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Public Employees: Speak Up Knowing You Are Protected!

Written by
Terri D. Donovan, Esq.,
Director of Collective Bargaining and Field Services
American Federation of Teachers-NH

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

All of a sudden there are many meetings in our cities, towns and school districts consumed with budget hearings and deliberative sessions where funding decisions will be made about our schools and vital public services. You read the headlines. The loud voices to slash budgets seem to be heard above all. Will you sit on the sidelines or speak up about important public services and your schools?

You go to work every day and teach your students, plow the roads, answer a burglary call or respond to a house fire. You wonder do these naysayers really know what is happening every day in your workplace. Do your fellow community members realize the pride you take in your work? Or are you just a line item in a budget?

This time of year there are many questions from our members and other public employees if they are allowed to speak at a public meeting. If they speak, can they be disciplined? Fired? The answer is NO. As a public employee in NH you have a right to free speech. Just because your paycheck is from a city, town or school district does not diminish your right to be heard.

If you are covered by a union contract you have protections. In fact, AFT-NH Local #6214, Pittsfield Town Employees, filed an Unfair Labor Charge at the NH Public Employees Labor Relations Board in 2012 which addressed a gag order which had been imposed by the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen. The gag order was passed when union members spoke out against an egregious budget cut and actions taken to implement this cut. The Selectmen retracted this order shortly thereafter but the Union pursued the claim to stand up for public employees’ free speech rights. The NH PELRB was clear in supporting public employees in their rights to speak public about their collective bargaining agreements and their working conditions.

The NH PELRB ordered the following, “The Town shall cease and desist from any activity, including the development and enforcement of any policy, that would prohibit bargaining unit employees’ communications with the public or media on the issues related to collective bargaining or the terms and conditions of their employment.”

Also as a public employee in New Hampshire you have unique statutory protection under Chapter 98-E, Public Employee Freedom of Expression. If your employer is a county, city, town, school district, SAU, precinct or water district you are protected.

 98-E:1 Freedom of Expression. – Notwithstanding any other rule or order to the contrary, a person employed as a public employee in any capacity shall have a full right to publicly discuss and give opinions as an individual on all matters concerning any government entity and its policies. It is the intention of this chapter to balance the rights of expression of the employee with the need of the employer to protect legitimate confidential records, communications, and proceedings. 

Please check for important meetings in your city and town. Deliberative sessions and budget hearings are happening now! You may not be comfortable speaking but jot down a few notes so you feel more comfortable. Speaking from the heart and with sincere concerns will resonate with fellow community members. Your opinion does matter to them. Be sure to avoid disclosing any confidential information you may know as a result of your work. You should rely on your Union to advise when it is appropriate in the collective bargaining process to speak out publicly. Once a contract is presented to the voters for approval, it is very important for you to reach out for support in the community.

You can speak to what you would believe to be the impact of budget cuts and speak proudly of the work done in your district or municipality. When you speak out you offer encouragement and support for others in the community to also have their voices heard.

Please don’t be silenced!

 

 

 

AFT President Randi Weingarten on President Obama’s State of the Union Address

“Unions give workers the voice they need, and public education gives our children the opportunity they deserve.” 

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s statement on President Obama’s State of the Union address:

“Tonight, the president invoked our shared values, reminding us what unites us as a nation. He asked us to turn the page, to ensure shared prosperity, to pave the road to middle-class economics so that all who want a chance to succeed get that chance. He affirmed that every child in every neighborhood matters. And he reinforced that unions give workers the voice they need, and public education gives our children the opportunity they deserve.

“All workers deserve a pathway to a good job with a living wage—one that covers the cost of healthcare and child care, and allows them to pay down exorbitant student loans, save for their retirement, provide the basic necessities for their family, like food and housing, and still have a little left over. Working families see that the economy is getting better, but too many have yet to feel it. That must change, and the president raised many ideas tonight to change it. We need to ensure that all families can climb the ladder of opportunity. And to do that, we need our government to reinvest in public education and support our educators. The tools the president advanced tonight—providing free community college and greater access to early childhood education, raising the minimum wage, offering child care and paid sick leave to parents—all will help if they are enacted.

“The president summoned us all to come together, to think bigger, to aim higher. That’s what the teachers, nurses and public workers, those who are and want to be the middle class in America, do every day. This is our credo. We want to do what’s best for our communities and our country. We want to reclaim the promise of America.”

AFT’s Weingarten: New Model for Unionism Requires Organizing With Community for Economic Justice, Political Power, Workers’ Dignity

“We can no longer operate as if we’re in a factory. The knowledge era has arrived. As circumstances change, our nation changes,
the world changes and we too must change.”

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten today laid out a framework for a renewed American labor movement. She was joined by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and others at an Albert Shanker Institute conference called “The American Labor Movement at a Crossroads.”

The labor movement is at a crossroads, Weingarten said, because of globalization, technological changes, diminished union density, and aggressive, well-funded legislative and judicial challenges by anti-union forces who understand the potential power of American labor.

“We can no longer operate as if we’re in a factory. The knowledge era has arrived. As circumstances change, our nation changes, the world changes and we too must change,” Weingarten said. “And make no mistake: This is on us. It’s our responsibility.”

Secretary Perez reminded the audience that the growth of the middle class was linked to a strong labor movement. “President Obama understands that the labor movement and prosperity go hand in hand,” he said.

Weingarten highlighted four areas of work that the AFT has rethought in significant ways:

  • engagement with community;
  • focus on the quality of the public services its members provide;
  • “internal” organizing and member mobilization; and
  • “external” organizing of the unorganized.

“We know that the enduring values of the American labor movement provide a strong foundation for a renewed American unionism that will give collective voice to working people in a 21st-century global knowledge economy,” Weingarten concluded.

Read the full speech here.

AFT’s Weingarten on White House Summit on Early Childhood Education

WASHINGTON –American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten participated in a panel today at the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education, where President Barack Obama announced more than $1 billion in public and private spending on early learning programs, including roughly $700 million in already appropriated federal funds.

Following is a statement from Weingarten on behalf of AFT, which represents more than 90,000 early childhood educators in every type of early learning setting across the country:

“Access to high-quality early childhood care and education is key to giving all children a running start. High-quality early learning not only helps to bridge the achievement gap for low-income children, but it’s also a strong economic investment in our nation’s future. As President Obama mentioned today, every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood programs saves us up to eight dollars in the future.

“The most important determinant of a high-quality early learning program is the educator who nurtures, guides and educates our children. Right now, many early educators aren’t getting a living wage. Nearly half rely on public assistance, costing taxpayers $2.4 billion annually. That’s why it’s vital that we give the early child care workforce the resources, working conditions and wages they need to help put our nation’s early learners on a path to success.

“We are proud to work with the White House on this important effort, and we will continue our efforts to ensure that all children have access to high-quality early childhood education. As these public and private partners commit to invest in early childhood education today, we hope that they will invest in the educators who are giving our nation’s early learners a strong start on life.”

AFT’s Weingarten on Human Rights Day and Recent Events

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WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1948:

“The United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 66 years ago, yet we still have a long way to go before every community throughout the world affords all citizens respect, dignity and impartial justice. This has been made clear in recent months, from the abject disregard for life demonstrated by the murder of civilian hostages by terrorists in the Middle East, to the grand jury decisions to not find any culpability in the deaths of unarmed black men in Staten Island, N.Y., and Ferguson, Mo. The time to act for justice is now.

“Nations, cities and towns should use the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard for dignity, freedom and human rights of all men, women and children. We must work to fully realize the declaration so that all people from every corner of society are treated equally and with dignity and worth.”

The AFT is working with Educational International and teacher unions in Egypt, Georgia, Honduras and Zimbabwe to provide educators with the information they need to be advocates for human rights in their classrooms and their communities. For more on this project, see www.tarc.ei-ie.org.

The AFT also has free human rights resources for the classroom, including lesson plans and other teaching materials, at www.teachhumanrights.com and www.sharemylesson.com.

Walmart Could, And Should Be Paying $15 An Hour And Would Still Make $10 Billion In Profit

Working families are struggling and Walmart workers symbolize the struggles that millions of Americans are facing.  They work as many hours as their employer will give them and they are still living in poverty.

“If you are a man or woman working full-time in this country, it is a crime for you to still be poor,” said Rabbi Michael Feinberg.  “They (Walmart) have a 1-800 number where the workers call up in order for the corporation to help them connect to social benefits in their state, meaning Medicaid and welfare.”

Walmart workers alone cost the taxpayers over $6 billion dollars a year in social programs. The Americans for Tax Fairness “found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.

Walmart workers have had enough! They are walking out protesting Walmart’s poverty wages and failure to provide full-time employment.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “That’s why clergy, labor, school teachers, and workers from all over are here (and) all throughout the country to say to Walmart ‘you got to be fair, you got to be just’.”

Walmart is the largest private employer in the country and collected over $17 billion — yes that is with a B–  in profits in 2013. Let’s not forget that the CEO of Walmart collects an annual salary of $23 million.  To break it down further, that is “1,034 times more than the company’s average worker.”  Is this one man worth more than 1,000 workers? Can he stock the shelves of a 1,000 stores?

A 2013 UC Berkeley study showed that increasing wages to $12.00 an hour would add only $3.21 billion to Walmart’s annual labor costs.  That is not even half of what Walmart spent last year buying back their own stock to inflate their stock price.

If Walmart refused to take any cuts to their profit margin they could pass all of their labor costs on the consumer. This is what the Republicans say will cause the price of mile to jump to $10 a gallon!

The average Walmart customer would see an increase of $12.49 per year – about 46 cents per visit – if Walmart executives passed the total cost along, rather than cutting their profits.

Walmart can easily afford to pay workers $15 an hour, hell they could pay them $30 and hour if they really wanted to and still be a hugely profitable corporation.  In fact Fortune Magazine concluded that Walmart could give every worker a 50% increase in pay and still please their Wall Street investors.

The greed of Walmart is unmatched. Collecting millions of dollars a day in profits while asking  associates to donate to other associates so they can have food for Thanksgiving. (Of course they all had to work Thanksgiving too.)  That takes some really big cojones and a complete lack of respect for the people who are making your company a success.

 

Thanks to the American Federation of Teachers for this great video of solidarity for Walmart workers and the members of Making Change at Walmart (OUR Walmart – UFCW). 

Watch the video on YouTube

AFT President Randi Weingarten Is Arrested Protesting Eric Garner Decision — #ICantBreathe

As the editor of the New Hampshire Labor News I get dozens of emails every hour. Some are good and some are junk. Then there are mornings, like today, where I get an email that surprises me, and makes me feel proud at the same time.

Somewhere during the night I received an email from Kate Childs Graham a spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers where she informed me that AFT President Randi Weingarten was arrested in New York City.

This evening in New York City, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was arrested in an act of civil disobedience while protesting the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case. Building on the long legacy of Jews fighting for justice, the action was organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. The organization honored Weingarten’s partner, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, earlier in the evening.”

At first I was shocked, but it did not take long for my surprise to pleasure. I though to myself, man I love this woman. I was immediately proud of Randi for bringing attention to the atrocity in the Eric Garner case.
For those who are unaware of the details of the Eric Garner case, Garner was allegedly selling illegal cigarettes when the police confronted him. After a few moments the police decided they needed to restrain Garner. One officer placed Garner in a chock hold – prohibited by the NYPD – and took Garner to the ground. The other five officers worked to restrain Garner as he called out “I can’t breathe”. Garner past away in a local hospital shortly after the event.
The Medical Examiner is ruled that Garner’s death a homicide yet a grand jury ruled that no charges would be brought up on the police officers involved.

The grand jury ruling sparked massive outrage throughout the country and rightfully so.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers released the following statement:

“Eric Garner’s death was a tragedy that shocked the conscience of many New Yorkers. “We in the AFT family express our deep condolences to his family. Today, we share in the disappointment of many who question the outcome of the grand jury’s deliberations in this case.”

“On this difficult day, I was in New York, and like other New Yorkers I watched the video over and over and found it difficult to reconcile the grand jury’s decision and the evidence in the video. We must break the silence. That’s what this nonviolent protest by the Jewish community is all about.” 

“The AFT represents educators who tomorrow will be in schools with students. As United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said, “We must be ready to help them work through their emotions and the difficult issues that this decision raises for many of them.”

“We in the AFT are committed to a fair and just society. That is why we are joining Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand, and many in our congressional delegation, in calling for a U.S. Justice Department investigation. 

“While many are understandably angry at today’s decision, we remain mindful of the lessons of the civil rights movement that nonviolent protest is the best way to secure justice. In the coming days and weeks, we urge that that precept be carried out.”

We must face the facts that racial profiling and police brutality against African-American is wrong and something has to change.

I applaud, Randi for taking a stand for social justice, even if that means getting arrested.

AFT’s Weingarten: Obama’s Action Reunites Families, Brings Workers Out of the Shadows

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WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on President Obama’s executive order that expands protections to millions of undocumented immigrants:

“As a union, we’ve always been committed to opening the doors of opportunity for all children, and immigration is an issue that touches every community we serve. After the House of Representatives refused to act on comprehensive immigration reform, although the Senate had passed bipartisan legislation, President Obama—as he did with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and as many of his predecessors have done—is using his legal authority to secure our nation’s borders, to help keep families together and to expand our economy.

“A great and diverse nation, founded by immigrants seeking a safer, more prosperous life, continues to deliver the promise of the American dream. Yet our broken immigration system has hurt millions of students and families. We continue to hear heartbreaking stories of kids who don’t know if their parents are coming home or have been deported. We hear from teachers whose students stop showing up for school after their parents are sent to a country these children have never called home. Our nation’s children are counting on us. We must unite, not divide, families. The president’s plan will give many of these families the security of knowing they can stay together, and it will bring many workers out of the shadow economy, ensuring higher wages for all. We remain eager for Congress—especially the Republican-controlled House—to take legislative action and show unity on an issue so personal to American families.”

The Colbert Report Highlights The FREE KEENE Robin Hoods

Screen shot of the Colbert Report 11-19-14 show on Free Keene

Screen shot of the Colbert Report 11-19-14 show on Free Keene

Last night the Colbert Report covered something that we in New Hampshire have been talking about at length for years, the Free Staters, specifically Free Keene.

The Colbert Report focused on the Free Keene Robin Hooders and their harassment of parking attendants.  The NH Labor News was one of the first to break the story about the harassment of Keene police officers in our story, “Free Keene from ‘Free-Keene': A Story Of Harassment In The Workplace.

I am glad to see that The Colbert Report is bringing some national attention to the outrageous and threatening actions of the Free Keene Robin Hoods.

Wall Street Deals Costing Schools, Municipalities Billions

"Wall Street - New York Stock Exchange" by Carlos Delgado

“Wall Street – New York Stock Exchange” by Carlos Delgado

Educators, Parents, Communities Demand Transparency and Accountability 

WASHINGTON— Following a new report detailing how Wall Street sold toxic deals to school districts and municipalities that are costing communities billions in fees, interest and other payments, educators, parents, community members and local officials have joined together for a Day of Action in cities across the country. They are demanding transparency and accountability to ensure taxpayer money is being used to invest in schools and communities, not to enrich Wall Street.

“These deals are robbing schools and kids of desperately needed resources at a time when budgets have been cut to the bone and our schools are already being asked to do more with less,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Parents, educators and communities deserve basic transparency and accountability—both from the banks that continue to peddle these toxic deals, and from those officials who locked communities into spiraling debt and fees. Putting this money back into the classroom could mean more teachers, nurses and social workers; restoring art and music; creating community schools; and wrapping services for kids and families around schools.”

The report, issued by the Roosevelt Institute, details how banks sold school districts and state and local governments predatory financial products like interest rate swaps and capital appreciation bonds—products that were laced with hidden costs and hidden risks, and in many cases were designed to fail—as well as charging exorbitant fees for products and services.

These deals are affecting schools, towns and cities across the country. For example, in Philadelphia, schools will lose more than $161 million as a result of 10 interest rate swaps. Los Angeles is now spending $290 million a year in financial fees—more than the entire city budget for maintaining its streets and highways. The Chicago Tribune this month detailed how the Chicago Public Schools will likely lose $100 million on a complex financing scheme. Detroit entered into a series of complex financial deals that has left the city $1.6 billion in debt. And the Peralta Community College District in California is paying $1.6 million a year in interest rate swap payments—the equivalent of 320 classes.

AFT members and leaders nationwide joined with parents and community members today to call for greater transparency and accountability.

“Philadelphia’s budget crisis is no coincidence. It’s the partial result of Wall Street banks rigging the game in their favor at the expense of schools, communities and students,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, who is an AFT vice president. “The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates that our city’s schools have lost more than $161 million as a result of 10 different toxic swap deals. We call on the School Reform Commission to restore critical services by holding Wall Street to account for the money it has cheated our schools and students out of.”

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson, also an AFT vice president, added, “The predatory lending schemes contributed to the urban blight in Detroit as families lost their homes only to see them boarded up. While Detroit may one day recover, many of these families will have no such luck.”

In Chicago, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President and Acting President Jesse Sharkey responded to the report, saying, “The mayor and the school district need to be as tough on their banker friends as they are on our neighborhood schools. In 2013, CPS closed 50 schools to ‘save money’ at the same time that banks and investment houses like Loop Capital and Bank of America were making millions from excessive fees and complicated swap deals of dubious legality. The banks owe us a rebate of hundreds of millions of dollars, which we should invest in 50 sustainable community schools with robust wraparound services, restorative justice programs, low class sizes and sufficient staffing levels.”

And in Los Angeles, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said, “Our school district, city and county are being systematically gouged by Wall Street. Last year, Wall Street banks made more than $200 million in fees at the expense of LA taxpayers. Our city stands to lose an additional $65 million from a toxic interest rate swap deal from the mid-2000s. We will call on the Los Angeles Unified School District to conduct a thorough analysis of its dealings with Wall Street so we can see where the banks are charging too much and we can work to get the schools LA students deserve.”

Read the full report here.