Thursday, June 16, 2016

Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good’

Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good’:

Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good’

Unions across the country are expanding their focus to the broader community.

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Teachers at West Seattle Elementary School begin walking a picket line Wednesday morning, September 9, 2015, in Seattle after last-minute negotiations over wages and other issues failed to avert a strike in Washington state's largest school district. 

This week, the Los Angeles school board voted to approve a new bargaining agreement with UTLA, the city’s teachers union. Local community organizations—like Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, InnerCity Struggle, and the Advancement Project—hailed the “groundbreaking” agreement for directing more resources towards students in high-needs schools. Some specific items UTLA bargained for included hiring a Pupil Services and Attendance counselor for high-poverty high schools, and hiring a new teacher for the 55 most needy elementary schools in order to reduce class size. Union members voted overwhelmingly in support of this new contract a week earlier.
“We commend UTLA’s innovative leadership in leveraging its bargaining power to deliver real and impactful investments for low income communities of color,” said John Kim, the Advancement Project’s executive director, in a statement.
UTLA’s president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, said in an interview that his union sees collective bargaining as an important tool available to fight for equity and justice. “A lot of people consider teacher union contract negotiations to be about narrower issues like salaries, benefits, and work rules—and all of those are important and we deal with those—but we’re using these agreements to expand what the union goes to the table for.” Caputo-Pearl says UTLA can ultimately be a vehicle to push for collaborative policy alongside community organizations. “We’re bargaining for the common good,” he declared.
This idea of “bargaining for the common good”—and working in partnership with local allies—is not a new idea for labor unions, but its potential has never been fully realized, and past efforts have not gone deep enough. One major obstacle has been that labor law tries to limit unions to bargaining just over issues of wages and benefits.
“Unions have been significantly hobbled by the legal regime, and a lack of imagination to challenge it,” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime labor organizer.
But now, partly because of the historic action the Chicago Teachers Union took in 2012, when its members went on strike not just for themselves, but also for increased public services for the broader community, more and more unions have started to reconsider their fundamental roles and responsibilities. By expanding their bargaining demands beyond wages and benefits, unions are recognizing that they can more fully support, and engage their community partners—and get those community groups to support them in return.
“I think there’s a growing feeling that if you operate within the confines of the law, you restrict the things that potentially give you power,” says Lerner. “We have to be willing to go beyond what the law allows.”
In 2014, leaders from public sector unions and community organizations gathered Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good’:



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