Oklahoma bill aimed at dismantling unions takes ‘revenge’ on teachers for striking

Elham Khatami

Elham Khatami Associate Editor, Think Progress

Weeks after tens of thousands of Oklahoma teachers ended their nine-day strike after securing major wins, including teacher raises and additional education funding, legislators introduced a bill that aims to hamper membership in the teachers unions that helped organized the walkouts.

The measure, Senate Bill 1150, began as a bill tackling child abuse, but was completely rewritten this week thanks to an amendment by state Rep. Todd Russ (R). The current version of the bill would require a majority vote by teachers every five years in order to keep their collective bargaining unit. It would also prohibit school districts from automatically subtracting union dues from teacher paychecks, leaving teachers to make their own plans with the union to make the payments.

“There’s teachers that have been there for 20, 30 years and never had the opportunity to retain their union or change representation, or quit paying the dues and not have representation,” said Russ, according to The Oklahoman.

But Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told The Oklahoman that the legislation “seems like a revenge bill to come back after teachers, after the walkout.”

Katherine Bishop, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), agreed, criticizing lawmakers for “singl[ing] the unions out.” Bishop called the bill a “clear attack for teachers taking a stand and schools shutting down their doors and their voices being heard at the Capitol.”

Teachers discussed the measure in the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout private Facebook group, with one individual pointing out Wednesday that “OEA doesn’t even have any bargaining locals in Rep. Russ’s district. This is strictly about targeting teachers and education support professionals!”

While the legislation is not likely to become law, the attempt to diminish union membership is troubling for Oklahoma teachers, who often feel it is their only source of protection.

“All an attempt to weaken unions by strangling their ability to fight by cutting into their money,” one person said in the Facebook group.

Meanwhile, teachers are simultaneously fighting back against a potential ballot initiative that would put the state revenue bill — the one containing the education funding provisions promised to teachers following their strike — up for a veto referendum. Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite strongly opposes the legislation and is seeking 40,000 signatures on a petition to convince lawmakers to put the issue up for a vote. The deadline for the collecting signatures is July 18.

“I find myself unable to sleep at night because I simply don’t understand why funding education is such a struggle!” Alberto Morejon, one of the strike organizers, wrote on Facebook. “Why do teachers have to fight in order to make a livable wage? Why wouldn’t we want to fund education, giving our kids everything they deserve and every tool possible to give them the best chance to succeed in life?”


Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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