Monday, February 15, 2010

Time for a Change in Leadership: Rhee and Parker Gotta Go in 2010

by Candi Peterson

It is disgusting to me when unions do not look out for the interests of their members yet willingly take dues from workers who join and then act in the best interests of the employer. Unions can help level the playing field to prevent abusive practices by employers, but this is not our reality in Washington, DC, under the helm of George Parker, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) President. Once again, Parker has given Chancellor Michelle Rhee another out after she sullied the reputation of 266 laid off teachers in her comments to Fast Company magazine in which she said: "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had sex with children, who missed 78 days of school." Parker as a union leader barely seems indistinguishable from DCPS management and appears more interested in maintaining his good relationship with Rhee rather than upholding his legal obligation to protect longtime dues paying members from these ongoing acts of defamation and serial bullying. Failing to take Rhee's comments to task by asking for only an apology has gotten us nowhere with unsubstantiated allegations against 266 laid off teachers and now a shift in focus to more than two hundred new allegations of abuse (reported to occur in 2008-2009) against the entire workforce of DC teachers as reported by The Washington Post.

Not addressing the issue of Rhee's demonizing DC teachers has lead to negative and distorted media images throughout this country. Our union president has been unable to develop a strategic plan to address Rhee's frequent negative anecdotes about DC teachers and often is unresponsive to Rhee's ongoing claims in the press. Whether on local education blogs or in newspaper articles, teachers are willing to speak out and express their views but are reluctant now more than ever about identifying themselves, their schools, or the workplace atrocities that occur due to fear of retaliation and lack of support from our union. Teachers who stand up in the face of these types of adversities, like Hardy middle school English teacher Jann'l Henry, who had students write more than 150 letters to Mayor Fenty as part of a class assignment, defy the odds. Subsequently, Hardy students went to the DC city council when their letters went unanswered by the mayor, in an act of civil disobedience and support of their desire to have their principal (Patrick Pope) remain at Hardy. I agree with Nathan Saunders, WTU's General Vice President's, who commented, "We can't teach students to enforce their rights if we are afraid of enforcing ours."

Through our union, teachers should have a voice to lift up their concerns about working and learning conditions, best practices, professional development, wages, benefits, workplace bullying, and contractual violations so that we can have democracy in the workplace. It is a reasonable expectation that our union should take the lead in standing up and demanding accountability and the resignation if need be of a chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who, in the words of retired DC math teacher turned blogger, Guy Brandenburg, "denigrates DC Public Schools every chance she gets."

Editor Note:

Nathan Saunders is running against Parker for President. If you follow the story in Detroit which I printed two posts down and the fact that CORE is challenging in Chicago and other opposition forces are showing up strong in other cities, you can see something is afoot. Now I believe that Randi will use goonism in the AFT (as she did this summer in Portland) to keep local activists from getting control of the big cities.

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