WCAT to Endorse Candidates for AAPS Board Elections

Labor and community supporters of Ann Arbor Public Schools custodians, June 25 2014.

 

On Monday, July 28th, between 6 and 9pm, the WCAT will do half-hour interviews with candidates for the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education.   We will then issue our endorsements for the four positions that come open on November 4th and work to get the candidates we support elected.

The WCAT has agreed to serve as the organizational umbrella for a broad coalition of parents of school kids, teachers and tax payers who believe that the institution of our public schools is a sacred trust that we have inherited over many generations of struggle, and that the institution functions best when governance is shared among the administration, faculty, staff, parents, and community.

We also believe that there has been a sustained and systematic political and economic attack aimed at destabilizing and destroying our public institutions in recent years, especially our public schools, and that this has reached a crisis point for our students, our school families, and our regional community and economy.

Many of our members belong to organizations that have been actively organizing with allies statewide to change the makeup of the legislature and reverse short-sighted and damaging policies in Lansing.  These include the artificial and unnecessary crisis in public school funding, the expansion of poorly-regulated charter schools, and the failed experiment of the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), all of which are seriously failing our students and the larger community.

Our coalition is united in our strong belief that schools are not businesses, but rather the heart of our community.  We are particularly opposed to any further moves toward privatizing services in our schools, since evidence is clear that reliance on for-profit entities generally reduces the quality of services provided; changes the personal relationships between staff and the children, parents, and teachers; and harms the entire community by pushing more working families out of the middle class and into poverty and reinforcing policies that deepen social inequality.

While we fully acknowledge the challenges facing public institutions in Michigan today as we work to ease these challenges, we also believe that local units of government, including public school boards, are not without options in the meantime that can avoid or limit damage to our children, schools, and community.

At this crucial point in history, we believe we need public school board trustees who can demonstrate a clear understanding of several realities:
1.    The times call for creative, foresighted solutions that do no further damage to the larger community and to the hard-won fabric of our local public school systems.

2.    Such solutions today and into the future can win the support of a very broad, unified, and rapidly growing movement of which we see our labor and community based coalition, organized around the Washtenaw Community Action Team and the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, to be a key component, both in grassroots electoral action during the upcoming election and policy-based action in the coming years.

3.    The combination of such new solutions and the presence of this grassroots political base creates a new and powerful context for reversing the grave and unacceptable damage that some in our state and community have chosen to inflict on our public schools and by extension on our students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and the larger community.

WCAT Statement on Detroit Water Blockade

The Washtenaw Community Action Team (WCAT), a broad coalition of organized labor, faith and community groups, supports the people of Detroit in their pursuit of  affordable drinking water and sanitation in accord with the U.N.’s International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a covenant issued in 1977, during the administration of President Carter.  In WCAT’s view, the water cut-offs in the City of Detroit unfortunately reflect the deep racial divides and intractable economic and social inequality within the United States.

The burden of paying for city services has unfairly fallen onto the residents who have stayed within this economically depressed city, most of whom are African-American. These residents have seen water rates rise by 119 per cent within the last decade. With official, understated unemployment rates at a record high and the official, understated poverty rate at about 40 percent, Detroit water bills are not affordable to a significant portion of the population.

WCAT supports the basic human right of access to clean drinking water for all our neighbors.  We view the present water shut-offs by the City of Detroit as a violation of a basic human rights.

Follow-Up Meeting on AAPS Privatization Monday 7-7-14, 8 PM

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Privatization Working Groups established last Monday are meeting tonight, Monday 7-7-14 at 8pm at the LEO/GEO offices (339 E. Liberty, Suite 340).
We will meet together as a general assembly so that everyone hears the updates.  If there are questions of strategy that need discussion as a result of what we learn in these updates, we can deal with that next.  Then we can re-assemble into our working groups and work out the next steps for each group.

Follow-Up Meeting and Background on AAPS Custodians

Join labor and community members for a follow-up meeting to strategize next steps in fighting for Ann Arbor Public Schools custodians:

Monday, June 30th, 8:00 PM
LEO/GEO Office, 339 E. Liberty, Suite #340, Ann Arbor

Here are two documents that provide some background. The first letter outlines the process that has been followed up to now, including what has happened since the Wednesday press conference. The second document contains the current worker co-op proposal.

Letter Re AFSCME Proposal (PDF, 435 KB)

AFSCME Coop Proposal (PDF, 7.8 MB)

Great Turnout for Ann Arbor Public Schools Custodians

On Wednesday July 24, a substantial and diverse group of people — union, community and religious leaders and activists, and a number of candidates running in local and state elections — gathered in front of Ann Arbor’s downtown library to demonstrate our support for the AAPS custodial workers of AFSCME Local 1182. This photo, contributed by Adam Zemke, captures quite a few of us.

It was a great rally, followed by an even more spectacular School Board meeting. Public comment, followed by a direct action Mic Check, won us a meeting Thursday morning 6/25

Labor and community supporters of Ann Arbor Public Schools custodians, June 25 2014.

Union and community members supporting Ann Arbor Public Schools custodians on June 24, 2014. Photo by Adam Zemke.

. We’ll keep you posted as to what comes out of that meeting and what our next steps will be.

Press Conference: Response to Ann Arbor Public Schools Plan to Privatize Custodial Work

The majority of the Ann Arbor School Board surprised and shocked many by voting last week to end the long relationship with the custodial staff and their AFSCME union and instead hire a private company for those services. The decision was hasty and did not allow time for the workers to pursue their idea to form a worker coop that would save the District money and save the jobs of these important members of our school community.

On Friday, an ad hoc committee of union and community activists convened by the Huron Valley Central Labor Council met to assess new developments, talk through possible responses and work out the details. Our goals are to find ways to support the custodial workers, members of AFSCME Local 1182, limit the damage of privatization in this case and prevent others in the future.

This kind of privatization is not just a serious and unnecessary blow to the custodians, but also bad for the students and bad for the community.

We will hold a 6:30 pm press conference this Wednesday, June 25, just outside the Ann Arbor Downtown Library, 343 S 5th Ave, Ann Arbor, followed by a presence at the 7 pm School Board meeting upstairs. There will be brief statements from one of the custodial workers affected by the privatization, a parent, one of the developers of the worker co-op idea, a faith leader and a speaker from the Huron Valley Central Labor Council.

We ask that you set aside the 1.5 hours necessary to join us for the press conference and the first hour of the School Board meeting.

Please let us know if you will come by emailing e.ian.robinson at gmail.com. You can also join the Facebook event.

Challenging AAPS Custodial Privatization – Follow-Up Meeting

Activists from the Huron Valley Central Labor Council and the Washtenaw Community Action Team came together for a very successful meeting Monday night at the LEO/GEO offices. We now have a strategy for responding to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Administration’s effort to privatize custodial services.

We will be meeting again 7 PM this Friday June 20 at the LEO/GEO offices – Suite 340, 339 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor for updates on progress and additional planning.

Please join us if you want to be part of this important effort to defend the collective bargaining rights and living standards of hard working people in Ann Arbor.

Whether or not you can come to this Friday evening’s planning meeting at the LEO/GEO offices, please set aside time on Monday, June 23rd, between 3:30 and 4pm, for a possible action.

And please ask those who you know care about this issue to do the same! The precise nature of the action will be determined at our Friday planning meeting and announced shortly thereafter.

Questions? Contact Ian Robinson (e.ian.robinson at gmail.com)

Challenging AAPS Privatization — Strategy Meeting

Strategy Meeting for Challenging Ann Arbor Public Schools Privatization
MONDAY, June 16, 7pm
LEO/GEO offices, 339 E. Liberty, Suite 340, Ann Arbor

As some of you already know, on June 11, the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Board voted 5-2 to privatize its custodial services by signing a contract with GCA Services Group, a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group. Only Board members Baskett and Lightfoot voted against the deal.

The Board majority ignored the request that it delay its decision until it could evaluate an alternative proposal, under which current employees would form a worker cooperative and contract with the AAPS for the services that they previously supplied as AAPS employees.

This alternative was supported by the union that represents the affected custodial workers, AFSCME Local 1182, by AFSCME’s state-level Council 25, by AAEA, the union representing Ann Arbor’s public school teachers, by University of Michigan academics such as Roland Zullo, and by parents of public school children such as Rabindar Subbian.

If the Board majority’s decision is allowed to stand, these workers will lose their jobs on July 1. They may apply for jobs with GCA, but the company is under no obligation to give preference to the workers who do so. Even if they do get the work, they will face major pay cuts. Employer contributions to their retirement and their health care will also plummet.

Rejecting the creative response put forward by the union in favor of the same old same old neoliberal prescriptions is exactly the wrong direction for Ann Arbor’s public schools and the community they serve. We’ve been following this kind of misguided policy for almost 40 years now. The result: income is becoming more and more polarized throughout the country and — as we’ll show in a report to be released in August — Washtenaw County is no exception to this rule. Job insecurity is growing at the same time. The School Board’s decision will reinforce this negative trends.

It is clear that Republicans in Lansing want to privatize public education as a whole, and are using annual budget cuts as a weapon for pressuring School Boards across the state to move steadily in this direction. The fundamental problem is the balance of political power in Lansing (and Washington), not the School Board. But we need to hold the School Board accountable for failing to even seriously investigate a better option when it was presented to them. They did not need to behave this way. Lansing cannot be blamed for this failure. They are entitled to have doubts about the cooperative option, but in that case they did not need to decide the issues so precipitously. They could have taken an extra month to help develop and assess the coop option.

The union’s proposal does not pretend that sacrifice by workers can be avoided. Republicans in Lansing have been able to ensure that much. Even under the worker co-op plan, these workers will lose employer pension and health contributions because AAPS will no longer be their employer. That is where the savings to AAPS come from. But at least current employees will have the security of keeping their jobs, at current wage levels. And the community will know that any profits from this process will stay in the county, not disappear into the pockets of wealth out-of-state shareholders.

It is unacceptable that the Board’s majority should refuse to assess properly a serious alternative approach that promises to minimize the damage done by bad budget decisions in Lansing while also meeting the budget goals that the Board must achieve.

What can we – Ann Arbor’s taxpayers, parents, union members, and progressive activists — do about this? Plenty, I think. Possible responses include (1) one or more events designed to raise public consciousness about this bad decision and the alternative to it; (2) supporting up to four AAPS School Board members in the November 2014 elections; and (3) helping to develop and promote an alternative, worker and community-friendly vision of economic development in our region, to piggy-back on reports on growing poverty and inequality that will be released by the United Way and the Huron Valley Central Labor Council in August 2014.

You may well have additional and/or better ideas. Please bring yourself and your ideas to our strategy meeting at the LEO/GEO offices this Monday (June 16th) at 7pm! If you are interested in attending, please email Ian Robinson at e.ian.robinson at gmail.com to let him know. (Rabindar cannot come but he will phone in; if you are in the same situation, let me know!)

Volunteer for More Buses Campaign

The Michigan AFL-CIO is recruiting volunteers to reach out to union and Working America members between now and the May 6th vote on the millage increase to expand public transit in Washtenaw County. We want to make sure that YES side prevails. Here is the sign-up schedule:

PHONE BANKING
Tues (Apr 29), 6:30-9pm @ GEO/LEO offices
Thur (May 1), 6:30-9pm @ GEO/LEO offices
Sat (May 3), 2-4:30pm UAW Local 898 hall
Tues (May 6), three shifts @ IBEW Local 252 hall

NEIGHBORHOOD DOOR KNOCK
Sat (May 3), 10am-12:30pm & 1:30-4pm @ UAW Local 898
Sun (May4), 1:30-4pm @ UAW Local 898

To volunteer, please contact Ian Robinson (HVCLC President) at e.ian.robinson@gmail.com or Erin Butler (MI AFL-CIO Political Coordinator) at ebutler@miaflcio.org.

OFFICE LOCATIONS:
GEO/LEO — 339 E. Liberty St., Suite 340, Ann Arbor.
UAW Local 898 — 8975 Textile Rd., Ypsilanti.
IBEW Local 252 — 7920 Jackson Rd., Ann Arbor.