NBA star Russell Westbrook gives an assist to striking Oklahoma teachers

Stephanie Griffith Senior Editor, Think Progress

Russell Westbrook became the latest sports star to lend a bit of his luster to a worthy cause — in this case, voicing support for striking teachers in Oklahoma who on Monday mark their second week out of the classroom.

Teachers in Oklahoma stopped working last Monday to press their demands for higher pay and better working conditions. Asked on Saturday whether he backs Oklahoma educators in their demands for higher pay and better working conditions, Westbrook declared that he is “all in.”

“Education is very, very important to me and the teachers are standing up for something I obviously believe in — that’s helping the kids get a better education,” Westbrook said in an interview with NBA reporter Royce Young of ESPN.

“Obviously them getting paid more, more funding for the schools is very, very important. So I’m definitely all in for that. I believe education is key to a lot of different things that’s going on in society,” he said during interview on the court in Houston, where his Oklahoma City Thunders were playing the Rockets.

It’s not entirely surprising that Westbrook would feel that way, given his longstanding support for education causes and his own involvement in the NBA players’ union.

Still, it’s never a certainty that superstar athletes will use their celebrity to back causes outside of sport.

Michael Jordan gained instant and lasting notoriety when he was reported to have said in 1990 that “Republicans buy sneakers too”  when asked whether he supported black Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Harvey Gantt over racist, arch-conservative incumbent Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.

Gantt ultimately lost that bid to represent North Carolina in the Senate. Recalling Jordan’s comments years later, legendary basketball center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in an NPR interview that Jordan chose “commerce over conscience.”

More than a quarter-century later, in a July 2016 essay in ESPN’s The Undefeated, Jordan wrote about being “deeply troubled” by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement”  but also “angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers” — which some critics felt gave short shrift to the effects of an epidemic of police shooting in the Black community.

By contrast, Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests during the national anthem did little to endear him to NFL owners, but they earned the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback enduring respect and adulation from millions of Americans moved by his efforts to call attention to police brutality and systemic racism.

By that yardstick, Westbrook’s brief remarks in support of  Oklahoma’s overworked, underpaid educators are a far less grand statement, but they will likely be viewed as welcome all the same.

The Oklahoma strike is part of a series of labor actions by educators and school administrators throughout the country. In recent weeks, West Virginia teachers reached a deal with lawmakers for a 5 percent pay increase, after nine days of strikes. Teachers in Kentucky and Arizona are also currently protesting for increased education funding.

Labor organizers say it is not uncommon for Oklahoma teachers to work a second or third job just to make ends meet. They are the lowest paid in the country, according to 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Data gathered by the National Education Association, which only considers public school teachers, shows Oklahoma teachers only made slightly more than Mississippi and South Dakota teachers, with an average salary of $45,245.

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Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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