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Dean E. Vogel Council Speech May 2014

 

Good Morning Council!

Before we get into the weekend’s work…and I’ll tell you we have a lot of it...I want to take a moment to thank you.  Thank you all for the work you do, every day in your schools, every day in your colleges, every day in your classrooms and every day in your union, our union.  You may not hear it regularly from your colleagues, but I do. I hear it from our members when they say “Thank you for what you do on my behalf, so I can do what I do.”

But the “thank you” doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to you and to our chapter presidents as the leaders of CTA. We're all leaders of CTA. You step up and take time away from your families to lead the direction of our union. You come here four times a year to speak out for your students, to bring forth the concerns of your members, to set policy, to take a stand on legislation and to support candidates for public office. You come here to lead our profession. CTA couldn’t do what it does without you. CTA could not be what it is without you. So thank you! Thank you!

Our work as union members is never easy. It’s never easy! But because of your work and the work of previous State Councils, we know we have made a difference for billions of students and millions of educators. And we know we have public officials out there who are actually listening to us.  But before I talk about the election on Tuesday, I want to reflect on the importance of voting rights in this country. Because it was…and continues to be…educators, unionists and college students inspired by their teachings who changed the course of voting and civil rights in this country.

Freedom Summer

We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer. Fifty years ago in June, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee recruited over 1,000 out-of-state volunteers to join thousands of black Mississippians in a massive voter registration effort. At the time, African-Americans represented the majority of the population in Mississippi yet only 5 percent of the African-American population was registered to vote due to literacy tests and poll taxes. Only five percent. Most had simply given up trying to register.

It was a remarkable summer, for many reasons. It was a summer when the murder of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan focused national attention on the kind of violence that was happening on a daily basis in Mississippi and other parts of the country.  It was a summer when white college students – most from the North learned about fear and injustice, and it changed their lives. It was a summer when many civil rights leaders emerged, not just Martin Luther King Jr., but Bob Moses, Julian Bond, Fannie Lou Hamer, Marion Wright Edelman, and Maya Angelou.

In that summer, Freedom Schools were established throughout Mississippi where children and adults received academic tutoring, and learned about black history, the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, and leadership development. It was a summer that resulted in President Lyndon Johnson signing the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965 that outlawed literacy tests and prohibited states from passing laws that discriminated against racial or language minorities.

All of this emerged because people spoke up, united, took action and refused to let social injustice rule. Unfortunately, we continue to face voting challenges in this country today. Dozens of states have enacted voter suppression measures, 34 states have passed voter ID laws, and the Supreme Court has issued decisions that have elevated the ability of corporations to influence elections. You know that as well as I do. It’s why we must continue to be vigilant about this most basic right. And we must take every opportunity to exercise that right. Next week is NO exception. In fact, our votes are critical in some keys races.

Tom Torlakson

Tom Torlakson is facing what may be a tough re-election bid against corporate education reformer Marshall Tuck. It’s a race that is not getting a lot of media or voter attention. And that’s why we must vote…make sure our friends, families and colleagues vote…and why we must volunteer to help get out the vote.  We know who Tom is. He is one of us and he has been there for students and educators, every single time we've asked. And, in fact, he will be here with us in this room tomorrow. 

Tom worked alongside us to pass Prop. 30.  He sponsored CTA’s Quality Education Investment Act to provide $3 billion to help lower-performing schools – a law that is hailed as one of the single largest school turnaround programs in the country. And it was done with proven reforms like smaller class sizes and allowing teachers to work together to improve student learning.  He’s led efforts to expand career and technical education. And he knows how important it is for our students to develop critical thinking skills, rather than just learning how to bubble in a standardized test.

Marshall Tuck, on the other hand, is not one of us. His agenda is a full-out assault on educators' rights. Tuck has said he will bring Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top agenda to California. He supports more testing, evaluating teachers based on test scores and paying teachers based on test scores.  He supports the Vergara lawsuit and proudly takes credit for instigating challenges that led to the case. He wants to eliminate an educator’s right to a hearing before being dismissed.  He supports increasing the probationary period from two years to as long as 10 years. And he wants to eliminate experience as a factor layoff decisions.

And I guess that makes sense if you look at who supports him. You know who supports him, right? Eli Broad and Wall Street billionaires who are spending big bucks to elect him because he supports allowing private companies to run our public schools with taxpayer money.  We don’t need an administrative bureaucrat who received a vote of no confidence by 80 percent of the LA teachers in his Partnership schools directing all education policy in this state. We need Tom Torlakson! 

For those of you in Assembly District 16 in the East Bay, well you know who’s running there, don’t you?  It’s our own Tim Sbranti…a CTA member, former chair of PIC and mayor of Dublin. Tim is locked in a very, very close race against a political consultant who has worked for big tobacco, big developers and big oil companies. Steve Glazer is also leading efforts to prevent transit workers from having the right to strike and he has made eliminating the rights of union workers a cornerstone of his campaign.

We’re going to be making phone calls for Tom and Tim today. Please take time to join us in this action. You've got a responsibility to get into the ballroom. Ask folks if they made their calls. We’re asking you to make at least 10 completed calls to CTA members. You might also win a free plane ticket. And if you live anywhere near Tim’s district, please volunteer to help Monday and Tuesday. CTA and other labor unions are leading a massive Get Out the Vote effort.

Just as the freedom riders changed history, we absolutely must take action to make a difference.  By actions of this Council, CTA is supporting candidates in 68 Assembly districts, 13 Senate districts, and 29 Congressional races.  We are supporting Jerry Brown for governor, Kamala Harris for Attorney General, John Chiang (Chung) for Treasurer and former Speaker John Perez for Controller. So, as you can see, this is a critically important election.

Some of you have already voted, but we still need to make sure our colleagues, and friends and family do the same. Catch them on Facebook or on Twitter or heck, Instagram. Together, we will elect candidates who truly care about us and our students!

Fair Share

There is another important vote scheduled this June. And that’s the Supreme Court ruling in a case that could have far-reaching consequences for us and labor unions across the country. Harris vs Quinn was argued before the high court in January and a decision is due in June, and could come as early as next week.  Harris vs. Quinn is a case about Illinois home-care providers that calls into question the constitutionality of Agency Fee or Fair Share. It’s uncertain how the justices will rule and how broadly they may rule.

They could rule fair share fees – the fees we charge non-members for the bargaining work we do on their behalf – unconstitutional. While most feel this would be an overreaching ruling, given the makeup of the Supreme Court, we have to be realistic and we have to be prepared. Some of our affiliates around the country have already dealt with this in their states. CTA has been talking with them and working with NEA to develop a tool kit for local chapters.

In fact, we are bringing the president of the Michigan Education Association to the President’s Conference. We are much further ahead than other affiliates and labor unions, but there’s still much work to be done in order to best align CTA to operate in an ever changing world. Luckily, the CTA Strategic Plan is in place to help guide us, and the implementation group has begun that difficult work of building an organizing culture and engaging all members in the work of the union. 

It’s about talking to colleagues about the benefits of belonging to a union. It’s about taking the time to attend an association meeting. It’s about expressing our union and social justice values. It’s about getting out of our classrooms and into our communities. We must recommit to organizing and activism!

We all know what membership means and the strength that comes from it. We must make sure every educator in every school building shares it and we must do that through personal contacts, union meetings, social gatherings, and whenever and wherever we are able to get together. This is a chance to rebuild and strengthen our chapters and our union…and we will do it together!  We have been strong education, union and civil rights advocates for the past 151 years and we will continue to unapologetically advocate for of our students, our schools, our colleges and our members.  

You know, we lost Maya Angelou this week, and in the last few days, we have had a chance to experience her wisdom and her poetry all over again. One of the things she once said particularly struck me. She said: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

We’ve all experienced some defeats through the years. And if the Supreme Court tests us with another…rest assured, we will not be defeated, we will rise united!

Legislation

This year’s legislative session is moving into crunch time. Lawmakers must have a budget by July. The governor’s May Revision continues to put more money into education and in accordance with Prop. 30 repay our schools and colleges.

Our CTA-sponsored bill, AB 1444 that would require kindergarten to be mandatory, has also made it out of committee. It has a ways to go, but we will continue to lead this important legislation to ensure all students get a solid educational foundation.

And we’re going to have some big discussion this weekend around the governor’s proposal to address the unfunded liability of the California State Teachers Retirement System. He has put forward a proposal that is likely to take time and commitment on the part of the state, districts and educators. This has been a problem we have been talking about for about 10 years. We all know providing a secure retirement is critical to recruiting and retaining quality educators in our profession. And we know we have a responsibility to ensure the viability of the retirement system for retired, current and future educators.  

The governor’s proposal adheres to the principles established by our Retirement Committee and doubles the funding commitment by the state. It also requires school districts to pay more…and educators to pay a little more in exchange for cost-of-living increases. School business officials are already crying foul and making crazy accusations like they will be bankrupt tomorrow – even though some of these same districts are sitting on reserve funds of 15 or 20 percent.

Solving the unfunded liability issue through the legislature could also help avoid costly initiative attacks on our secure retirement. Again, I look forward to the discussions of the Retirement Committee and this body. We will likely have differences of opinion on a variety of issues...and that's who we are.

Conclusion

Tuesday’s election may not seem like a big election to most. It’s a primary, after all. But this vote, like so many others, is too important to squander. It is an important referendum on what public education is, and is not.

And speaking of what public education is… hopefully you’ve seen our latest ads on TV. They are also on the radio, online and in print in multiple languages. This is our new “Ask a Teacher” ad campaign and in it we encourage the public to…“ask a teacher” if they want to know more about what works best in our schools.

It’s a smart, catchy campaign and we’re already getting some great feedback. And don’t be surprised if you start getting more questions from the public. It is better they ask the experts. Who knows more about what our students and educators need than us?

The Freedom Summer wasn’t the beginning or the end of the civil rights struggle. That struggle…OUR struggle…continues today.  But just as the Freedom Summer helped change Mississippi and our country, you are changing the future of California. And if you think about what several thousand people did in Mississippi, just think about what 325,000 educators can do in California.

We ARE CTA!!!           

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

© 1999- California Teachers Association