By Dina Martin
Thousands gathered in front of the West Capitol steps in Sacremento to support collective bargaining rights.
It may have been a small sacrifice compared to what their colleagues in Wisconsin were going through, but Adelanto District Teachers Association members Dee and Mark Heitkamp thought showing their support for collective bargaining was important enough that they drove 400 miles from Victorville to turn out for a union rally in Sacramento on Feb. 22 — and then turned around and drove back that night.
“If we take turns, I think we can get back around 2 a.m. so we can teach tomorrow,” middle school teacher Dee Heitkamp said, minutes before the candlelight vigil began on the West Capitol steps. The Heitkamps joined a crowd of 2,500 to protest the heavy-handed proposal by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that eventually was passed by the Wisconsin Legislature to eliminate that state’s collective bargaining rights.
Joining in the rally co-sponsored by CTA were several other unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000, the California Labor Federation, and the Sacramento Central Labor Council, and a large contingent of Tunisian-, Egyptian- and Libyan-Americans who filed in after their own protest nearby. Smaller vigils were held in Oakland and Palmdale, and even larger rallies took place throughout the state and nation. CTA local chapters and members that couldn’t attend also sent messages of solidarity through CTA’s Facebook page.
“My husband and I have been watching the news for weeks,” said Dee Heitkamp, who teaches at Mesa Linda Middle School in Victorville. “We are so concerned about what this means for the middle class. Public workers are not the root of all evil, and we shouldn’t be demonized.”
Her husband agreed. “I’m here because I’m afraid that if we get rid of collective bargaining, we’ll have no say over our jobs or be able to advocate for our students,” said Mark Heitkamp, who teaches third grade at Eagle Ranch School in Victorville.
Wisconsinites became outraged when their newly elected governor surreptitiously slipped a proposal to eliminate collective bargaining into his plan to cut public employee pensions and benefits. In the ensuing weeks, teachers agreed to concessions in their contracts, but drew a line in the sand when it came to the elimination of collective bargaining.
Using what’s being called “the nuclear option,” Walker and the state’s Senate Republicans stripped out the financial components of the governor’s unpopular budget repair bill on March 9. That allowed them to vote on provisions to eliminate collective bargaining without the presence of the 14 Senate Democrats who had fled to Illinois to prevent its passage.
The result is that Wisconsin state public employees’ rights to negotiate over pay have been severely curtailed, and their rights to bargain over other conditions of employment have been eliminated.
Wisconsin teachers have joined the campaign to recall eight state Senate Republicans in an effort to overturn the legislation under the leadership of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the National Education Association.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said: “This is an affront to teachers, nurses, students, firefighters, construction workers and other everyday people who stood up, spoke out, and learned how much their voice mattered to their elected leaders. The response will be unified and the collective voice of millions of working Americans from all across this nation will only grow louder.”
Although the erosion of collective bargaining in California is not imminent, bills have also been introduced here as well.
Speaking to the crowd at the Capitol in Sacramento, CTA President David A. Sanchez invoked the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it.”
| CTA President David A. Sanchez at the rally in support of Wisconsin workers.|
Sanchez continued: “It enlarged it by raising the standard of living for millions of workers and working families. Every one of us here today, our children, and our communities have benefited from unions and their collective bargaining rights.
“I can tell you that collective bargaining has not only improved working conditions of educators, it has improved the learning conditions of students. Through collective bargaining we have achieved smaller class sizes for our students, improved safety in our schools, better professional development programs, and more productive collaboration with parents.”
Other CTA members at the candlelight vigil drove in from Modesto, San Leandro, San Francisco, Redwood City and El Dorado County to demonstrate their outrage.
“Collective bargaining is the way we achieve some sense of fairness in what we do for a living,” said Dane Oliveira, a sixth-grade teacher and member of the Modesto Teachers Association. “We deserve to have a voice in how we are treated.”
San Lorenzo Education Association member Mike Jones, a U.S. government and economics teacher, had created a PowerPoint presentation he had shown for his students regarding the role of unions in building our nation.
“Fifty years ago, Wisconsin was the first state to get collective bargaining. Seventy-five years ago, AFSCME began in Wisconsin. Unions have fought for too many things beyond our own self-interest. We must defend the rights and livelihood of working and middle-class people in this country,” he said.
Although the situation in Wisconsin is getting the most attention, there is a growing list of states where collective bargaining is under attack, including Idaho, Indiana, Ohio, Florida and Tennessee.