A laid-off teacher from Broward County, Fla., was one of the featured speakers at a lively Capitol Hill rally on Oct. 19 in support of the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, a key piece of President Obama's agenda for creating jobs that the U.S. Senate is expected to take up later this week.
Cherine Akbari (pictured at left), a history teacher in Oakland Park, Fla., joined Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and a large contingent of Democratic senators, along with police officers, firefighters, and AFT leaders in town for the union's executive council meeting. Earlier this year, on the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week—and five days after she moved into a new house—Akbari received a pink slip. She is one of 1,400 Broward teachers who have been laid off.
Despite her own personal concerns, Akbari said she's more worried about her students. She spoke of one who stopped by in tears when she heard about Akbari, and couldn't be consoled. "You don't understand," she told Akbari. "I want to major in history and become a teacher." "It broke my heart," she said, adding that she's concerned about what jobs might be available for her students.
"I'm here to urge Congress to pass the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act," Akbari said. "I'm one of hundreds of thousands of teachers who are out of work. We need to put teachers back in classrooms where we belong."
Biden said that everything in the original American Jobs Act, which is now being introduced in Congress as separate pieces of legislation, is something that Republican presidents and members of Congress have supported over the years. "This is designed to do something now to help this country, without a partisan tinge to it," he said. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans refused to even allow a vote on the whole jobs act and they are opposing the current legislation, in part because they call it a temporary fix. "There's nothing temporary about saving someone's life or giving a kid a chance," the vice president said.
Moreover, he added, the legislation to save the jobs of 400,000 educators, 18,000 police officers and 7,000 firefighters will be paid for without adding to the deficit, by imposing a surtax of 0.5 percent on annual incomes of more than $1 million. This is about priorities, he said. For someone who makes $1.1 million, that translates into $500 more in taxes. "Even millionaires know we should do this," Biden added.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pointed out that large majorities of the American public, including a majority of Republicans, have said they support legislation to keep teachers and first responders on the job. The Republicans in the Senate don't represent America, and they don't even represent Republicans, he said.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) focused on the Republicans' stated desire to kill any legislation that might make President Obama look good, even at the expense of the country's 14 million unemployed. "If the word 'no' were ever stricken from the English language," Harkin said, "Republicans would be rendered speechless."
As Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), one of the bill's sponsors, put it, "It's time to get teachers off the unemployment line and back in the classroom teaching our children."
The AFT is urging members to call their senators and tell them to pass the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act. [Dan Gursky/photos by Bill Burke/Page One Photography/video by Brett Sherman]
October 19, 2011