Thursday, December 3, 2015

Powerful Truths

In Elementary School, I was an avid reader, just as I am today.  In Fifth grade, I discovered an entire shelf of books in the school library that was filled with biographies of notable women.  I made it my mission to read every one of those biographies.  I devoured them like candy.  I couldn't get enough of reading about the lives of women like Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Laura Ingalls Wilder and other amazing, intelligent females who made an impact on history and society in their own way.  

Today, my reading is just as avid, but I tend toward historical fiction and stories of strong women.  I realized that I tend to gravitate toward those stories, when I was thinking about the impact of the women who were being honored last night at the Workforce Development Institute's 2016 Calendar Release Reception.  What a powerful group of ladies who, through their work in their unions and in their community have and continue to make a difference in the lives of workers and families.  I pale in comparison to many of these ladies.  I aspire to be like them, with so many accomplishments and roles that they take on.  I was honored to be in their company last night.  

NYSUT has a membership that is over 70% female.  We dominate the workforce in education and related fields.  Collectively, this is a group of super smart women who, when they work together, are a force to be reckoned with.  This is why I find what is happening within our own ranks so distressing.  Our membership is starkly divided on many issues.  Even worse, much of our membership remains ignorant of what is happening within their own profession.

In my family, I have individuals who are far right and those who are far left on politics.  I tend toward the middle.  As a Libra, I am always trying to find balance so I try to consider all angles before making a decision or taking a stand.  Within our membership, both locally and statewide, we have individuals who are polar opposite in their opinions.  This contributes to lively discussions and to opportunities to see all sides of issues.  However, we must bear in mind these simple words:  United We Stand.  Divided We Fall.   

I have found over my years in the workforce that organizations that are predominately women often have a tendency to undermine each other rather than foster leadership and growth in each other.  

While we may not see eye to eye on all issues, we need to keep in mind a few simple truths:

1. We are in this for the children, ours and those belonging to others.  We must collectively agree to work toward a better free public education system that is lead by educators, not politicians or business people.

2. As women, we should work together to foster leadership and growth amongst our ranks.  We need to stop tearing down our colleagues who show an ability to do more.  Instead, we need to set aside the "popularity" issues and personal feelings for the better of the organization as a whole.  One of my favorite quotes is, "You can tell who the strong women are.  They are the ones you see building one another up, instead of tearing each other down."

3. Divide and conquer is an effective strategy that has been used in battle many times.  If we become divided, we are weakened.  We are stronger together.  In our unity we will find strength.

4. All relationships are compromises, from marriages to businesses.  We must show maturity and realize that compromises sometimes need to be made.  We can't have it all, but we can have most if we work together.

As women, as mothers, as educators, we must learn to stand together.  We have an obligation to our society, our families and our profession to be informed and to create change.  We are a force to be reckoned with, not just on our own, but even more powerfully, together.  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize winning American History Professor, said it best:  "Well behaved women seldom make history".  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Struggle is Real

Make no mistake about it.  We are in a struggle.  Not the kind of struggle that involves armored vehicles, automatic weapons and stealth fighter planes.   It is struggle over the existence of Public Education as an important component of our country.  Actually, it goes deeper than that.  This is not just a war on our public school system which is being dismantled right before our eyes, but it is also a struggle against the people who populate our public unions.

Specifically, this is a war on Public Employees, the vast majority of whom are women.  Women make up the largest percentage of public school teachers, many of whom, due to the recent recession, are their families largest or even primary breadwinners. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 58% of the workforce in our country is female.  Of that, 82% are Elementary and Middle School Teachers with a total of all women in education related professions at 72%.  These are women, who often have Master's degrees and beyond, provide health care and significant portions of their family's income.  Women who chose to teach, rather than pursue private employment because they love teaching and understand that the lower income is off-set by a pension later on and a true desire to contribute to society through their chosen profession.

The attack on our public school teachers, our public health care workers, and our public employees is an attack on women in our society.  Now, before you think this is crazy, consider this:  Is our state attacking our private industry unions with as much intensity and vehemence as they are towards the public unions?  Is the case before the Supreme Court (Freidrichs vs. California Teachers Association) targeted toward public employees (although it opens the door to removing the rights of private sector workers as well)?  Are charter schools being vilified the same way public schools are?  The answers are No, no and NO.

Why are we attacking the very people who are caring for our children and our community?  And not just any children... all children.  Public schools accept ALL children.  Teachers and others who work in public schools have no say over who is in their classrooms, how many students they get, what they are teaching and what, if any, support they get while teaching.  Teachers in public schools teach ALL children who walk through their doors.  These teachers have been known to spend thousands of dollars of their own money to outfit classrooms so that students have everything they need to learn and be successful.  These same teachers purchase clothing, Christmas gifts, food, glasses, boots and school supplies for the children they teach.  These women and men spend hours and hours of their personal time preparing for students, corresponding with parents and completing paperwork.  Most importantly, they come to school daily with a smile for the kids.

Why are our Public Employees being attacked?  The answer is both simple and complex.  Money.  It's all about the money.  The war on Public Education was never about the kids.  NEVER.  Not for one single second.  The war on Public Employees is a war on the middle class in America.  It is a war on the progress women have made in becoming economically independent.  It is a war on those of us who work hard and demand fair wages and benefits.  Women in our country make approximately $.79 on the dollar compared to their male counterparts nationwide.  In Right to Work States, that gap is even wider.

According to a recent publication by the AFL-CIO  in Right to Work states, wages are at least 12.2% lower ($5,971 less), more workers are without health insurance, poverty levels are higher and there is a 31% decrease in Education spending.  For women, this will be even more pronounced.  Teachers who work in public education make significantly more than teachers who work in Charter schools.  Charter schools tend to be non-unionized and have lower wages, longer hours, less protections and higher turnover rates.  Women are already affected by the gender gap and this disparity will increase if the Supreme Court allows all states to become RTW.  The case before the Supreme Court has quietly been "fast-tracked" in hopes of a desired outcome by those underwriting the case.  Do not be fooled that those organizations and individuals are not the least bit concerned about the teachers who they represent.  Breaking the Public Sector unions opens up ways to make for money for the private sector, i.e.: the privatization of prisons, water & sewer, police and fire services, to name just a few.

Keeping our public sector unions strong has far reaching effects on our communities and women in our workforce.  A strong economic package leads to a prosperous workforce that will participate in a democratic society.  Public sector unions represent a promising path for working women towards equality and economic security.  For the well-being of working women along with their families and communities, the health of public sector unions must be protected.

Ask yourself:  What kind of society are we if we continue to erode the rights of ordinary citizens who have dedicated their lives to public service?  What will happen if we allow the privatization of public services?  What will happen if we erode the organizations that protect worker's rights and a path towards fair wages and working conditions?

We need to fight to protect those essential public services that provide for a quality standard of living and the true meaning of democracy.  We are in a serious struggle.  We need to fight to maintain and expand what makes our society a just democracy for all our citizens.

Update:  This blog post was published on the Daily Public website!