Sunday, February 28, 2016


The Chicago Teachers Union is a sister union of more than 32,000 members, consisting of teachers and paraprofessionals.
In 2012 they held a successful strike by joining with community supporters and parents and standing up for their students.
It was that commitment to community and students that led Jan to seek their help.
She reached out through Bill Shiebler and Erik Zachary of the AFT Community Organizing and Engagement department.

This Friday and Saturday, Jesse Sharkey, VP of CTU spent some time with us, first speaking with our staff and yesterday with our members.
He shared their experiences, what has worked, what has not worked, and we worked as a group on next steps.
It was great but to tell you everything would take too much space.
Maybe another time.

What I want to say is what the visit meant to me personally.

I picked Jesse up at the airport and brought him back and we also had time to talk on Friday night.
Over the past year I have been privileged to have some incredible conversations with unionist from all across the country.  People who have dedicated their lives to the movement, in most cases for much longer than I have been involved.
These conversations have taught me and inspired me.

Jesse and Karen Lewis, his president, challenged the sitting administration of the CTU in 2010.
He serves in the role as VP, as do I, of a union a few thousand members larger than ours.
He was kind enough to say to me, "we have the same job," although he is light years ahead of me in stature and ability.

On the way back to the airport I thanked him for coming and sharing with us.  I said it was like a shot in the arm to connect and hear his story, because although there are many differences and he has been at this much longer than I, their are similarities too.
He joined with Karen and their caucus and took a step that unfortunately does not happen a lot in large unions, they challenged the establishment, they won, and they believe in a member driven union, inclusive of the community they live in and serve.
He returned the compliment, saying that it is a boost to him to see others following in the same steps.

Like CTU we believe that our members and the community are one.  We must always be joined in our fights. 
Like CTU we believe that our members are tired of the assaults on American workers by corporations and the 1%, and are not only willing, they are demanding, that their leaders lead the fight back.
"Members are ready, are leaders?" is the question.
As Jesse put it, paraphrasing Field of Dreams,  "If you fight, they will come."
He left us with so much, both in inspiration and practical next steps.
He also left with a commitment to stay connected in this fight, in this same vision of what we can be, CTU and AFT CT.
And personally, he left me with yet another brother, who shares my hopes, my dreams, and yes, at times my frustrations, to call upon for support and guidance.
I thank Jessie and all the other labor activists who have made that same offer this past year.
We have much to do, but we do not do it alone.
Solidarity sisters and brothers.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Connecticut has a fairness problem

The Connecticut state budget is out and it's not good.

First a disclaimer.
As Vice President of AFT Connecticut, I proud am to help represent 10,000 state employees among our 30,000 members.
Teachers, Nurses, Medical Technicians and Technologists, Researchers, food and safety inspectors, and many  more.
They are directly impacted by any state budget and I will not apologize for standing up with them.
They, along with state employees from other unions, not only perform the duties listed above, they also patrol our highways, protect our homes, service our veterans, care for the weakest of society, plow our streets and provide so many other services that we take for granted.
In 2011 they gave back in concession bargaining with the state because they live here and they love their state and they understand what "shared sacrifice" means.

So if it seems that I am standing up for them in this fight.......
I am.
And I will not apologize for it.
I am proud of them, proud of the good work they do, proud that they have already given for the good of others.

The fact of the matter is that while they have done their share, while all the working class people of Connecticut have done our share, the wealthy have not.

The top 1% of Connecticut's wealthy pay 5.3% of their income in various taxes.
The other 99% of us pay 9.9%!

Connecticut does not have a budget problem, it has a fairness problem.

This is a link to our newspaper ad

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sisters and brothers

My friend posted on FB tonight.
"We are born a blank slate and every passer by leaves a mark. I am so grateful to those who have helped me become the person I am. And I am especially thankful for my blitz friends."
( She was talking to a particular group of people in the labor movement)

I wanted to respond that I understood.
I wanted to say that I had met some of these same people and they meant the same to me.
I wanted to say that I had not met some of them but they had effected me through her.
I wanted to say that I have also met other people in the movement, (and so has she), that have left their mark on us.
I wanted to say that the collective influence of all these people is part of the reason we are now working together.

I wanted to say these things, but the feelings were easier to come to than the words needed to explain them.
And that pained me, because I wanted all these people to understand how special they are.

But I think they do understand.

We call each other sister and brother and sometimes we do it so casually that the real meaning escapes us.

The truth is, we do all leave a mark and we are sisters and brothers and while we may not be able to always put it into words, we do understand.

So, if you understand what I am saying, thank you for the influence you have had, the mark you have left, either directly, or indirectly though others.
If you do not understand, hang in there.
Find your passion.
Connect with others who share your passion.
Then, you will understand.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


News of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Scalia this weekend came as a shock.
My condolences go to his family and friends in this time of sadness.
Tjis son of immigrants rose to serve on the highest court in the land.

His position on the court and his passing is a reminder of how much one person can matter, and how much one election can matter. 
He was one of the more conservative Jusdices and his passing completely changes the makeup of the court and will effect American law for years to come.

Of the many cases now before the court the one that is of greatest concern to the labor movement is Friedrichs v California Teachers.
Oral arguments have been heard and from the questions and comments that day, it was widely thought that a decision later this year would favor the plaintiffs. Justice Scalia's remarks in particular seemed to lean in that direction. A 5-4 decision was expected, at least on some of the points. 
To be honest, this would have changed the labor movement and politics in this country for years into the future.
Progressives in this country are at a big financial disadvantage to conservatives.  The 1% want to keep things status quo and conservative politicians are their vehicle to do that.  The 99% want change and progressive politicians are their vehicle. The rich have unlimited financial resources to fund politicians who favor them, while the rest of society lacks those financial resources. 
The Labor Movement is one vehicle to fight back.  Workers, by pooling their resources (financial and human) are a balance to the rich.

Friedrichs would change that.

This case was so important to conservatives that they urged the lower courts to rule against them so that it could be fast tracked to the Supreme Court while they had what they believed was a 5-4 majority.

Then, in an instant , the world changed.

Legal minds differ on whether this probable 4-4 tie means this case reverts to the lower court decision or whether it means it must be reheard, but for the moment it looks like the Labor Movement and the progressive movement in this country will live on.

I pray that we take this as a warning and heed it.
We are under attack by the wealthy who do not want to share.
Against every religious ideology they refuse to help their brothers and sisters, refuse to treat them with respect and dignity.
Some will argue that that is the American way, that is capitalism.
While it may be capitalism, it is far from the American way.
We are a country of imperfect immigrants, looking for a better life. 
We have a moral obligation to put the good of the many ahead of the greed of a few.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

These are OUR children

You can barely see the top of the head of Timothy Green in the background of this picture. He's sitting at his desk in the Family Resource Center of MLK Elementary School in Hartford.
He is the Project Coordinator and one of his roles involves the ULA backpack program, which provides food to children who would ortherwise go hungry on weekends.
I spoke to him while we were there and I suspect he likes to stay in the background, doing the important work, not looking for the limelight.

Latter we gathered at the Hartford Federation of Teachers office with leaders of the community to discuss where we are, where we need to go, and how can we best get there.
The problems can seem daunting; schools in very bad need of repair, children and families going hungry, a lack of racial diversity in teachers, and more.
I won't go into too many specifics but when you hear of hungry children and mice droppings in classrooms, and you remember that we live in the richest country in the world and in a state that is considered "blue" and "liberal," you can understand how it is even worse in other cities like Detroit.

But we must not be discouraged.
The teachers we spoke to, in spite of conditions that have to be discouraging, spoke of the love they have for their students and their profession.
That is our strength.
The leaders of the ULA, echoed Mr Green's words to me when they spoke of the individual students and families the have been helped by the backpack program.
That is our strength.
The presidents of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, AFT Connecticut, and AFT (Lori, Jan, Randi) are committed to fight on the streets, in the classrooms and hospitals, and at the capitol.
That is our strength.
The HFT and the Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals are partnered with Hartford Rising and other community groups because they live in the city, it is their city.
That is our strength.

There is hope.

But it requires work.

When a budget is presented that cuts services to the most needy and vulnerable, when it cuts services to our children, when it fails to ask the top 1% to pay their fair share, this is not right!
The top 1% pay less by percent of income of any group.
This in "blue" and "liberal" Connecticut.

I understand the political problems with tax increases.
What I am saying is this.
The proposed Connecticut budget with result in tax increases at the local level in property taxes, decreases services, or both.
Unless the richest of us pays their fair share.
This is the richest country in the world.
These are OUR children, not some faces we see on TV.
Let's care for them

Saturday, February 6, 2016

United we stand, divided we the very definition of Solidarity!

Saturday morning AFT Connecticut members met in Hartford for the annual Legislative Conference.

We were joined by Lt Governor Nancy Wyman, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Attorney General George Jepsen, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, and Representatives Roland Lemar, Matt Lesser, and Matt Ritter.

The tone of the Conference was set by AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel, via video from Washington DC who said "United we stand, divided we the very definition of Solidarity!"

Connecticut AFL_CIO President Lori Pelletier told us to "stand up and speak up for each other."

Senator Duff said, "we have a better state when we stand up for the middle class."

Representative Aresimowicz, himself a union member, said "there are no elections that we can sit out."

AFT CT Organizing Director Eric Borlaug who has experience in right to work for less states, said "if we're going to win , we can't do it alone."

Representative Lemar told us "it's not in my best interest for my neighbor to struggle."

Member after member stood and spoke on the issues, showing by what they said that they understood Jan's message and are committed to working to engage other members in the workplace and their neighbors in the community.
Many signed up to be Legislative Liaisons who will champion the cause of our unions in the spirit on Solidarity.
We face a tough budget and legislative session and Friedrichs decision looms in late spring, but as our new Organizing Dirrector told us, "this is a threat to us, but it is also an opportunity."

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