Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Posts Tagged ‘unions

A Teacher’s Story

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A friend who is a teacher told me his story after I shared my last post, and I asked if he minded if I shared it. He agreed, so here it is. As I said before, testing is only part of all this. It’s important to understand it in light of the issues discussed in my earlier post.

I teach elementary school in a socioeconomically diverse district in Northern California. Like many states, California is preparing to unveil new online state tests to assess the mastery of the new Common Core State Standards. In the upcoming months, California students will take part in the new online testing. In a wise decision, California has decided to use the 2013-2014 school year as a trial run for the new tests. Individual scores will not be reported to students or their families. Instead, the state will use the massive amount of collected data to assess the new assessments by weeding out poorly designed questions, examining technological difficulties, and by discovering areas of learning that teachers will need to focus on in the coming years. California chose to make this a trial year for the new testing despite threats of reduced federal education dollars made by the US Department of Education. Unfortunately, my district did not make nearly as sensible decisions this year.

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Written by David Kaib

March 12, 2014 at 11:40 pm

Who Will Push Back? Without Strong Democratic Teachers’ Unions, We’re All Screwed

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Kindergartner students in the deep blue state of Massachusetts are being shamed by publicly posting their test scores. Here’s Sarah Jaffe reporting on “data walls”:

Last year, K-12 teachers in the Holyoke, Massachusetts school district were told to try a new tactic to improve test scores: posting “data walls” in their classrooms. The walls list students by name and rank them by their scores on standardized tests. This, they say administrators told them, would motivate children to try harder on those tests.

Teachers did so, many unwillingly. Agustin Morales, an English teacher at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School in Holyoke felt pressure to comply, but finds the data walls cruel. One of his top students did poorly on a standardized test in November and found her name at the bottom of the data wall. Afterward, in a writing assignment for class, she “wrote about how sad she was, how depressed she was because she’d scored negatively on it, she felt stupid.”

“So why do I hate data walls?” he continued. “Because of how she felt that day. She felt worthless. She felt like she wasn’t as good as other people.”

Morales isn’t alone in opposing the data walls. They’re widely seen as just the latest front in a war being fought by educators, parents and students nationwide against what teacher educator Barbara Madeloni calls “predatory education reform.”

Earlier, Jaffe wrote about the difficulties of kindergartners given standardized tests  in New York , which “pit children against one another instead of teaching them to share, which can turn even a kindergarten classroom into a den of hyper-individualistic bootstrappers.”  And indeed, like the data wall and the shaming it facilities, “This is a feature, not a bug, of the testing regime.”

These sort of stories should not be dismissed as outliers.  They are part of the same drive to relentlessly rate the relative merits of students, teachers, and schools, to place them in competition with one another, to address education problems by mass firings of teachers or mass closure of schools, to devalue the contributions of experienced teachers as well as traditional (or more accurately, real) public schools.

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Written by David Kaib

March 11, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Deep in the Heart of Texas: The AFL-CIO Looks South

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Josh Eidelson has a piece about the AFL-CIO “exploring new investments in alternative labor organizing and a multi-union effort to transform Texas.”  And that is good news.  While there has been so much talk about the possibility of a major electoral shift in Texas, there hasn’t been much talk about an opening for labor.  But I agree, based on what I can see from here, and what I’ve heard from those on the ground, that Texas could be an opportunity if the resources were there and an aggressive multi-union strategy.  And that appears to be what we’re talking about here: “Becker also told The Nation that the AFL-CIO plans to support an ambitious multi-union effort to organize in Texas.” That’s AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, whose leading the “Initiative on the Future of Worker Representation” to come up with ideas to be discussed at the federation’s convention.

There is also talk of increasing support for alt-labor groups, along the lines of OUR Wall Mart or Working America.

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Written by David Kaib

August 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Culpability and Change: The Bangladesh Disaster (Again)

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[Update: Jerry Davis had a longer piece on this issue at Yale Global Online.]

Jerry Davis objects to my post, accusing me of misreading him because I didn’t read him (allegedly).  “I would not summarize my argument as ‘Blame the consumers,’ and tried to be careful not to phrase it this way.” I gather part of the complaint is that ‘blame the consumers’ implies it is solely their fault, whereas (at points) Davis is clear blame is shared. Fair enough.

Let’s start with the original post.

Blame quickly extended from the owners of the building and the factories it contained, to the government of Bangladesh, to the retailers who sold the clothing. But the culpability extends all the way down the supply chain — to us.

Our willingness to buy garments sewn under dangerous conditions, chocolate made from cocoa picked by captive children, or cellphones and laptops containing “conflict minerals” from Congo create the demand that underwrites these tragedies.

I’ll concede he doesn’t actual apply the word blame to consumers – he used culpability (seemingly  as a synonym for blame, which is used at the beginning of the sentence, but let’s leave that aside).  Where does our culpability come from?  “Our willingness” (a phrase I already quoted) to buy such goods. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by David Kaib

May 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Forbath on the Distributive Constitution

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Progressives have forgotten how to think about the constitutional dimensions of economic life. Work, livelihood, and opportunity; material security and  insecurity; poverty and dependency; union organizing, collective bargaining, and workplace democracy: for generations of American reformers, the  constitutional importance of these subjects was self-evident. Laissez-faire, unchecked corporate power, and the deprivations and inequalities they bred were  not just bad public policy—they were constitutional infirmities.  Today, with the exception of employment discrimination, such concerns have vanished from progressives’ constitutional landscape.

That has to change.

Today, Matt Dimick called attention Williams Forbath’s piece in Dissent, “Workers’ Rights and the Distributive Constitution” which opens with the above quote. It makes a good follow up to my last post on the role of money in putting deeply unpopular Social Security cuts on the agenda, or more simply, the power of the donor class. Forbath notes that conservatives use constitutional language to advance their agenda, while progressives often respond defensively.  But Forbath calls for progressives to recapture a constitutional tradition that would insist that government has not only the power but the duty to push back against the conservative assault on the New Deal and Great Society.

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Written by David Kaib

April 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm

What to Do About Jack Lew

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Rob Nabors, Barack Obama, and Jack Lew

By Official White House Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a really interesting discussion going on that started on Twitter, and has since moved to the blogs, sparked by Josh Eidelson’s excellent piece on accusations of union busting against current White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew.

Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.

Reached over email, Andrew Ross, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, charged that “the administration followed every page of the union-busting playbook, as instructed by the anti-union lawyers retained for that purpose.” Ross, a co-editor of the anthology “The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace,” wrote that despite broad faculty and community support for the union, “students on the picket line were threatened with expulsion. There was no indication that Lew, as a senior member of the team who executed this policy, disagreed with any of these practices. To all appearances, he was a willing, and loyal, executor of decisions that trampled all over the students’ democratic right to organize.”

[snip]

By the time Jack Lew left his post as NYU COO to become COO of Citigroup Wealth Management, the six-month strike was over, and the union had lost.

When we talked last year – soon after Obama had promoted Lew from his OMB director to his chief of staff — Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein told me that Lew had acted as “the point person” in “representing management’s position” against GSOC.

Josh’s piece generated some attention, leading Elias Isquith to question whether the Treasury Secretary has anything to do with labor unions. Shawn Gude and Erik Loomis both have responses that I largely agree with. But I wanted to add a couple of thoughts that relate to some of the themes I’ve been talking about here.
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Written by David Kaib

January 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Top Five Posts That You Did Read: 2012

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Here are your top five posts from the last year, based solely on page views. The biggest thing driving traffic – one or two people who have a bigger megaphone than me passing it along.  (My thanks to those people).  Was there anything else they shared in common? Let’s take a look.

Also, don’t miss Top Five Posts that No One Read: 2012.

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What Would a Real ‘Right to Work’ Look Like?

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I just asked this question on Twitter, and realized I wasn’t going to be able to explain it  in 140 characters.  So I thought I’d elaborate here. First, the question:

There has been a lot of talk about how we need to reframe the horribly inaptly named “right to work” laws, which essentially require unions to represent workers who refuse to join or otherwise support the union in any way.  Since no one is ever required to join a union, this whole framing in nonsense, a cover for a policy designed to weaken unions that can’t be defended on the merits.

‘Right to work for less’ is a common one, but it is fairly clunky.  I like the idea of ‘loafer laws’ or even better, ‘freeloader laws’ (that one is from Matt Bruenig) which emphasize the free rider problem here.  I also like ‘no rights at work’ law.  Regardless, the question I’m asking is a different one.

What would a real right to work look like?  Instead of reframing the right-wing policy with a different name, we could attach a different policy to the name (in fact we could and probably should do both).  Rhetorically, we’d respond to the call for a ‘right to work’ by saying, ‘absolutely we need a real right to work, which would mean X’  There are, as I see it, two options.

The first is the one I mentioned in my tweet – just cause employment laws.  These laws, which presently exist only in Montana, require employers to have a legitimate reason before firing an employee.  This is opposed to at will employment, where employers can fire for any reason or even no reason, as long as they don’t run afoul of various anti-discrimination laws. (It’s worth pointing out that because outside of these laws employers can fire at will, enforcing such anti-discrimination laws is more difficult). In essence, such laws ensure a basic level of due process, and reduce the arbitrary authority of employers while leaving intact legitimate authority.

Another way to reframe right to work would be a federal guarantee of a job, along the lines that Sandy Darity has proposed.  “His National Investment Employment Corps does that, he says, by creating real jobs that pay a minimum of $20,000 a year and $10,000 in benefits, including medical coverage and retirement savings,” along the lines of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. This is a quite literal ‘right to work.’

Does that make sense? And if so, what do you think?

[Update] Richard Yeselson was tweeting about the first question, and offered “right to shirk.” I like that.

Written by David Kaib

December 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Just Cause Employment as Labor Law Reform

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I’ve expressed skepticism about the possibility of federal labor law reform, the white whale of organized labor.  Instead, I’ve suggested two alternate routes–first, the use of executive orders or other presidential policies to advance labor rights, and second, state level reforms.  Obviously, any effort needs to find a way to make a case that goes beyond ‘this will be good for unions’.  This is true even through non-union workers and society as a whole benefits from strong unions.

At Just Cause Reform (h/t Corey Robin), Rand Wilson offers a suggestion that meets that criteria and can be pursued at multiple levels–meaning it would not depend on getting a bill through the Senate.

What’s left to achieve that might inspire all workers—union and non-union alike?

“Employment security” could be the remaining frontier. A campaign to pass state laws requiring “just cause” before a worker is fired could also spur union growth, since one of the top reasons workers are afraid of organizing is the knowledge they are likely to be terminated.

Our existing laws have not diminished workers’ fears because the procedures are too uncertain and lengthy (two to three years at the Labor Board and another two years in the courts) to provide any assurance. Winning state “just cause” laws that allow cases to be decided quickly by arbitrators might give workers more confidence.

On the face of it, this proposal seems far more plausible then the alternatives.

Winning “just cause” legislation will certainly not be easy. But building a movement on a similar scale to the effort put behind EFCA would offer union activists an opportunity to champion an issue that would benefit all workers and also help union growth.

A “just cause” campaign could potentially engage working people at many levels. Short of state or federal legislation, local unions, central labor councils, and worker centers could seek to enforce a just cause standard through workers’ rights boards and community pressure.

I don’t see this as a magic bullet.  But in terms of finding a way to turn back the tide, both for union rights (and density) and employee rights in general, this holds a lot of promise. I was drawn to the idea of just cause employment before, but thinking about it as labor law reform makes it even more appealing.

Written by David Kaib

November 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Blog Imperialism

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Here’s a post of mine that got picked up by the excellent pro-union blog Talking Union.  Check it out.

Written by David Kaib

November 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm

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