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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Martinez’s reform threatens unions

President, Albuquerque Teachers Federation
ellen@atfunion.org

If you haven’t heard by now, Susana Martinez is trying to prevent public sector unions from collecting membership dues. The governor’s conversation may be about dues, but the deeper context is about something much greater: the existence of unions, the right to organize and workplace democracy.

Governor Martinez said, “I oppose forcing the state to collect union dues for big labor.” Big labor? The governor is trying to apply a pejorative label onto democratic institutions committed to improving compensation, working conditions and benefits for their members and, in turn, for all workers. Because we have unions we have child labor laws, sick leave, social security, worker’s compensation and so much more.

The governor extends her misguided label to the Albuquerque Teachers Federation because we have opposed her corporate reform agenda for our schools and supported real education reform designed to change teaching and learning for the better. For example, a well thought out teacher evaluation bill (Senate Bill 588 in 2013) — supported by teachers and passed overwhelmingly by the legislature — was vetoed by the governor.

The governor wants to eliminate democratic unions, such as the ATF, so our unified voice for progress will be silenced. Why? Because we are fighting her poorly designed, unilaterally imposed teacher evaluation system that is heavily weighted toward testing children. We, not her, are the ones witnessing our students cry from having to take one more high-stress standardized test. She wants to silence our union and our voice, but we will not be silenced.

Trying to scare the public with worn-out labels, like union boss, won’t work. The public knows that the teachers’ union is made up of professionals who taught you how to read, took care of you when you were sick at school, supported you in times of crisis and gave you tools for success. Most New Mexicans will reject the governor’s deceptive tag, and apply their own terms to our union members: teacher, librarian, nurse, social worker, counselor, or therapist.

Why does the governor claim my union is against reform? My union believes that public schools belong to all of us: students, parents, community members, educators and school staff. And, these groups who are closest to students and who have the most expertise about the education process, should have a voice in shaping policy and practice. Top-down pseudo-reforms from entrepreneurs and philanthropists rarely, if ever, focus on the actual needs of teachers and students.

My union wants schools to be fully funded for success and equity. We believe that the purpose of public education is to enable every student in every school to fully participate in a thriving democracy — to develop the thinking skills and dispositions that will support their full human potential. Students deserve an educational system that helps us achieve this goal.

This latest salvo about dues collecting is designed as an attempt by the governor to weaken the largest union in our state, the teachers’ union, so she can unilaterally force her reform agenda without listening to anyone except, perhaps, her corporate sponsors.

Isn’t it ironic that she rails against collecting small amounts of voluntary union dues, but forgets about meeting behind closed doors with her rich contributors in a rented-for-the-weekend resort paid for by the Koch Brothers? These unlimited dollars, pooled from anonymous donors, go to shadowy organizations with sweet-sounding names, such as Americans for Puppies, that spend millions on election attack ads. They are coming soon to a TV near you.

The governor says, “bring it on.” When she says that, I don’t think she means, bring on the public discourse or bring on a balanced debate. I believe she means, bring on the fight for the future of our public education system and all public services. I believe she means, bring on the fight to destroy unions that protect workers’ rights.

Unions welcome the public debate on the role of government in shaping the future of public education. But, instead of relying on the attack ad-filled local media to tell you what you should think, talk directly with the public employee-union member who maintains our parks, protect our streets, fight fires, or ensures our drinking water is safe. Find out what they believe about the direction of our state.

And, speak with a teacher, counselor, nurse or educational assistant about how to make our schools better. You entrust your children to these professionals (and union members) every day. I believe you will find common ground with them — more than with those who write and collect six-figure campaign checks.