Friday, September 14, 2012

CWA Stands With The Chicago Teachers Union

CWA supports the fight by Chicago teachers, members of the AFT, for a fair contract and a voice in the classroom. Sign this petition to send that message to The Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Here's what CWA President Larry Cohen said:

It's time to confront elected officials who try to divide working women and men. Chicago's Mayor should heed the words of President Obama, who in his Labor Day proclamation just a few days ago said, "I am committed to preserving the collective bargaining rights that helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known. It is the fundamental right of every American to have a voice on the job, and a chance to negotiate for fair pay, safe working conditions, and a secure retirement. When we uphold these basic principles, our middle class grows and everybody prospers."

Whether in the public or private sectors, whether we are union or not, working men and women need to defend those rights as we did in Wisconsin and across the nation over the past 18 months.

The Chicago teachers are more than willing to support reform but this cannot include class sizes of more than 40 students, almost total reliance in evaluating teachers on test scores, and scapegoating teachers and other educational staff for much bigger problems.

Quality public education is critical in every 21st century democracy and all of us need to stand up and fight back. 

NewsGuild-CWA President Bernie Lunzer writes that there's no merit in merit pay systems.

"With the Chicago teachers on strike, we’re going to be hearing a lot more about “incentivized” compensation – you know, a merit pay system that demands that you “earn” your raise.

Why is “earn” in quotes? Because the problem with merit-pay schemes is that they are subjective: Does your boss like you or not? The best and brightest workers may – or just as likely may not -- be the best paid.

In bargaining contracts for nearly 80 years, NewsGuild-CWA has always allowed employers to pay more than the minimums we negotiate. If it means keeping a popular columnist or reporter, publishers often loosen the otherwise firm grip on their wallets.

Our concern isn’t the maximum that publishers are willing to pay, it’s the minimum wages and salaries that our contracts set for the majority of workers in a given organization. Those minimums must respect the value of the work our members do.

The same is true of teachers. In fact, we have often compared our professional wages to what teachers earn.

So we can imagine how teachers feel when they’re being told that their financial security could be at the whim of a merit-pay system.

Based on my experience professionally and personally, I can honestly say I’ve never met a merit pay system that worked as it was billed. In most cases managers either don’t do proper reviews, or use skewed criteria. The result is the same – the people hired most recently by current managers, and longer-time favorite employees do well. Older workers, those whom managers have inherited and don’t like, suffer.

What’s most troubling is that these systems are supposed to be based on objective criteria. In a creative environment like a newsroom, that is almost impossible. Writing is a very subjective matter. Some folks have excelled at cranking out a number of quick stories per day, while others focus on longer-term pieces based on research, relationships and investigation. Some are tremendous reporters but less skilled writers who require more editing.

Teaching is subjective, too, no matter how determined administrators and school boards are to tie teachers’ salaries to their students’ standardized test scores. The fact is, student outcomes are based on many things, only some of which are within a teacher’s control.

It’s too simple to say, the better the teacher, the better the students. Some students need far more help than others. When teachers’ financial security is at stake, do they focus on the neediest at the expense of students more likely to score well on standardized tests? The point is, no teacher should have to make that decision.

Unfortunately, merit pay is just the first round for the blame-the-teachers crowd. Their main target is tenure, taking away teachers’ job security. Our teachers are already under enormous stress, and without tenure I have no doubt that we’d lose many teachers – and I don’t mean because bad teachers would be fired. I mean good teachers, already fed up with teaching to the test, would say “Enough!” and leave on their own.

NewsGuild-CWA pursues job security language in our contracts. It allows our members to concentrate on the work they love without worrying that they could lose their job at any moment. I know of no situation where our contract language has inhibited a good manager’s ability to deal with a worker who has shortcomings. Yes, you can even fire people when you clearly make your case using the standard of “just cause.” We don’t protect incompetent workers and never have. We do protect workers from lazy managers who want to play God by firing someone indiscriminately.

That’s the kind of unfair system that teachers are fighting against. It troubles me that good people who should know better – even some of our own members – think that making things less fair for teachers will make things better for students.

It’s time for parents, teachers, administrators and their larger communities to come together in search of real solutions for children’s education. Putting ever-more pressure on teachers and blaming their union are not the answers."

Bernie Lunzer
President, NewsGuild-CWA

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