President's perspective

This is not Wisconsin

UFT President Michael Mulgrew The mayor’s assault on schools and teachers reached a new low on March 1 when he convinced the New York State Senate to pass a bill that ended seniority rules that guarantee impartiality in layoffs. As the bill was being rushed through the Senate in record time, UFT members responded with thousands of faxes to their state senators. More than 100 of you also joined me at press conferences to denounce the bill, and 1,200 of us descended on Albany to meet with our representatives for our annual Lobby Day.

Our voices were heard in the state capital. Members of the Assembly, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver, made clear that a bill that takes our schools back to the days of cronyism and bias — and destroys collective-bargaining rights — has no place in this state. The governor responded as well. “New York is not Wisconsin,” the governor said.

The statements by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Speaker Silver were welcome voices of sanity amid the current ideological attack on teachers’ rights. Instead of moving backward in time to the days when public servants had no rights on the job, Gov. Cuomo is building on the work that the UFT did in helping to draft a new statewide teacher evaluation system last spring. He has introduced legislation to accelerate the implementation of the new system — a system that moves away from the inadequate, subjective one we have now to a more objective set of criteria.

There is a battle going on for the soul of America. Its epicenter is Wisconsin, where a bill that would strip public-sector workers of their collective-bargaining rights has provoked a massive response that has inspired teachers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and other workers throughout the country. On the one side are Republican governors and lawmakers who are using states’ fiscal woes as an excuse to pursue long-held goals of taking away workers’ rights and reducing their benefits. On the other side are millions of working families who have watched years of corporate tax giveaways, budget cuts and anti-union politics erode what’s left of the middle class and create an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us — and who are now saying, “Enough is enough.”

Politicians like governors Walker (Wisconsin), Kasich (Ohio) and Christie (New Jersey) are exploiting economic insecurity, preying on people who have lost their jobs or health care or worry that they will, people just barely scraping by, and trying to pit them against teachers and other public-sector workers whose union contracts have won them basic rights and a decent living. The governors’ campaigns have nothing to do with improving public services or standards of living, and everything to do with abolishing institutions — first and foremost unions — that stand up for the public good.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg is working out of this same playbook. He’s hell-bent on laying off teachers, even though everyone knows this would be an educational disaster, simply to push his agenda of ending seniority protections. He’s working hard to pit newer teachers against veteran teachers, parents against teachers and school communities against each other.

Like other politicians across the nation, Bloomberg’s fear-mongering is offering false solutions to non-existent problems. The city has a $3.1 billion surplus — there is no need for layoffs. Period.

Thankfully, the United States is still a democracy and the people of New York — like so many of their fellow citizens throughout the country — are fighting back against the assaults on our rights and our schools and other public services.

We are working with leaders like Gov. Cuomo and Speaker Silver who understand that teachers are not the problem and unions are not the enemy. We are moving forward with those who share our commitment to results-oriented policies that help our schools rather than politically driven agendas that hurt children. We’re in the community, talking to parents and coming together with community groups. We’re in Albany, talking to legislators. We’re speaking out wherever and whenever possible. We will do whatever it takes.

This is not Wisconsin. Let’s keep it that way.

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