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CEA County Forums Bring Members Up to Speed, Stress Need to Stand Together
Bolton teacher Dan Ayer says his colleagues in other states haven't fared as well as teachers in Connecticut, where the union is strong.
January 25, 2018
Teachers across Connecticut are coming out to their local CEA County Forums to stay on top of new threats to their profession and public education—and to learn how they can protect themselves.
Top among those threats is a court case that aims to weaken teachers' ability to collectively bargain for fair salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Janus vs. AFSCME, which will be decided in the coming months, is nearly identical to the Friedrichs case that teachers faced in 2016, said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. Janus would do away with fair share fees, allowing those who do not pay dues to still benefit from the union's efforts, all in an attempt to weaken unions and mute teachers' collective voice.
At this week's forums, held so far in Hartford, Middlesex, New London, and Windham counties, Williams explained what's at stake in Janus (collective bargaining and all the rights and benefits that come with it), who's behind it (so-called corporate 'reformers' and profiteers—think the people who brought us Betsy DeVos), and what teachers can do now to ensure that their union stays strong (stay engaged and make sure your colleagues do too). In his "State of the Union" presentation, Williams included a question-and-answer period, where teachers voiced
their ideas and concerns.
"I think belonging to the union is invaluable," said Bolton music teacher Dan Ayer at the Hartford County Forum on Monday. "Whatever we can do collectively will empower us to maintain fair working conditions and not to lose jobs. I would tell any teacher who is unsure about the value of union membership that we're the ones who are fighting for your salary, your insurance, and your benefits. The union is fighting every unfair thing thrust upon you. I have friends in North Carolina who do not have the kind of strong union you see here, and I realize how very fortunate we are in Connecticut."
Enfield teachers Ann-Lynn Moffett, Michele Wilcox, and Delores Weir mingled with their Vernon colleagues at
the CEA Hartford County Forum.
Alan Trotochaud, a chemistry teacher at E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield and the treasurer for the Norwich Teachers League, added, "The value of the union is that there are lobbyists for the other guys, and we need our lobbyists too. If we don't have a voice at the Capitol, the union-busting side will. So many people today don't understand the function and importance of unions,
specially newer teachers who are understandably focused on their immediate needs and don't know how unions have laid the groundwork for the positive working conditions we have today. The fact that Janus could take that away is disconcerting."
Williams and CEA President Sheila Cohen warned of the impending attacks on teachers unions by groups that often masquerade as friends of teachers or advocates for education—groups that try to convince educators that they don't need their unions.
"Connecticut is in the eye of the hurricane," Cohen cautioned.
She described, among other groups, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), through which corporations hand lawmakers model legislation that benefits their business interests—often to the detriment of students, teachers, and public schools.
"Think about Wisconsin," Cohen said, referring to a state where teachers' rights and public education were severely eroded. "You can thank ALEC for that. Think about Michigan; you can thank ALEC for that. Think about Betsy DeVos. You can thank ALEC for that."
At the Middlesex/New London County Forum, Cromwell teacher Andrea Middlebrooks listened intently to a presentation by CEA Executive Director Donald Williams on the potential timeline and impact of Janus. She is urging her fellow CEA members to stand strong together. "The time is now," she says.
At the combined Middlesex/New London County Forum held on Tuesday, Madison teacher and building rep Danielle Fragoso described her colleagues as "impassioned" about their union. "We all see the value of our union. But we also know there is a need to share that information with others. If you don't get out and talk to people, they won't necessarily understand. It's so important to keep our members abreast of what's going on not just in your building but in your district and beyond. That's how the dialogue starts. That's how it continues. That's how we stay connected."
"The time is now," added Cromwell eighth-grade science teacher Andrea Middlebrooks. "Go to your local CEA County Forum. It's so critical, so crucial to come together. We don't want to end up like Arizona. We don't want to end up like Wisconsin, with no representation, with a weakened union. We are professionals and need to be treated as such. We have to rally and show who we are, as teachers, as CEA."
Teachers are a selfless group who choose their profession because of a love for children and teaching, not for any expectation of accolades or honors. And that makes those times teachers are recognized and have a chance to be in the spotlight all the more special.
Once again, the Connecticut Education Foundation's Board of Directors invites you to support the Children's Fund by joining Association members and CEA staff at the 25th Annual Hands Across the Green Golf Tournament on Monday, July 15.
Teachers have a lot to say on issues from their pensions to classroom safety this legislative session, which is why local associations around Connecticut are meeting with their legislators and making their voices heard.
Speaking to hundreds of students at Harding High School in Bridgeport today, Governor Ned Lamont encouraged his audience to pursue a career in teaching and be role models for the next generation of students.
Wearing #RedForEd T-shirts, several hundred Waterbury teachers showed their strength as a union, their dedication to their profession, and their value to the community they serve when they packed a March 7 Waterbury Board of Education meeting.
Community schools, minority teacher recruitment and retention, the opportunity gap, and school literacy were just some of the issues members of the legislature's Education Committee heard public input.
"Our students would only benefit from having more opportunities to learn about the culture, struggles, and contributions of African-Americans and Latinos throughout history," Waterbury teacher Sean Mosley told the legislature's Education Committee
"Teachers become teachers because we want to help kids," says Danbury building rep Lori Woodruff. "It's the same with our union—we are here to help each other. As teachers, when we're involved with the union we can do more to help one another."
Connecticut Education Foundation's (CEF) second annual Read Across America Reading Bus Tour kicked off on February 25, featuring a customized blue bus decorated with well-known Dr. Seuss characters and outfitted with bookshelves, benches, carpeting, and hundreds of new books.
At a public hearing of the legislature's Education Committee today, classroom teachers—along with CEA leaders and staff—gave powerful testimony urging lawmakers to address the crisis of violent student behavior in rural, urban, and suburban schools throughout the state.
Teachers, CEA leaders, and staff testified before the Connecticut General Assembly's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on issues critical to teachers this legislative session. These issues included school climate, classroom safety, the persistent shortage of ethnic minority educators, and funding for public schools.
CEA supports sensible ways of assisting the state in its efforts to make up for decades of underfunding teachers' retirement, including the governor and treasurer's plan to smooth out the state's payments to the fund over a longer period of time and lower the investment earning assumption to a more realistic rate.
"We reject the idea of cutting our way to prosperity. That has never worked," said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano. His remarks came at a press conference yesterday where members of the labor community, including CEA, called on the state to adopt a pro-growth, investment budget.
Project Oceanology and New England Science and Sailing are partnering to offer "Sound Education: Working with NGSS and STEM in Long Island Sound". This is a FREE two-day PD event from April 5 - April 6 for teachers in grades 4-12, with overnight accommodations provided in Project Oceanology's waterfront hostel.
Legislation passed late in 2015 made many "tax extenders" semi-permanent, but there are still a few esoteric items that keep everyone on tenterhooks when, as once again this year, Congress fails to pass the tax bill by the end of the year.
Marks the inauguration of a new governor and the beginning of the 2019 session of the Connecticut General Assembly. It's likely to be a busy session with many issues for legislators to tackle over these next five months.