Fools & Tools

Listening to ATF president, Ellen Bernstein, or to the leadership clique around her (aka Team Rust) explain the historical arch of the 5/7 high school schedule fight, one might easily walk away thinking that rank and file members played no role in shaping the most current outcome. That outcome being that the district has apparently surrendered their ill-advised attempts to burden high school teachers with more work for less pay with the thieving and already failed 6/7 schedule. A schedule that amounts to what some might call a ‘speed-up’. Instead, union leadership prefers to spin a tale of successful “ongoing conversation” between negotiators on both sides of the table. Crafty negotiators indeed.

There’s a problem with this narrative though. While basking in the undue glow of success, union leadership seeks to erase the role that rank and file teachers and supporters played in pushing the district back on their threat of a 6/7 schedule. No mention of the letters, phone calls, news interviews, schoolhouse Q&A’s with BOE members (hot seat sessions), LTE’s, or protests and aggressive commentary at BOE meetings. None of it. It’s as if the actions taken by the rank and file never happened.

This is no accident. It’s an intentional move to erase the collective confrontational tactics preferred by a growing number of union members. Tactics that reflect the growing sense that applying direct pressure to decision-makers is the the most effective way to engage in the struggle and that union leadership’s business as usual playbook is not suited to the changing political terrain we find ourselves on.

This analysis gives leadership the benefit of the doubt regarding their political savvy as one should not make the error of underestimating a political opponent. It could be that leadership possesses the political skill to delegitimize the direct action of the rank and file in a desperate bid to maintain power and influence; but perhaps it is more likely that leadership is deluded enough to believe that district negotiators were persuaded to take the 6/7 schedule off the table because it was politely requested at the bargaining table. Not bloody likely! We know better. It was the threat of rank and file teachers upping the ante that was responsible for this victory.

We’d like to thank all rank and file members who played any role in these last few weeks of struggle, and encourage you to own this as your win. It’s through our collective efforts that we were once again able to secure the 5/7 HS schedule. The struggle to keep public schools open and adequately funded continues, and we must grow our movement to secure that right for every child. Let us work in solidarity with all our fellow educators at elementary, middle, and high school for funding, a living wage, adequate prep time and appropriate class sizes. Stand with us, and fight back!

Fed Rep Reflection #2

April 2017

The April Fed Rep meeting was unusual in that constituency meetings were cancelled and in their place was a presentation by ATF President Ellen Bernstein about the district’s budget crisis. Ellen’s presentation was being given at the same time as the Board of Education was having a special, closed-door meeting to discuss the budget. Much of what Ellen stated in her presentation was published in the Albuquerque Journal the following day. It seems that Ellen had great insight into the closed-door meeting and served as a mouthpiece for the district aiming to pacify fed reps about the financial catastrophe.

The Friday prior to fed rep council, two members of AlbuCORE met with Ellen to discuss the idea of the district using their cash reserves to cover the budget shortfall. In this meeting Ellen refused to give any information saying she would not give a ‘private tutorial’ and told us the idea of using the cash reserves was uninformed. When asked why the position was uniformed, Ellen stated “because I know more than you.” Ellen was completely unwilling to share any facts on the budget with dues paying members and was staunchly opposed to organizing any efforts to prevent teachers being saddled with more work for less pay. This is harmonious with Ellen’s cozy relationship with the district and her reluctance to push back on leadership as she clearly prioritizes her friendship with the superintendent and the BOE over the union membership.

The tone of Ellen’s presentation was defeated. Her words regarding the cuts were, “not if, but how much…”. The gist of the conversation was that we need to prepare for the inevitable injustice of more work for less pay. It is easy to accept wrongdoing when one is personally protected from the fallout. Regarding furloughs, she presented inaccurate information on salaries. She said that both level two and three teachers currently earn a wage that is $2000 more than the required state minimum. However, level one teachers make only the state minimum and thus, could not be furloughed. She used this logic to convince us that furlough days were impractical and unlikely. This was wrong and was corrected in a subsequent email stating that level one teachers are indeed over the state minimum and can be furloughed. This misinformation was an attempt to placate members by leading us to believe furloughs were not an option, when in fact, they absolutely are. We need accurate information from our president, not alternative facts that sow confusion and false hope.

As Ellen discussed the crisis and encouraged us to accept the devastation of our schools, she consistently placed blame on the governor. While this is certainly a factor, Ellen’s complete absolution of district leadership and the BOE is highly problematic and indicative of collusion at the top that does not serve the membership. The idea that the district has no accountability is absurd. The district should be fighting the state. The current trend in the ivory towers is to slam the PED and their policies, while then legitimizing them by implementing standardized tests, lending credence to school and district grades, rolling over on budget cuts and cowering in the face of idle threats from politicians. This two-faced approach is ghastly in its weakness and damages our schools and professions. Yet, this is the stance endorsed by our union leadership.

In AlbuCORE, we believe in something different. The union – the rank-and-file – needs to fight. We need to engage our struggle through direct and collective action to prevent policies that reek of corruption. It is unfortunate that our union leadership is content to sit back and watch while we suffer – but that should not hinder the rank-and-file in our battle to defend our schools and communities. One thing is certain, the blame for this crisis does not lay with teachers or students, and we should not be made to shoulder the burden as unethical politicians and leaders at all levels offer platitudes and rationalizations for their malfeasance and incompetence. We are under attack – let us stand, fight and win!

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Make ‘union’ a verb again

AlbuCORE caucus of ATF responds to proposed budget cuts.

Making ‘union’ a verb again

Below is Mary Kelly’s (AlbuCORE’s HS VP candidate) full comment to the APS Board of Education:

“I stand before you today as an educator facing more work and a significant cut to an already almost unlivable wage. I am disappointed with the board and district leadership. You sit complacent and point fingers at the governor while our public school system is destroyed. Yes, state governance is poor, but your refusal to defend the teachers and students of this district against the onslaught from the state appalls me. You have implemented expensive testing without protest and then criticized families for opting their students out because you are so concerned about the district grade. You legitimize the PED’s corruption. You have done nothing to fight against the slashing of our budget. We are the biggest district in the state, that should not make us a target as you claim, but the district with the most fight and largest capacity for impact. Your inaction is deplorable. You are elected representatives with an obligation to your constituents. Instead of rationalizing the devastation of our schools and telling us to call our legislators, step up and defend the people you supposedly serve.”

2017 ATF AlbuCORE VP Candidate bios

Stephen Carvlin-Miller for Elementary School VP

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I teach primary Special Education at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School. I serve on our school’s Instructional Council, and I am the Fed Rep at our school. I have been a union member since I began teaching.

Public education is going to be increasingly targeted in the coming years. We need to organize so we are ready to fight for what matters.

I think our primary focus as a union should be building and supporting our members. Our collective power is our greatest strength. Many teachers don’t join the union because they don’t know what it does for them. We need to dispel those doubts by mobilizing action against pay cuts and deteriorating working conditions. Likewise, our union needs to implement a sliding scale for dues and transparency around how our dues are used. Transparency is also needed in negotiations with the district. Negotiations should be open and involve all members. We can’t expect members to be involved if they don’t know what’s on the table. And again, our bargaining power is vastly greater when we are organized. In tandem with building our local’s density, we need to build bridges with teachers around the state. This will give us the power we need to defeat regressive measures that come from Santa Fe and reinstate the legal right to strike.

Ultimately, organizing requires active and engaged members and we won’t have active members until our organizing reflects the needs and diversity of our peers. Here’s my short list of concrete projects to kick this off:

  • Education on the negotiated contract for existing & new members
  • Participatory budgeting to allow union members to direct ATF spending
  • Direct union staff to help build organizing committees at school sites

The fight ahead is going to be daunting but the union makes us strong!

Heather Ailes for Middle School VP

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I teach ELA and AVID at Hayes, am the AVID coordinator, and have served as grade level dean and in other leadership positions, including our instructional council. I’m a local organizer for anti-racist work and I believe this is a vital area where our union can lead the way in creating stronger schools and communities. We needn’t wait for the district to educate ourselves about combating racism with our students or providing vibrant ethnic studies at all levels.

I will push our union to engage all members in actions, large and small, that build up our schools and our profession. I believe our union will grow in numbers and strength when we offer rank and file members a variety of ways to be involved and to make our voices heard.

As a union, our power ultimately lies in our ability to withhold our labor. Currently in New Mexico, a strike is an impossibility, but we need a union, and union leadership, willing to discuss other robust opportunities for asserting our power within the system. Rank and file teachers are the backbone of our district. We have a powerful voice and we need to be organized–and willing–to use it.

Mary Kelly for High School VP

20170302_175147.jpgMary has taught social studies at Albuquerque High School for eight years, serves as department chair and is currently a fed rep. She has worked to restore the democratic process in the instructional council and helped organize an AHS study and action group.

She recently participated in the successful letter writing campaign demanding that the Board of Education cover the budget shortfall using cash reserves rather than harm students and schools with furloughs and layoffs.

Students in the female empowerment club that Mary sponsors, Strong Women Strong World, presented their own letter to the Board. She has participated in evaluation burning and pickets and rallies supporting immigrant populations.

Mary firmly believes that our union should promote democracy, social justice, equity and positive working and learning conditions through direct and collective action.