STANDING UP FOR CIVIL RIGHTS In the wake of the devastating deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement officials late last year, AFT President Randi Weingarten has continued to demonstrate the AFT’s longtime commitment to civil rights. In recent months, she addressed a Washington, D.C., rally of thousands of people calling for reforms to the criminal justice system, visited Ferguson, Mo., in the emotional aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting, and got arrested at a protest for Eric Garner in New York City.
Civil rights violations are not specific to these places, Weingarten says; they are a problem across America. But, she adds, “we can fix it if we choose to work together. Cops are not the enemy. Bias and racism are. ... Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that the struggle for civil rights is a struggle for good jobs, with decent wages. That educational opportunity is the highway to economic opportunity,” Weingarten writes in the New York Times. “Fighting racism, sexual assault, wage stagnation and retirement insecurity is as much the AFT’s work as fighting for high-quality public education, healthcare and public services.”
MONTANA GRADS RATIFY FIRST CONTRACT Graduate teaching and research assistants at Montana State University at Bozeman will get a fairer deal on the job after bargaining their first contract. Members of the MSU Graduate Employee Organization, affiliated with the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers, voted unanimously on Dec. 5 to ratify a contract that was finalized in January.
The agreement provides a $120-per-month raise, in-state tuition for all graduate employees and a minimum salary of $650 a month. For some graduate employees, this will be the first raise in more than a decade; for others, it will be their first bump past minimum wage.
“It’s a huge recognition of the work we do here in both instruction and research,” says Jim Junker, GEO president. “We finally have a voice in how the school treats us and how our working conditions are handled.”
WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN? The number of college students with dependent children is increasing, but the campus-based child care they need to balance higher education and parenthood is not keeping pace. An Institute for Women’s Policy Research news analysis released Dec. 1 highlights a disturbing erosion in campus-based centers at a time when about 1 in 4 college students is also a parent raising at least one child. The availability of campus-based child care has fallen significantly at community colleges, where 45 percent of all students with children are enrolled; the proportion of community colleges with child care last year stood at 46 percent, down from a high of 53 percent a decade ago.
LGBT HEALTHCARE RIGHTS For many years, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been denied hospital visitation for their partners and families, but because of action from the Obama administration, hospitals now are required to allow visits from anyone a patient chooses. The problem: Many LGBT people, and many hospitals, are unaware of these new protections.
The AFT has joined more than 80 LGBT and progressive organizations to support the LGBT Health Care Bill of Rights, a document designed to raise awareness of LGBT rights and empower patients to demand high-quality care. Discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited, so if a medical provider refuses to recognize a person’s gender identity, the patient can file a discrimination complaint. You can download wallet-sized cards and a fact sheet explaining LGBT healthcare rights at http://bit.ly/16wmKiq.
RECLAIMING RUTGERS AFT affiliates at Rutgers University (the Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters, the Union of Rutgers Administrators, and Health Professionals and Allied Employees) are not only bargaining next contracts, insisting on respect, fair benefits and reasonable pay for faculty and staff. They are also showing loyalty to the institution at large, urging management to refocus priorities on high-quality education, research, patient care and service; calling for an end to spiraling tuition; and demanding that the university stop spending tens of millions of dollars on big-time athletics at the expense of first-rate academics. This “Reclaim Rutgers” coalition has earned strong student and community support at protests and picket lines, explaining that Rutgers can afford to support its faculty and staff: The university recently raised $1 billion through its “Our Rutgers, Our Future” campaign and has $600 million in its unrestricted reserve. Contract negotiations were still underway at press time.
STRIKE AVERTED AT KISHWAUKEE Faculty members of the Kishwaukee College Education Association in Malta, Ill., suspended plans to strike when an all-day bargaining session finally ended in a tentative contract. Balancing fair faculty compensation with efforts to limit any tuition hikes, the agreement compromises with a modest pay increase but limited benefits. After contentious negotiations, “we are ecstatic that this is over,” says Matt Read, KCEA president and a math instructor.