Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Markell on Public Employee Unions

Governor Jack Markell wrote an article for showing a political maturity that is refreshing in today's environment. The article is copied below:

By GOV. JACK MARKELL | 2/23/11 4:47 AM EST
I’m not the likeliest candidate to speak out on behalf of the labor demonstrators in Wisconsin. After all, my own relationship with the unions in Delaware has been a bit iffy since I took office as governor two years ago.
Within two months of becoming governor, as I faced a budget shortfall of 25 percent of my state’s entire budget, I proposed an 8 percent pay cut for state workers, which was reduced by our Legislature to 2.5 percent and restored a year later.

Several times during that first legislative session, more than 1,000 union members came to the state Legislature to protest against me and my proposals. The impeachment signs were hard to miss.

My own background before politics is hardly labor-oriented. I have an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, a bastion of the free market. I spent time in banking, management consulting and working with the investment community as a senior executive in the telecommunications industry.

I’m also sympathetic to the need in Wisconsin and other states to secure pension and health benefits concessions from public workers.
We’re in the same position in Delaware. What taxpayers fund for these benefits is certainly not sustainable.

But with that background, I also believe the call to get rid of unions goes too far.
Perhaps that’s because, as governor, I’ve spent so much time visiting our state agencies and watching our people work. I often spend time there explaining my own unpopular proposals — including those to cut their pay and benefits.

Their work is often grueling, dirty and unappreciated by many. They bathe vulnerable patients in state hospitals. They plow streets in the middle of the night, when the rest of us are asleep. They keep our streets safe by dealing with the worst of our society. They help kids learn — even when those kids haven’t eaten since they last left school, haven’t bathed in a week or have come to school from a shelter.
That’s the reality for many of our state employees.

It’s true that my job as governor would be easier without having to deal with public-sector unions. Some of them file frivolous grievances. Some union members have unrealistic expectations about wage increases when so many of their neighbors throughout the state don’t have jobs, wages or benefits. I’m sometimes frustrated by that attitude.

But my job as governor is not to make my own job easier. It’s to make sure that the quality of life for my constituents will be better tomorrow than it is today. That’s why we focus every day on putting more people to work and improving our schools.
On balance, it’s better for our state when unions have the right to speak out and to have a place at the table — when they represent those whose voices may not be heard.
Those discussions might be painful. But it would be worse if they didn’t take place at all.

Jack Markell is governor of Delaware.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WI and OH Revitalizing Labor

Wisconsin and Ohio are revitalizing the Labor movement. We are learning a tough lesson in those states, a lesson that leads back to our roots. We have learned we can not depend exclusively on the political system. Given that corporate media is no longer even coy about slanting their coverage to the bosses, and that the Supreme Court has allowed the bosses to spend an unlimited amount on elections, the political system will fail us more often in the future.

The solution is playing out in the streets of Madison: Relational organizing and direct action.

If enough union members stick together (solidarity) then legal and political obstacles become less daunting. For example, in Madison teachers all decided to take personal days to protest last week. Superintendents decided to deny those personal days. In turn, teachers all got sick at once and called in. The end result: Schools in Madison closed for the week and no teachers were disciplined. The number of protesters last week ranged between 60,000 and 80,000 every day.

Final lesson: We shall all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DSEA Testifies before Joint Finance Committee

DSEA President, Diane Donohue gave testimony today before the Joint Finance Committee. Her testimony, as it was presented is copied below:

Good Afternoon, Chairman Williams and Vice-Chairman McDowell, and members of the committee:

I am Diane Donohue, president of the Delaware State Education Association.

I start today the same way I did last year by thanking you for your service on the Joint Finance Committee. In these challenging times, JFC is about hard decisions, headaches, and few accolades…all things with which educators can identify.

I’m not going to make it easier on you. I am asking for step increases for all educators as well as Skills and Knowledge Clusters and National Board Certification stipends.

The education community has made great effort the last few decades in realizing a united mission around the education of children that involves all school employees: Teachers and para-professionals, yes, are on the frontline. However, school support professionals such as secretaries, custodians, and food service workers not only provide the support for a functioning school environment, but also educate and nurture children in their interactions and service.

I believe separating teachers and para-professionals from other educators for step increases takes us in a divisive direction that the education community cannot afford. It is a move that is more costly than the $900,000 difference in adding in the other employees. All of our educators need a step increase for FY 2012.

Regarding Skills and Knowledge Clusters and the stipend for National Board Certification, I feel like this is a missing piece to the wonderful initiatives underway in Race To The Top. Race To The Top provides a hopeful path forward in innovative education and has put a lot of positive national attention on Delaware as well as $117 million into our schools. However, I fear that a deep look at our compensation system shows that we are not rewarding educators for improving their skills the way RTTT suggests. We have the vehicles to do so in both of these programs, but we have not funded them for several years now. I ask again that you once more fund both Clusters and National Board Certification and thus provide alternative compensation, one of the goals of RTTT. Both compensation programs together would be around $1 million.

I will not address benefits for members in any detail today because I wish to honor the work currently underway. DSEA along with other public employee unions are in discussions with the Administration examining the pension plan, post-retirement health care, and health care for active members. I only ask that you refresh your memories and look at the salary schedules for teachers, para-professionals, secretaries, custodians, and food service. Then, ask yourself if it is too much for those folks to at least have good health care and a decent pension.
Yet, I hear lawmakers when they say, “Diane, what do I tell my next door neighbor who has been unemployed for four months?”

I would say this:

If I reduce compensation or benefits for your child’s teacher, it will not put you back to work tomorrow; it will not ease your fear tonight when you lay awake wondering how you will pay the mortgage; it will not answer your question of how you learn new skills over age 50 to find employment. However, if I compensate your child’s teacher fairly and fund education adequately, it may keep your son and daughter from facing those same haunting challenges 10 years from now.

Education is an investment in the future; and because education is a service, not an industry, when you increase or maintain investment, it is not in machinery or raw materials, it is in people. Invest in our educators and they will produce returns for generations.

Thank you very much!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stepping Up?

For many years educators have taken step increases for granted. Step increases are the small bumps in salary that happen for every year of service. For most educators in the state they are "stepping" for about 15 years on the state salary schedule and even longer on their local schedules.

Last year, step 15 with a Masters Degree was $44,428 per year. Add another 30% from their local school district then you are talking big money, approaching $58,000 per year. In case you missed it folks, that was sarcasm.

In any regard, in tough economic times, even these modest incremental increases are not guaranteed. The legislature must vote to fund the steps.

This year two factors are playing havoc with educator steps. First, the Governor's recommended budget is only for teachers and para-professionals to receive step increases. That means no secretaries, no custodians, and no food service. Second, educator step increases have now become more of a public issue than in the last two tough budgets; with the result being that there is some discontent being heard from other state workers who are not receiving any kind of increases.

Limiting education step increases to teachers and para-professionals is a break with not only budgeting tradition but with the education community culture as well. Educators take seriously the idea of a school community where every adult in the system contributes to the education of a child. Many students have special bonds with the school custodian or food service worker (the kids would say "cafeteria lady").

Separating teachers and para-professionals with steps in the middle of education reform is not good for the education community. There has already been some misunderstanding about education reform centering almost exclusively around teachers and ignoring other education professionals. This move seems to compound that undesirable direction.

The Delaware State Education Association is taking a strong position that they want all educators to receive step increases. The education community is united in their mission of educating children, and they should be united in fair compensation.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

JFC Begins Work

The Joint Finance Committee started work this week on putting together Delaware's budget. Yesterday, they received an overview of the state's economic situation as well as a presentation on the Governor's proposed budget.

JFC chairman, Dennis P. Williams at one point yesterday remarked, "Remember, the Governor proposes, and we dispose." His point being that the Governor's Recommended Budget is just that "recommended"; it is up to the legislature to decide which of the proposed spending and cut areas they will support or change.

Adding to the mix of politics around budget decisions was an article in today's News Journal about a proposed raise for judges in the budget. In response to the article and the issue, the Delaware State Education Association released the following statement to media:

February 1,2011

DSEA: Proposed pay increases for judges ill-timed given sacrifices being sought from all state workers
In these times of continuing economic distress and 'shared sacrifice', all state and public employees are doing their very best to deliver high quality public services. While we support the efforts of Superior Court judges to obtain pay equity with their Chancery Court counterparts, we feel the proposal is poorly-timed given the Governor's effort to seek $100 million over the next five years from the cost of current health insurance and pension benefits provided to state and public education employees.
DSEA calls upon the Joint Finance Committee and General Assembly to resolve these matters in a fair and equitable manner over the coming weeks as they work to construct the FY12 budget.