Human rights, civil rights and labor right are inextricably connected. Just ask the people who are attacking them. the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for example.
DeVos has been roundly criticized for undermining protections against all manner of abuses to which students are subject.
Consider that Devos wants to end the restrictions on disparate school discipline which sees black students more harshly penalized than white students. Similarly, protections against discrimination against LGBT students are being rolled back as are regulations regarding campus sexual violence at colleges and universities.
Obama-era rules governing the treatment of racial minorities in special education are also being undercut. Black children are placed in special education at far higher rates than white children and frequently taught in essentially segregated settings.
Secretary DeVos and the Trump administration are rolling back for-profit college rules. These Obama’s-era rules offer students protections against victimization by for-profit schools that fraudulently promise gainful employment outcomes to graduates and saddle students with large student loan debts.
All of these abuses are now compounded by DeVos’ attack on the employees of the Department of Education and their unions. DeVos has unilaterally imposed what she calls a “contract” on the DoEd’s nearly 4,000 employees, who are represented by the AFGE. The imposed terms severely restrict the union in its statutory responsibility to represent its members and seek to bust the union with annual membership sign-ups.
The AFGE has filed charges, equivalent to unfair labor practice charges in the private sector, with the Federal Labor Relations Authority. AFGE warns that what DeVos is doing to subvert union rights is going on at other agencies such as the Veterans Administration, too.
The mission statement of the FLRA says: The FLRA promotes stable, constructive labor-management relations through the resolution and prevention of labor disputes in a manner that gives full effect to the collective-bargaining rights of employees, unions, and agencies. Let’s see how that stands up in the Trump-era.
The Trump administration’s attack on rights is broad. The coalition to oppose these regressive actions needs to be broad as well.
By Thomas J. Kriger, PhD
Registered Apprenticeship, the gold standard for workforce training, is an integral part of the Building Trades “brand” in the US construction industry. The highest quality training programs in the industry guarantee that signatory employers have access to the most highly skilled and safest workforce in the industry. Recently, you may have heard about proposals out of Washington, D.C. for expanding apprenticeship in the U.S. through the creation of new forms of apprentice training.
While the Building Trades strongly supports the expansion of apprenticeship into industries that currently lack this type of training, we don’t want to lose sight of the need to preserve and strengthen the system of Registered Apprenticeship. Registered Apprenticeship, at its heart, is a structured on-the-job learning experience that combines the best of “earn and learn” training with high quality, classroom-based supplemental instruction. These programs must “register” their training standards, curricula and instructor qualifications with the US DOL or appropriate state apprenticeship agency, thus providing third party certification of program quality, breadth and depth, and expected outcomes. For over 100 years, Registered Apprenticeship has proven to be a reliable pathway to the middle class, complete with benefits and pensions, for Building Trades members.
Among construction apprentices in the U.S. today, 75 percent are trained in the joint apprentice training committee (JATC) system, which the Building Trades operate in cooperation with their contractor partners. We know from over 100 years of experience that robust, labor-management commitment to and investment in craft training ensures the necessary and portable skills for workers to meet specific demands of employers and entire industries. Coupled with increased investments in infrastructure, Registered Apprenticeship can unleash broad, sustainable growth throughout the country, while also allowing for career pathways for under-served communities including communities of color, women, returning citizens and transitioning veterans
In the Building Trades, these apprenticeship career pathways have been fully developed through articulation agreements and other relationships with U.S. colleges and universities. All Building Trades apprenticeship programs, for example, have been assessed for higher education credit. In fact, NABTU considers apprenticeship training ‘the other four-year degree.’ If the Building Trades training system, which includes both apprentice-level and journeyman-level training, was a degree granting college or university, it would be the largest degree granting college or university in the United States — over 5 times larger than Arizona State University. In fact, NABTU’s training infrastructure is rivaled only by the U.S. military in terms of the quality and depth of skills training.
US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta framed this issue correctly when he observed, “if you look into the Building Trades, there’s almost a billion [dollars] that’s spent every year [on training], and that’s all private sector money. The Building Trades have put together labor-management organizations that jointly invest in these [registered] apprenticeship programs because they know both on the labor side and the management side that a skilled workforce is critical to the Building Trades. And that’s how it’s worked for a number of years.”
With over 1,650 training centers throughout the United States and 20,000 experienced and highly trained instructors, NABTU and its contractor partners will continue to promote our successful model and remain key stakeholders in this process initiated by the Administration to increase access to robust apprenticeship programs in other industries. We know from experience that Registered Apprenticeship can achieve the desired effects of both meeting the workforce needs of employers and industries, while also ensuring stable and prosperous middle-class careers for American workers.
Skylar Roush, Chula Vista, CA Charter School Teacher, CTA Sweetwater Union High School District
As a Chula Vista, Calif., charter high school teacher, I wake up every morning and kiss my wife goodbye for the day. She is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient and is in the process of getting her teaching credentials. Even though we are married, we don’t know if she’ll be able to stay in the only country she’s ever known.
I drive to the school, two miles from the border with Mexico, many of my students wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. to wait in the border line to come to school in the USA. I walk into my classroom where students are always already there waiting, eating their school breakfast. These are the ones for whom the border crossing was quicker than usual that day, so they arrive at the school well before the day is set to begin.
We are a public charter that takes in the high school students from across the vast Sweetwater Union school district that are not on track to graduate. Most of our students are English Language Learners (ELL) who have grown up on both sides of the border. They are American citizens, children of families too poor to afford to live in California’s skyrocketing housing market, or whose families don’t have the documentation necessary to live and work in the U.S.
We also take in many homeless students, and students who are transitioning out of juvenile detention supervision. It is hard work serving as teacher, mentor, coach, therapist, and college counselor all in one day. But, it is important, necessary work that sustains me and gives me purpose.
For this work however, I am paid $55,000 per year, though I would make $68,000 if I taught at any of the traditional public schools in our same district.
Our students are Sweetwater Union High School District students, but we are not paid like Sweetwater Union High School District teachers.
In October of 2015, my colleagues unionized our charter school with the California Teachers’ Association (CTA), and have been working with organizers from the union to sign our first contract ever since. We have faced numerous delay tactics. We no longer have a General Ed English teacher or an English Language Development (ELD) teacher. We have gone semesters with no science or math teachers, and years with no Spanish teacher. All in a school that is 95 percent ELL and nearly 100 percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
We are getting to the point where walking out is becoming a real point of discussion. After two and a half years of delays, my colleagues and I wonder if that is the only way.
Charter schools should exist to provide additional paths to success for students, not to punish the teachers who sign up to serve the most vulnerable. We are inspired by our union brothers and sisters walking out of their classrooms all across the country, and we are proud of the difficult fights they have made winnable. Charter schools MUST be unionized, or our teachers will be underpaid and under-supported, and our students, those with the most need of stable and quality educators, will be the ones that continue to suffer.
Con union se vive mejor!