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Indiana Teachers Spearhead Statehouse Rally

photo by Tom Strattman   AFT president Randi Weingarten joined teachers and working families across Indiana who, for the 11th straight day, gathered at the Statehouse in Indianapolis to deliver a strong message to Indiana lawmakers: Now is the time to "Stand Up for Hoosiers" by standing against an anti-worker agenda circulating through the state General Assembly.

Weingarten addressed the crowd and drew the connection between other states' efforts to demonize teachers and what's happening in Indiana, where bills to gut collective bargaining rights for teachers and promote reckless expansion of voucher schools have prompted Indiana House Democrats to exit the state rather than knuckle under to a majority that has consistently refused to work across the aisle.

"The labor movement is the only institution that fights for the working class at the bargaining table and the ballot box," Weingarten said. "We fight for the American dream—and not just for some, but the American dream for all."

photo by Tom Strattman The crowd at the March 3 rally and candlelight vigil included educators like Mark Hodson, a middle school teacher in Anderson, Ind., who hit the road for the state Capitol rally minutes after his classes dismissed. The 16-hour day had done nothing to diminish Hodson's enthusiasm for the fight to protect his profession from the fringe attacks unfolding in the state Legislature.

 "The most important thing is to prevent the loss of our collective bargaining rights," said Hodson. The contract was the vehicle that recently brought a Toledo (Ohio) model for peer assistance and review to Anderson schools, he stressed, and collective bargaining has been indispensable in helping school systems develop sound policy for dealing with tight budgets. "Teachers are willing to do their share—through collective bargaining, not by de-professionalizing our jobs."

Also at the event was Anderson fifth-grade teacher Kelly Melling, who said "it was wonderful to see all of the labor unions represented" in such a broad show of support for public educators.

"Unions have always been a part of my life, and public education has been so vitally important to my family," said Melling, who believes that real school improvement is being stymied by the cartoon depictions of collective bargaining that many legislators use to underpin their attacks.

"Ninety percent of my contract has nothing to do with wages and benefits—it has to do with class size, building conditions and giving teachers a voice to make their schools the best."

More information about what's going on in Indiana, including video and news reports, is available here. [Mike Rose/photos by Tom Strattman]

March 4, 2011