November 2011 Issue
October 24, 2011

Unions fighting for jobs

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Vice President Joe Biden addresses union leaders, including, second row center, NYSUT officers Dick Iannuzzi and Kathleen Donahue, and teachers, police officers and firefighters at a Capitol Hill rally to support legislation that would save and create jobs. Photo by Bill Burke.

After nine years teaching in the Capital District, Kate Rogers was sidelined by a car accident in November 2008. She had just changed districts and had not accumulated much sick time. By the time Rogers could return to work in early 2009, there was no job for her.

She is still searching for employment; but for every promising job, she's up against hundreds of applicants as qualified as she is, with as many awards and proven track records of student success. "It's no comfort that I'm in great company." On Oct. 15, Rogers joined hundreds of union members at the March for Jobs and Justice rally in Washington, D.C., to ask Congress for support.

"Thanks to NYSUT, I had the bus ride, so I was able to march on behalf of all my fellow teachers who can't leave their students or their classrooms," Rogers said. NYSUT and its national affliliates, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, are keeping up the pressure on lawmakers to put teachers like Rogers back in the classroom.

But Republicans in Washington refuse to listen, squashing attempts to put legislation in place that would create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Last month, Senate Republicans defeated the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act that would have invested $35 billion to save and create nearly 440,000 jobs across the country.

"For New York that would have meant $1.7 billion in aid to school districts to save and create 18,000 education jobs," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

The bill also would have allowed 4,170 police officers and firefighters to stay on the job.

Union leaders last month took part in an advocacy campaign in Washington, D.C., to support efforts to put Americans back to work. They attended a press conference called by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and then, alongside teachers, firefighters, police officers and other first responders, participated in a demonstration before the Senate vote.

"Getting Americans back to work can be achieved if people look past the politics and look to the needs of the people," Iannuzzi said.

The Republicans continue to object to any bill that contains tax increases. The Back to Work Act would have relied on revenues generated from a half-percentage point tax surcharge on taxable income above $1 million.

"The bill was asking millionaires to pay just a bit more to help children and communities," Iannuzzi said. "Republicans instead chose millionaires."

The act was a key component of President Obama's jobs plan that is being resubmitted as separate legislation. Other portions include:

  • $25 billion to repair and modernize up to 35,000 schools across the nation. It's targeted to high-needs school districts where students are more likely to be in outdated facilities that compromise their learning and safety.
  • $5 billion to modernize and increase capacity at community colleges to help accommodate record high enrollments caused in part by unemployed workers returning to school to retool their job skills. NYSUT and its coalition partners are pressing New York's lawmakers to reduce the impact of drastic budget cuts by increasing spending and generating revenue with the extension of a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

More than 7,600 educators in New York state were laid off this summer after lawmakers slashed school aid by $1.3 billion. In the Syracuse city schools, for example, job cuts included 163 teachers, 10 administrators, 45 custodians, 177 teaching assistants, 22 office workers, 13 nurses and four managers/ supervisors.

"The impact on classrooms is huge, especially in our special education classrooms where a student's success and achievement can hinge on the interaction with and attention from a teaching assistant," said Nancy Juliano, a teaching assistant and officer in the Syracuse Teachers Association.

She noted that 92 of the 177 eliminated teaching assistant positions were from classrooms for students with special needs.

Another component of Obama's plan would help the long-time unemployed. It would provide a lifeline to 141,200 New Yorkers like Rogers by extending unemployment insurance. "I get $400 a week in unemployment, but just as important, my $45,000 student loan debt is deferred while I am registered as unemployed," Rogers said.

"Every week without a paycheck is a crisis to be managed, and I haven't seen a paycheck in 57 weeks. Unemployment comes nowhere close to replacing my lost salary, but it is the only way my family can survive this crisis," she said.