hanson)

As if loosing our good jobs to China was not bad enough now our national security is at risk because of the policies set forth in Washington.  We are at risk of being forced into a position where the United States could be called into war and we cannot supply our troops. Why, because we do not produce the materials needed to create our weapons of war.

For many years we have been talking about the decline of American Manufacturing.  Now that decline in manufacturing and mining is starting to come back to bite us again.

Have you ever heard of lanthanum?  Well let me tell what lanthanum is used for.  Lanthanum is one of the main ingredients needed to create night vision goggles.  Ring a bell yet? No me either.   The reason why I am talking about lanthanum is because lanthanum is one of the rare elements that we need to supply our troops, but we do not mine it.   In fact 91% of all lanthanum comes from China.  Add that to the fact that 90% of all rare elements come from China that puts us in a tight spot.

Let me give you another example.  Have you ever heard of butanetriol? Um no.  What if I told you that butanetriol is the fuel that is used to propel the Hellfire missile.  I am sure you remember hearing our how we have used Hellfire missiles in recent conflicts.  The Hellfire is one of our military’s most powerful weapons.  Now how would you feel if I were to tell you that we get our butanetriol from one supplier.  The only supplier who produces butanetriol and they are based in China.

Are you seeing the problem yet? Some of the tools we need to supply our military is being produced by Chinese manufactures.  What happens if we were to ever enter into a conflict with China? Or if we enter into a conflict that China opposes? They could close our supply chain and effectively take us out of the conflict.    Remember how the North defeated the South in the civil war?  Your right, they destroyed their supply chains.

These are only two of the dozens of examples that were cited in a new report from Brigadier General John Adams and the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

America is always on the verge of war.  We train hundreds of thousands of military personnel to be ready to fight at any moment.  We stockpile weapons, just in case we need them. Right now we are on the verge of getting involved in yet another conflict with Syria.  What would happen if we jumped into that conflict without the ability to supply our troops?

This is why Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) are pushing for an increase in American Defense Manufacturing.     I have been following the ‘Buy America” campaign and have talked about Senator Murphy’s proposals before. The campaign is simple, rebuild our economy by investing in American manufacturing.  Put people to work, and now protect our supply lines to our troops.  Senator Murphy said  “we should not be solely relying on out-of-state suppliers”.

Currency manipulation is one of the biggest problems in trading with China. “Due to currency manipulation the raw materials costs in the United States are the same as final price of Chinese steel” said Congressman Tim Ryan.  Bills to fix the currency manipulation from China have been introduced to Congress for many years. The problem is that they cannot get the bill through both houses in one Congressional term, therefore the bill dies.

Congressman Mo Brooks continued by saying that outsourcing effect the our country in two ways.  It “weakens families incomes (job losses) and weakens the country’s ability to pay to protect our country (loss in revenue)”.

Senator Murphy continued by highlighting some of the key points from the new report, Recommendations to Strengthen America’s Defense Industrial Base and Ensure National Security.  The major points include:

  • fixing the Chinese currency manipulation problem;
  • increase long-term federal investment in high-technology industries;
  • develop domestic sources for important natural resources;

The report refers to seven other recommendation that will help to mitigate this potential risk to our National Security.  Now we need Congress to take swift action to pass this common sense solution to rebuild our manufacturing base and protect our troops.  

Profit margins from cheap clothing? Or worker safety? Where are our priorities?

Yesterday, there was yet another fire in yet another garment factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This time eight people died, including the factory’s managing director and a top police official.

“The blaze comes just two weeks after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, home to five garment factories, killed at least 948 people and became the worst tragedy in the history of the global garment manufacturing industry. The disaster has raised alarm about the often deadly working conditions in Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry, which provides clothing for major retailers around the globe.”  Read more here.

“Now, after this latest deadly fire, garment workers have again been gathering in the streets, wondering if safety at their factories will ever be made a real priority.”

Those of us in the union movement know that workers face essentially the same issues, no matter what country we are working in.  (Here in the America, 150 workers die every day from occupational injuries or diseases.)

We know that heartbreak sounds the same, no matter what language the family is crying in.

And we know that profit-seeking and political collusion are the real cause of these disasters.

“The Bangladesh garment industry, a national golden goose, is politically well-connected…with dozens of lawmakers closely linked to factory owners.

“And though many Western apparel companies adopt codes of conduct, they’re keen to drive production costs down and maximize profit…  The average wage for garment workers in Bangladesh is 10 to 30 cents an hour, labor activists say.”  Read more here.

What’s happening in Bangladesh is eerily similar to what happened in New York City’s garment industry, 100 years ago.

How long are we going to let history repeat itself?

Sequester Gives Kids A Kick To The Head Start

Head StartOnce again Congress is attacking the poor working families.  These are the families that rely on programs like Head Start to get their children started in education the right way.  Time and time again is has been proven in studies like this one from the US Dept of Health and Human Services, that head start programs help children excel in school.  These types of programs have an even bigger impact on the low-income communities, who who otherwise not be able to send their children to a pre-school class.

The gains of pre-school education have been seen by everyone all the way up to the White House.  This is why President Obama pushed for an expanded pre-school program in his State of the Union address.

“Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.”

If Head Start is so good then why is Hudson Head Start forcing more kids out of the program. You can thank the Tea Party Republicans who forced us into the Sequester.

The Sequester is the government debt reduction plan, that slashes 5% of funding for every line item in the budget.   The Sequester was a bad idea when it was proposed, and everyone knew it.  Nobody including the President every thought Congress would let the sequester actually happen.  The sequester was ment to be something so bad that both sides would actually work together to ensure that it never went into effect.  That was the plan, and the plan was and #EpicFail.

New Hampshire may be one of the smallest users of head start, but that does not mean it is not being effected.  Due to sequester cuts NH will loose $733,000 in head start funding.  These cuts are forcing the closure of two classrooms by Southern New Hampshire Service who oversees the program in parts of Southern NH.  They will be shutting the door to 9-11 employees and forcing 18 children to find another head start school (if they can) to attend.

This may seem like a minor inconvenience for a few people and a few of the families in Hudson.  But this is Husdon, NH.  They have less that 25,000 people in the town, and this is what they are doing to their Head Start program.  Can you only imagine what that will mean for bigger school districts, and communities with much higher levels of poverty than Hudson?

Across the country these ridiculously stupid sequester cuts will slam the door of economic and educational opportunity for more than 70,000 children.  Head Start is specifically targeted to those families who could not otherwise afford to send their child to a pre-school program.  Once again, Congress is balancing the budget on the backs of working families.  They are taking away the programs that are designed to lift low-income families out of poverty.

Tell Congress you will not stand for this any longer.  Tell Congress they must end the sequester cuts now.  We have seen over the last few weeks how fast Congress can act when they actually want to pass legislation.  They need to act like that now! They need to work together to save programs like Head Start and the hundreds of other programs being slashed by the sequester cuts.

The New Hampshire Unions Come Together To Support Immigration Reform

mayday_final_socialOver the last week the NH Labor News has posted a variety of articles on immigration reform.  Topics have ranged from the need to ensure that all workers are treated fairly and paid honestly to raids from Immigrations Customs Enforcement.

Immigration reform has been a politic football for decades.  The GOP has gone back and forth on the issue of immigration reform.  First they wanted to build a wall to keep people out, then they wanted people to self deport.  Now after the presidential election the GOP is trying to welcome latino voters by pushing for immigration reform.  What ever their reasoning, I am happy to support their efforts for real immigration reform.  The time is now.

On May 1, the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, the State Employees Association (SEIU 1984) and community activists will come together to rally for common sense immigration reform.  We need to help build a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants and their families.

Join us May 1st at 12:00-1:00pm on the State House Plaza in Concord. 

There will be speakers from labor organizations, as well as faith leaders, Dream Act students, and others representing the immigrant and refugee communities.

Together we can make immigration reform a reality. We must work together to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants fighting to become American citizens.

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