Standing with strikers
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 23:09
Dozens of supporters from various Vermont labor unions gathered on the steps of City Hall to show their solidarity for the Chicago teacher strike Sept. 15.
The Chicago Teachers Union voted to suspend the strike Sept. 18 with 800 union delegates voting overwhelmingly to send teachers and students back to the classroom, The New York Times reported.
Although the union had decided Sept. 16 to extend the strike instead of accepting a deal proposed by the city, the new contract’s terms were accepted as favorable, said union President Karen Lewis, who spoke to The New York Times.
The union’s 26,000 members must approve the contract, a process that could take several weeks.
Still, Saturday’s rally in Burlington demonstrated how a national issue touched the local community.
The rally was organized by Nancy Welch, an English professor at UVM and member of the faculty union United Academics, and was assembled to protest public school defunding and support the Chicago teachers.
“We are here today because the Chicago teachers are teaching us … the lesson that parents, students and communities will be with us when we stand up and fight back [against public education defunding],” Welch said.
Supporters sang chants such as:
“The war on unions is a joke, tax the rich that made us broke.”
Union members spoke against Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel’s action against collective bargaining, defunding public schools and universities, and privatizing education.
“The Chicago teachers are fighting for the very future of public education,” said Sasha Scott, shop steward of United Electrical Workers of Burlington.
“Emanuel is determined to gut the public sector unions,” Scott said. “He thought the teachers’ union would be next in line.”
Emanuel passed a bill that required a 75 percent vote for union members to authorize a strike, and the teachers came back with a 90 percent vote, Scott said.
But the Chicago teachers’ strike hit home when Patrick Brown, part-time faculty member, spoke about how contract negotiations and unionization are also a sensitive issue at UVM.
“As we talk about what is going on in Chicago, let’s take a minute and come right back to Burlington,” Brown said. “We are in contract negotiations right now and we have very modest requests.”
Part-time faculty at UVM barely make a livable wage, have no benefits, no job security, and slow or zero promotions, Brown said.
“Although we are a vital part of the institution, we are begging and still no results,” Brown said. “We basically work full-time and get paid for less than part-time.”
Even though Brown wasn’t allowed to talk about the specifics of those negotiations, as they are in progress, he said he expected the Burlington community to support the UVM part-time faculty just as they are supporting the Chicago union.
Sponsors of the rally included: Vermont State Labor Council (AFL-CIO), Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, International Socialist Organization, UE Local 203 and 267, UVM United Academics, and University Staff Union among others.