St. Paul Teachers Bargaining for Better Schools and Stronger Communities

St. Paul Teachers Bargaining for Better Schools and Stronger Communities

  Public school teachers in Saint Paul, Minnesota have prioritized improving their students’ learning conditions above all else. So much so that they’ve used their bargaining sessions with the school district, where negotiations are traditionally limited to salary and working conditions, to demand the changes that parents and teachers know are needed for St. Paul children to receive the education they deserve. Three years ago when their last contract was set to expire, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) made great strides in addressing the social injustices that prevent students from thriving. They laid out common good bargaining priorities, then mobilized teachers and parents to voice their support for these proposals. With strong community support, they won: an expansion to the preschool program, an increase in hiring for additional support staff, a reduction in standardized testing, reasonable and predictable class sizes, and less severe disciplinary measures for students, as former SPFT President Mary Cathryn Ricker recounts in Dissent Magazine. Now, as St. Paul teachers bargain for a new contract, they are once again going to the mat for better schools and a more just society. In this excellent Twin Cities interview, current SPFT President and Vice President Denise Rodriguez and Nick Faber explain why it is imperative for teachers to raise these structural issues in contract bargaining and perhaps even go on strike to ensure that St. Paul children receive the quality education they deserve. Q: You’re in contract negotiations with the district. Besides salary and working conditions, you have proposals on things like school integration, responsible banking and opting out of standardized tests. Why does the union choose to include these issues in contract negotiations?   Denise Rodriguez: As teachers, we’ve always been focused on...
How Unions Stand Up For Our Kids

How Unions Stand Up For Our Kids

Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard social scientist that famously authored Bowling Alone, recently ignited a national conversation about upward mobility with a new book titled Our Kids. He persuasively argues that growing inequality in income and wealth is leading to profound social changes that make it increasingly harder for children from low-income families to get ahead. What we found out this week at the Center of the American Progress (CAP) is an important contribution to this debate. Researchers at Harvard, Wellesley, and the CAP paired up to study the effects of union membership on social mobility. Although it is well established that unions raise wages for their members, little was known about their impact on economic opportunity for the disadvantaged. To explore this relationship, they looked at aggregate data at the city level and a second data set that pairs individuals with their parents. Their findings should come as no surprise to those of us who witness how unions lift up our communities: there is a strong relationship between union membership and intergenerational mobility. In other words, unions help low-income children move up the economic ladder. The effect is constant even as you control for other factors such as race, types of industry, and inequality. Moreover, the individual-level data reveals that children who grow up in union homes tend to have better outcomes. For instance, children of non-college-educated fathers earn 28 percent more if their father belonged to a union. The most fascinating aspect of the study relates to the work that we do in Bargaining for the Common Good. While we anticipate that unionized parents who make more...
What Is Fueling the Surge in Popularity for Unions

What Is Fueling the Surge in Popularity for Unions

According to a new Gallup poll, unions have surged in popularity in recent years. Since 2008, the approval of organized labor grew by ten percentage points to 58% after reaching historic lows at the onset of the Great Recession. Remarkably, approval for unions grew 5% in the last year alone. At a time when labor laws are becoming increasingly hostile towards organizing and the number of unionized workers is declining, Americans have started to view unions more favorably. Even noted critics of labor are changing their minds. It is worth reflecting on what has spurred this shift in public opinion. One of the reasons is that people are realizing that unions play an important role in sustaining America’s middle class. A study in the American Sociological Review found that the decline in union density may account for a third of the increase in wage inequality among men and a fifth of the increased inequality among women since 1973. This chart from the Economic Policy Institute clearly demonstrates how unions redistribute wealth towards the bottom 90% of earners. Now that income inequality is a cause of concern for most Americans, unions seem more appealing. Another probable cause of the popularity boost is the conscious decision to fight for programs that benefit the common good. With fewer resources than ever, unions are succeeding in raising wages for non-unionized employees at Walmart and fast food restaurants across the country. Moreover, unions in the public sector are leveraging their collective bargaining rights to safeguard vital public services and ensure that children receive the education that they deserve. In St. Paul, teachers partnered with parents to win major improvements for a school system that predominantly serves students from low-income families of color. When labor goes to...
Breaking the Cycle of Financial Abuse: Communities and the Chicago Tribune Take a Stand Against Wall Street

Breaking the Cycle of Financial Abuse: Communities and the Chicago Tribune Take a Stand Against Wall Street

by Alex Taliadoros The Chicago Tribune followed-up its investigation of the Chicago Public Schools’ toxic finance deals with three new articles that point to how we can start to reverse the trend of financial abuse that our communities have suffered from Wall Street. The way forward begins with cities and states promptly taking legal action to recover funds lost due to misleading or deceptive behavior from banks. In addition, the federal government needs to properly oversee the municipal finance market if it hopes to prevent other local entities from falling victim to unfair lending practices in the future. Chicago officials have thus far rejected calls to win back the money lost in predatory deals. Despite Mayor Emanuel’s insistence that his hands are tied by these costly financial deals, the Tribune found ample evidence of municipalities successfully recouping millions of taxpayer dollars after challenging the same type of problematic auction-rate debt. The article highlights cities as small as Pittsburg, California (population 63,264) that have won substantial amounts to cover their losses from auction-rate securities. Most settlements between public entities and financial institutions remain secret, but the paper cites a conservative estimate of more than $25 million in payouts to municipal issuers. Cities have recovered taxpayer money both by filing claims with the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA) and by bringing banks to court. They were successful because they were willing to take action against the fraudulent lending practices that have impoverished their schools and hospitals. The Tribune also examines how the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has failed to protect local governments after banks duped them into issuing auction-rate debt....
In the News: Chicago Tribune’s Series on “Borrowing Trouble”

In the News: Chicago Tribune’s Series on “Borrowing Trouble”

by Alex Taliadoros In an incredible feat of investigative journalism, the Chicago Tribune has published a three-part series exposing how Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”) gambled and lost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars though complex financial deals with Wall Street banks. The first of the Tribune articles outlines how public officials issued more than $1 billion worth of auction-rate bonds and interest-rate swaps despite the excessive risk associated with these financial products. As described by the second article, big banks designed these deals so that they could profit regardless of what happened. To persuade CPS officials to sign on to these costly long-term agreements, banks offered large sums of upfront cash to the school district and vastly misrepresented the stability of the auction-rate market. When the market collapsed in 2008, Chicago Public Schools were left with an additional $100 million in debt burden. Today, Chicago students are paying the price. The same school district that closes schools, lays off teachers, and forces its students to walk through dangerous gang territories to get to class currently pays millions of dollars to Wall Street as interest each month. The third Tribune piece reveals another troubling aspect to these financial deals: the laws that make them possible. Before 2003, the complex financial tools that CPS used would have stood on shaky legal ground, but legislation passed that year changed that. The bill was drafted by an attorney at a major Illinois bond law firm, sponsored by a Senator who admittedly didn’t understand it, and passed with little public debate. As soon as it became law, CPS began a massive borrowing spree that...
In the News: Are Labor Unions on the Rise?

In the News: Are Labor Unions on the Rise?

In asking the question, “Are labor unions on the rise?,” Pooja Bhatia of OZY cited Bargaining for the Common Good as one of the keys to the future success of the labor movement. She wrote: After decades of losing members, legislative defeats and a declining return on labor, American unions have stopped looking within for the answer. […] “Fixing what’s wrong with the labor movement is the responsibility of more than the labor movement and requires the involvement of more than the unions themselves,” says Joseph McCartin, a Georgetown historian who directs the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. In May, the Initiative held a conference called Bargaining for the Common Good to discuss ways to open the labor movement beyond employers and employees. Unions actively participated, says McCartin, having “seen that the future for them has to be reaching out to allies and communities, and bargaining differently and in ways that include those allies.” Read more about Bargaining for the Common Good and its role in shaping the future of unions and their community...