The term “strike” means any strike or other concerted stoppage of work or slowdown by public employees.
As the flames of democratic revolution spread across the Middle East, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Bahrain the forces of the far right seem to be seizing control across the Atlantic in the good old USA.
The billionaire Koch brothers are fueling the push to eliminate collective bargaining for public employee unions in Wisconsin. Republican governors and legislatures in Ohio and Indiana are following suit.
Too many workers, union and non-union, voted the Republican ticket and bought into the budget-cutting fever. Rather than demanding the benefits of unionized workers they supported stripping workers of benefits and bargaining rights.
In New York City the battle lines have been drawn, the Mayor has chosen unions, particularly the teachers union layoff seniority rights as the battleground.
As Fred Siegal and Sol Stern recount in the March issue of Commentary the masterful building of a mayoral legacy is fraying.
In his first two terms Bloomberg and teacher union president Randi Weingarten had a complex, special relationship that benefited both. Mayoral control in the first year and the renewal of the law in 2009 placed the school system in the domain of the Mayor coupled with a 43% increase in teacher salaries as well as pension improvements.
The Mayor and Michael Mulgrew, the new union president seemed to be continuing the relationship. A charter school expansion law and a performance-based teacher evaluation law resulted in $700 million in Race to the Top dollars and an agreement to end rubber rooms and speed up the discipline process followed.
The past is the past and the Mayor has chosen to confront the union, he has thrown down the gauntlet.
A new, complex bill establishing categories of teachers to be laid off, starting with U-rated teachers was introduced by John Flanagan the Republican leader of the Senate Education Committee. (see full text here)
Flanagan, endorsed by NYSUT, the State teacher organization has been strongly supportive of teachers, however, the UFT opposed and defeated a 30 year Republican incumbent, but, the Democrats failed to gain control of the Senate. In the world of politics winning and losing have consequences.
In his February 17th 2012 budget speech the Mayor presaged 4,666 teacher layoffs. The Governor shot back that teacher layoffs were not necessary.
The clock ticks.
The State budget will probably be on time, about April 1, the City budget is due by June 30.
Whether or not the State and City budgets will require layoffs is totally in the hands of the Mayor.
Will the threat of layoffs result in the legislature and the Governor accepting the Bloomberg teacher layoff plan?
Is there room for “a deal,” some change in the “last in, first out” law in exchange for a no layoff pledge?
If the Mayor loses in Albany will he “punish” the union (and the City) by laying off thousands of teachers?
If a deal is to be made who will broker the deal?
Will the Governor risk his prestige by involving himself in the mire of labor negotiations? Can Arne Duncan reach out from DC to bring the parties together? Do Randi Weingarten and Mike Bloomberg still have that “special relationship?”
If the new law passes, and court challenges fail, is this a strike issue for the union?
The union has been battling the Mayor and his surrogates for over a year. Last year the courts threw out the closing of 19 schools, a major embarrassment for the Mayor. This year rallies, demonstrations and TV ads have been directed at the administration. The anger of union members is displayed at the monthly union delegate meetings and in the union newspaper. Will the anger and frustration bubble into a demand for teachers to take to the streets?
On the Republican side a cavalry charge of contenders jockey for the presidential nomination, all anti-labor, anti-public employee. On the Democratic side “school reformers” cozy up to the right wing anti-union crowd. The last mayor to try and build his reputation on the backs of teachers was John Lindsay, a forty-day teacher strike ripped apart the city and doomed Lindsay’s presidential ambition. Have times changed?
Are the union demonstrations in Wisconsin and elsewhere the beginning of a labor revival? Or, the death knell of public employee unions?
As the Middle East is teaching us highly emotional issues are difficult to predict and to control.
When you toss a stone into a pool of feces you never know who’ll get splashed.