|Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Thousands of people protested in front of City Hall in Providence, Rhode Island, Wednesday, afternoon against the mass firing of every teacher in the city. Teachers, parents and students were joined by blue collar workers, firefighters and others. The mass firings were instigated by Mayor Angel Taveras and approved by the Providence School Board in a 4-3 vote last week. As a result, 1,926 teachers were given pink slips.
The mayor insists that most teachers will be rehired. However, by firing every teacher, the school district can rehire them without regard to seniority. Thus, veteran teachers at the top of the pay scale could be left out in the cold, while non-tenured novices at the bottom of the pay scale are given preference. Also, union activists and other thorns in the side of the administration might not be rehired, giving the administration more leverage in implementing unpopular school reforms, or pay and benefits cuts.
Taveras is a Democrat and like Democrats across the nation he has been attacking teachers and public sector workers with almost as much zeal as the Republicans. The main difference is style: the Democrats use a velvet fist, rather than an iron one, usually negotiated with the collaboration of union bosses. Taveras, who has chosen the iron fist approach, also plans to close several schools, renegotiate city union contracts, and slash city department budgets by 10-15% across the board.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was at the demonstration. “Something insane is going on,” she told the crowd. “I thought the only insanity was in Wisconsin.” Shows how in touch with reality she is. It’s not insanity at all. It’s the rich telling workers, “Screw You! You’re unions are weak and useless. We’re don’t have to compromise. We make the decisions. You obey. And your union bosses will enforce our mandates or we’ll crush your unions.” Weingarten has dutifully carried out this role by helping to negotiate sellout contracts across the country, including implementation of merit pay and destruction of seniority rights. In fact, in nearby Central Falls, the AFT did nothing to support teachers who were fired last year and used the event to argue for greater collaboration with administrators.