Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ve R Not Alone -- UCORE - United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators

Here is the latest newsletter of UCORE (United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators), the national network of social justice teacher union caucuses that MORE is a part of.

UCORE Newsletter February 2015
The reform agenda within MTA, led by Barbara Madeloni, continues to develop strength. On Feb. 7, a super-charged Collective Bargaining Summit (the first in memory) drew hundreds of members and local officers, in teams from 40-50 locals. St. Paul Federation of Teachers, Portland Association of Teachers, and Chicago Teachers Union sent speakers who made highly focused presentations with a focus on internal, site-based organizing (including caucus-building from Jen Johnson of CORE) and engagement with parents and students.

The goal is to build pro-social justice agendas for bargaining and organizing, and teach the elements of activist contract campaigns. A progressive legislative agenda was adopted—starting to turn the tide on union complicity with education reform policy.

EDU, the statewide caucus, is planning two regional meetings and a statewide meeting to build towards the MTA Annual Meeting in May. The focus is on crafting New Business Items to keep the progressive push for issue organizing, and on recruiting delegates to the Annual Meeting.

New Mexico
Currently, New Mexico is in a 60 day legislative session under a Republican, Koch funded Governor and House with a new Republican majority.  Two pieces of legislation that have easily passed committee are the Right to Work bill and the 3rd Grade retention bill.  The 3rd Grade retention bill is the 3rd and final reform bill that the Governor is insistent on passing---the first two were giving schools letter grades based on high stakes test scores and a VAM based teacher evaluation based on 50% high stakes test scores.  Grim news.

On the good news front is the growing Opt Out/Refuse the test movement in New Mexico.  There have been many community meetings about the PARCC assessment, parental rights on opting out, and the outsourcing of our education to Pearson.  

This movement is a healthy combination of teachers, parents, and students.  Elaine Romero and Francesca Blueher, members of UCORE, are working with other Union members, teachers, and parents in an Education Powerhouse Conference on February 28.  The Conference will be during the legislative session, will be for all interested taking action to have democratic, socially just schools, and will feature Anthony Cody, Michelle Gunderson, and Kris Nielsen.  They are looking forward to an action-filled, spirited event!

St. Paul
St. Paul teachers, in addition to presenting at the Massachusetts Teachers Association bargaining summit on engaging with parents and teachers and open bargaining, are focused on school board races in their district.

With four open seats on a board that was willing to go to the brink of a strike before getting serious in negotiations, the union is pushing for a school board that is more responsive to parents and teachers—encouraging eight challengers for the four seats. The goal is to generate a lot of interest in the open spots, before the union engages in the endorsement process.

Since their contract settlement, the union has focused on enforcing contract language on class size and standardized testing. In the fall, committees convened at several schools, often involving parents, when teachers reported their class size over the set limit. They were able to resolve almost every violation they raised with either another class added or relief, in the form of a teachers aid for the class. In a few cases the class size was reduced because students left the school.

Recently the school district reported their own evaluation their efforts to reduce test time and test preparation time, as laid out in the contract. In the first school year since their contract was settled, the district announced tests and test prep was in fact reduced by 26 percent.

Along with teachers across Wisconsin, Milwaukee teachers are in a fight over another attack on public schools. Four hundred parents, teachers, and community members came to the MTEA’s organized community meeting to strategize against Governor Walker’s draconian budget cuts—and also against legislation that would rapidly convert public schools deemed failing into charters.

In November, Milwaukee teachers also recertified their union, which state law requires them to do every year before they’re recognized to bargain with the district—even though they can only bargain over wages capped to inflation. More than half the school districts in the state won their recertification votes, which require yes votes from 51 percent of the unit (not just voters). There’s a Labor Notes article on this, which will be shared as soon as it’s online.
Chicago teachers are focused on the mayoral election, which takes place February 24. The Chicago Teachers Union and its allies are making a bid to channel the spirit and unity of the teachers’ 2012 strike into unseating “Mayor 1%” and his city council allies.

The new, independent political organization United Working Families—formed by CTU and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, along with community groups such as Action Now—isn’t just out to oust the mayor. It’s trying to create a progressive, pro-labor political infrastructure to challenge the mayor’s pro-business agenda.

Hopes were high last fall as CTU President Karen Lewis explored a challenge to the mayor; Lewis polled well, and excited both rank-and-file teachers and the progressive voter base. A Lewis/Emanuel contest would have clearly posed the question: Which way forward for Chicago? When Lewis bowed out of the race for health reasons, a challenge to Emanuel and his agenda seemed further out of reach.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia stepped into the space Lewis left open. He’s running on a pro-union platform and has the support of CTU, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, and ATU Local 308, the city’s largest transportation union.

Part of United Working Families’ plan to beat the mayor is simultaneously running rank-and-filers and community activists for city council seats, coordinating those campaigns with get-out-the-vote efforts. It has endorsed seven incumbent members of the city council, five CTU members, and 11 other grassroots challengers. Read more here.

CTU is hosting parent teacher meetings on over-testing, particularly focused on the PARCC tests that are coming up. The union issued a research report: A Just Chicago: Fighting for the City Our Students Deserve, about how education funding is connected to health, housing, jobs, and segregation.

NEW Caucus is starting the new year focused on putting together a slate of candidates for upcoming Newark Teachers Union elections. After the gains they made in 2013, they hope they can win control of the union this time.

In an effort to engage with teachers, NEW Caucus is currently conducting a survey pertaining to the new evaluation system. They have a membership meeting this month to discuss the survey results and next steps.

NEW Caucus members are preparing to speak at the next Newark Public School Board meeting regarding the PARCC assessments being in March, and may also speak about the current evaluations and EWP members. They are putting together a newsletter to distribute to their members and other NTU employees.

New York
MORE caucus members are organizing on the school level to oppose New York Governor Cuomo’s attacks on public schools and teachers. This year already he has called for raising the cap on charter schools, extending teachers’ probationary period from three to five years, putting struggling schools into “receivership,” and basing half a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores.

The UFT, NYC’s teachers union, is promoting district meetings to speak out against the governor’s agenda. MORE teachers are turning people out to attend the meetings—but pushing for a much more aggressive fight-back than the official union. They are also encouraging teachers to do actions at their schools.

The caucus is also holding chapter-building sessions for MORE activists, and gearing up for union chapter elections this spring.

MORE caucus member and union chapter chair Jia Lee made headlines when she testified at a senate hearing on No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Lee is a special education teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan. She spoke alongside two other teachers on testing’s negative impact on students, and shared the story of how she refused to administer high-stakes standardized tests—and, as a member of the organization Change the Stakes, worked with teachers and parents to opt out of testing. Watch here. (Lee begins to speak at the 1:03 mark.)

Port Jefferson Station, Long Island
Teachers in Port Jefferson Station, Long Island, have been taking on the governor’s imposed testing agenda. They are holding emergency building meetings to discuss Cuomo's proposed education reform agenda, its impact on members, and how to fight back.

The union has been collecting $20 per member, and using that money to help fund mobile opt-out billboards that will run up and down Long Island and through local communities starting this Friday and running up until the state tests begin. Teachers wrote a letter to the community, stating that they strongly support parents’ right to refuse to allow their children to take the NYS tests this spring. Additionally, the union’s position is that all those students should have the opportunity to go to school those days and receive the high-quality education that they would on the rest of the school days.

PJSTA president Beth Dimino is refusing to administer state tests this year. Many other members are at least having the discussion with each other about what steps they are willing to take. The union also co-wrote the “I Refuse Resolution” with other public education advocacy groups. So far over 50 NYSUT locals have adopted the resolution.

A number of PJSTA members are working with an organization called Students Not Scores, made up of parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members on Long Island, to help push forward the opt-out movement in local communities. Through this organization they are planning a community forum for Saturday, March 7, likely at Stony Brook University, that will feature MORE's Jia Lee as a keynote speaker and will have a panel discussion and Q&A with Jia, a local school board member, a local administrator, and a parent opt-out leader.

New York, Stronger Together Caucus (ST Caucus)
Port Jefferson Station union leaders have also been central to forming the statewide caucus, Stronger Together, to engage with New York State teachers locals. They are working on ways to overcome the geographical challenges of organizing an entire state.

So far they have a steering committee in place, but have not yet collected any money for memberships. That will begin at the NYSUT Representative Assembly in April.

The group’s immediate goals are to build coalitions with parent groups and opt-out groups, and to work with a coalition of groups to plan a major rally in Albany, likely in late March. They have also written a resolution attempting to change NYSUT election guidelines to make it possible for delegates to vote locally, so that small locals who can't afford to send their delegates to Manhattan for a weekend can still have their voices represented.

Philadelphia teachers are facing another threat from their school district. State courts offered the union a reprieve by ruling that the school reform commission (their appointed board) had no right to cancel their contract. But at the next school board meeting, the board will vote on 39 new charter school applications. WE caucus is turning out teachers to hearings to make public comments on the issue.

Teachers in the WE caucus at Feltonville Elementary school led an opt-out campaign where 20 percent of parents opted out of the upcoming test. Initially teachers suspected of participating were notified they were to report to investigatory meetings. After weeks of outreach, the WE caucus got support from their union and several city council members to back the teachers, along with dozens of mentions in regional press and social media. The district has since indefinitely postponed the investigatory meetings. The attention gained from the school action has raised the profile of WE caucus both at the school level and city-wide, and the opt-out movement is gaining momentum. The caucus held a citywide opt-out organizing workshop last week for parents and teachers at other Philadelphia schools.

Los Angeles
With contract negotiations intensifying, teachers, counselors, and Health and Human Services members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) are escalating their actions against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). More than 850 schools throughout the LAUSD will be picketing outside their schools on Thursday, February 12. As part of the Schools LA Students Deserve campaign, parents and community members will join UTLA members by walking the picket lines and signing an open letter directed at the LAUSD School Board.
Two weeks later UTLA is mobilizing its members, parents, and community members to rally at Grand Park in Downtown LA in support of the Schools LA Students Deserve campaign demands. This is happening while UTLA is involved in three out of four contentious school board elections.
UTLA and the LAUSD have been in contract negotiations since the summer. Twelve demands related to salary, working conditions, and learning conditions are on the table. Under pressure from UTLA, the district has raised its salary offer to 5 percent while UTLA is demanding 8.5 percent. So far, the district has refused to talk about class size or fully staffed schools, among other demands.
While bargaining sessions happen weekly, UTLA has committed to visiting school sites throughout the district to gather commitment from members for upcoming actions, up to and including going on strike if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Union Power (UP) caucus, created by rank and filers, board of directors members, and UTLA officers after last year’s overwhelming UP slate victory in the UTLA elections, holds regular general membership meetings. Members from the eight UTLA areas have gathered to discuss issues facing members, particularly emphasizing the top contract demands. Members of the caucus are also working on connecting and engaging newer teachers. Caucus members are hoping to hold a meeting focused on bringing newer teachers closer to the union and unionism.
North Carolina
Organize 2020 is working a new layer of leaders of color into the center of the organization through a four-month anti-racism workshop series. The goal was to deepen an anti-racist analysis/skill set among the founding leadership (almost all white), and create a context where a new multi-racial leadership crew (still majority white, but with a quickly developing group of women of color stepping up to lead) develops an analysis and skill set together.

The group is planning to focus more energy on locals. People in some key districts worked themselves to the bone on elections in the fall, so that has taken up a lot of members’ energy.

In Durham, where there wasn’t as much electoral activity, Organize 2020 began a base-building project that’s putting them in buildings, meeting with parents and teachers weekly. They are canvassing two times a month and engaging a number of community allies, in addition to students, parents, and teachers, in door-knocking over the course of the next year (for this first wave).

The goal is to develop a political program, run school board and county commission candidates in 2016 elections, and begin some really bold experimentation. They have either the blessing of the school board and new superintendent, a result of a more progressive board that they have won over the years. 

Organize 2020 is applying for a grant to the NEA to have one member leave the classroom and work full-time on the Durham work. They’re awaiting the results of the upcoming election (end of March) to see if Organizing 2020 candidate Bryan Proffitt wins the Durham local president position, and then to see if they get the grant.

The group continues to build relationships with other progressive forces in the state. Last year, they staged a teach-in during a Moral Monday at the Senate Pro Tem’s office and forced him to meet. They are developing a positive relationship with the NAACP and are leading the efforts to mobilize educators towards the annual march HK on J (Historic Thousands on Jay Street) on behalf of the whole statewide union and are marching with the fast food workers, where a leading member has been working hard to develop relationships. The Black Lives Matter movement has been a really positive kick in the pants; Organize 2020 has been working hard to stay engaged in the streets and classrooms around it.

They are also writing a new grant to run another summer program in locals around the state. This got them a lot of space to do leadership development and skills training last summer, with people knocking on doors and getting out into the community.

Starting in December, they’ve begun having statewide meetings, with members coming from the mountains to the coast. The group is growing, and has its third monthly meeting after the HK on J march this weekend.


  1. This is very interesting Norm. I am an EWP in Newark and I have heard nothing from New Caucus.

    1. I have little idea of how New Caucus operates and how far its outreach is. Best to contact them directly.

    2. Thanks Norm! My point was they are doing nothing for EWPS.

  2. How do we learn more about UCORE and this newsletter?!?! So great to see it!

    1. UCORE consists of various caucuses around the nation. MORE is a member. If you want to be involved contact the organization where you are based. If you are local you can get involved through MORE. There are periodic meetings in Chicago of all groups and if you want to attend one you can.

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