Johnnie Brice, in “outraged” shirt, and other Detroit teachers rally outside Fisher Building July 19, 2012.

Leadership evidently has no concrete plan to achieve victory

By Diane Bukowski 

July 26, 2012 

DETROIT – Hundreds of Detroit teachers rallied outside Detroit’s Fisher Building July 19 to demand that Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts come to the bargaining table, long after he imposed a contract on their union. They have not taken a strike vote and their representatives said they have no plans to do so.

Children of teachers joined their parents at the rally.

“What do we want—a contract! When do we want it—NOW!” they shouted.

A week later, on July 25, some of 3,000 members attending the American Federation of Teachers national convention in downtown Detroit supported them in a similar protest. AFT President Randi Weingartern spoke with Roberts but got no guarantee from him that anything would change.

Johnnie Brice has worked for DPS for 12 years, and currently teaches at Burton International elementary school.

“I’m outraged,” she said. “We’re being treated like second-class citizens, with no respect. We are held responsible for all the ills of the system but we have no control. We took a 10 percent wage cut and don’t have enough paid prep time to prepare for our classes. We are mandated to come to work 15 minutes early without extra pay. The whole situation makes us so stressed out it is hurting our students as well.”

Detroit teachers demand respect July 19 outside Fisher Building.

She said teachers this summer are in the process of interviewing for their jobs all over again. Seniority has been thrown out of the window. The principals of each school decide whether they come back or not. Discussions were taking place all over the picket line between teachers about whether they had been called back.

Dave Hecker, president of the Michigan Amalgamated Federation of Teachers, led the protest, along with DFT President Keith Johnson and Vice-President Edna Reeves.  Officials from the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO and other unions also joined the protest.

Michigan AFT president Dave Hecker (l with bullhorn) leads chants as DFT VP Edna Reeves rallies the crowd.

“All we want is what’s good for the students and the teachers and staff,” Hecker said. “Collective bargaining with the UAW saved the auto industry. Why not come to the table? We are going to DEMAND, DEMAND AND DEMAND until he [Roberts] respects us.”

Johnson and Reeves spoke along similar lines. Johnson announced last year that Roberts informed him months before he imposed the contract that he was going to do so. Asked what he planned to do about it, Johnson said he would wait to see and take legal action if necessary.

In a side interview, VOD asked Hecker and Steve Michalakis, president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO, why they are not taking stronger action such as pushing the entire union movement to shut down Detroit and Michigan, to fight what has become an all-out assault on union members, working and poor people across the state under Public Act 4.

They had no real answer. Two years ago, when Keith Johnson took office again, a reform movement in the DFT led by teacher Steve Conn and others claimed that Johnson stole the election,  during a raucous meeting where they had broad support from the membership. Hecker nonetheless swore Johnson in.

VOD: Read Labor Notes story above this which details the results a reform slate in the Chicago Teachers Union has been able to achieve there, in their battle against pro-charter school district president Rahm Emanuel. They have already taken a strike vote and are conducting mass campaigns in the community to stop school closures as well. What position would the DFT be in today if Johnson had not stolen the election as alleged?

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