Tag Archives: Nicholas Kristof

Two-Tiered Teacher Pay and Anti-Unionism Are Charter School Issues

Teachers in the Streets

New Orleans  In the wake of the Chicago teachers’ strike there is a lot of talk about the real issues provoking the strike.  The Times seems them as trivial.  There’s a lot of ink pitting it as a personality problem between the prickly and notoriously difficult Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the every bit his equal, Linda Davis, the new head of the AFT Chicago affiliate.  Nicholas Kristof, who can always be counted on to hit precisely the wrong note, claims he would be fine with the strike if it were about money, but not having a clue what the strike is really about, opines that he doesn’t like it.  What the heck is going on here?!?

I won’t pretend to know any more than the average bear, but if this strike isn’t about “charterizing” the public school system and thereby creating a two-tier wage system, and an expanding unaccountable, privatized and potentially volcanic mass of not simply non-union, but in fact decidedly anti-union subcontractors, then it should be. What is hard to understand?  These are classic worker issues that have been at the heart to hundreds of strikes.

If an employer – any employer – insists on a two-tiered wage structure where senior workers, even if red-circled with protections against reductions in pay and benefits is forced to permanently co-exist with other workers doing the same jobs who are paid substantially less, then, brothers and sisters, this is a huge, big-time issue that will either end up pushing all of the wages to the bottom and all of the senior workers out or end up in a battle royal.  In the largest charter school operation in the country in New Orleans this is part of why more than 5000 school teachers and other workers were fired, and many senior teachers were not rehired and are still trying to get home from Houston and Atlanta after Katrina.  Is this happening in Chicago?  You bet your bippy!  Motoko Rich in the Times today (maybe Kristof could read his factual reporting before running his mouth?) notes that “experienced teachers at [Chicago] charter schools make about $15,000 to $30,000 less than their counterparts at traditional schools, where the average salary is $75,000.”  So if Kristof wants to claim he would be OK with a strike to raise the $75,000 to something higher, but not when things like charters and school structure are an issue, he’s not just naïve, he’s lying.  Furthermore, he’s alone.

Keep in mind the other fact offered by Rich in his piece.  While 350,000 children are out of school because their teachers are on strike, “about 50,000 who attend the city’s 96 charters went to class as usual.”  Ok, that’s only 12.5% of the students and therefore about the same number of teachers who are de facto scabbing the strike, so that’s not enough to put a stake in the AFT’s heart, but it’s a bleeding bruise that will be noticed, and no one will miss the fact that in preparing for “the next time” the Mayor and the school’s management will want to make sure that percentage is higher.

This growing non-union, and, frankly from reading a lot of their public comments in New Orleans and other cities, anti-union, bunch of charter operators is a vexing and annoying problem for any union and its senior and stable workforce.  They do not have the same set of governance and accountability mechanisms in charters, but they get to pop off 24/7 about how much they are “different,” “better,” “non-traditional,” and so forth.  They are also often, if Chicago is anything like New Orleans, also operating “whiter” and “richer” and using short time enthusiastic but inexperienced union-diluters like Teach for America and others to push down wages and benefits and guarantee turnover.

How many strikes have autoworkers, machinists, steelworkers, and other unions fought over subcontracting?  Thousands!  Charters are private subcontractors of public work.  How can anyone not understand that to be anything other than a huge labor and union issue?  From a public policy and labor relations standpoint what you want in these situation is a bargaining regime where workers are not in competition but management is.  In other words a charter or a subcontract would be issued that protects the workers (teachers) wages and benefits, but determines whether a different management (teaching) philosophy might produce different or even better results.  None of this is happening!  The charters are getting the same per pupil dollars but are taking their profit in many cases out of the pay envelopes of their workers.  How else can $15,000 to $30,000 wage differentials be explained, Nick?

If the charterization process were really about education and handled in any good faith, the teachers and support staff would continue to be union and there would be real measurements and analysis to determine in apples versus apples comparisons where the children benefited, where lessons were learned, and where best practices where being created.  There is no pretense in Chicago, New Orleans, or any other city to establish that that is happening.  This is about “any port in the storm” management trying to deflect pressure on their operations which haven’t delivered to anyone for a long time.  It’s about blaming the victims (they are poor, they are black, they speak different languages) and refusing to recognize the warriors who are in there trying to make a difference.  When we send firefighters into the fire to save lives, we know respect should be given along with wages and benefits.  Why are we blindly not recognizing that teachers are trying to ignite and direct the same fires in children’s minds against terrible odds, and as we look at the pushdown of wages, the construction of non-union and anti-union bulwarks in the charters, and blatant subcontracting of public functions and accountability, how can we not support teachers and their unions from fighting to put an end to this.  Before it’s too late!


Apple, Times, and Others Advocating for Sweatshops

New Orleans   As improbable as it may sound; sweatshops seem to have a lot of high placed advocates who simply swear by them.  Yes, sweatshops!

In the recent deification of Apple and its co-founder Steven Jobs, there has been unstinting praise for Apple and its high priced, sleek products as a great American success story.  The credible allegations and proofs of how much of Apple’s manufacturing operation rested on the backs of sweatshop labor, particularly at huge manufacturers like FoxConn, were sometimes mentioned in passing, but largely swept under the rug.  Not surprisingly a front page article on the death and demise of American manufacturing featuring both Jobs and Apple prominently also tried to bury the sweatshop reality on which so much of this manufacturing “miracle” exists in a few paragraphs of the very long story.

The reporter and others marveled at how on a whim 8000 workers could be pulled out of bed in company owned and run dormitories and put to work on a last minute changeover.  Wow, the article and others seemed to say, that couldn’t happen here in America.

Well, that’s wrong.  It could happened here in America, but Apple would have to pay for it, and that’s still the real difference.

One fool asked where you could find some thousands of workers in the United States, who would be ready to roll to work.  Hey, just about anywhere, jerkwater!  Has word of the recession gotten to none of these folks?

Even in the pages of the New York Times, if they were interested they can read about the skilled workers by the thousands that have trucked themselves into North Dakota (of all places!) to live in, yes, bunks, trailers, and all manner of man-caves in order to work in the oil industry on the plains.  But, whoops, once again, I should add that they are doing so, because they get paid, and paid pretty damned well to do so!  We saw thousands of workers flood into New Orleans to help on the recovery, but once again they did so on their own dime, because they thought they could make a dollar.  In all of these cases these are workers with crazy, mad skills, too.

The article seemed to say Apple employed 700,000 workers in manufacturing around the world, oh, and 40,000 or so in the USA.  Their spokesperson wanted to make sure all of us knew that the American economy is not “their problem.”  Their problem is only “making a good product.”  Life and business is not that simple, and the responsibilities go much deeper.

This seems to be a problem throughout much of the Times.  Nicholas Kristof did a column that I had to read because it was about Olly Neal from Arkansas, who I had worked with in the 1970’s when he was running the Lee County Clinic.  Posting the article, more than one of my buddies reminded me how they too had to hold their noses to read anything Kristof wrote because he is such a relentless apologist for sweatshops.

Good news that we are really talking about manufacturing.  Bad news that the ideology underpinning the conversation is that there can only be manufacturing at the expense of workers’ rights and wages in sweatshop conditions.

Shame on Apple, the Times, and the rest of the tribe that makes these rationalizations!