Oklahoma governor refuses teachers’ demands, extending strike

Casey Quinlan Think Progress

Many school districts across Oklahoma were closed Wednesday, as teachers continued their walkouts for an eighth day to protest lawmakers’ failure to meet their meet their demands for increased funding for education.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed legislation that would repeal the hotel/motel tax. Teachers wanted the governor to veto the bill and keep the tax in place, as they said it would create more funding for education. The governor also signed bills that allow casinos to use ball and dice games and require third-party online retailers to collect sales tax. Those two measures would provide the state with $22 million and $20 million respectively.

That’s not enough for teachers, who are demanding an additional $50 million in recurring funding for education.

Teachers have been pressing lawmakers for the elimination of the state’s tax deduction on capital gains, which would reportedly would bring in $120 million annually. The Oklahoma Senate approved such a bill last month, but representatives voted against bringing the legislation to the floor for a vote on Tuesday.

Rep. John Pfeiffer, a House majority floor leader, said lawmakers probably wouldn’t consider any more major revenue bills according to the Associated Press and said, “As far as this year, we’ve accomplished a whole lot, and I just don’t know how much more we can get done this session,”

An Oklahoma state representative, Cory Williams (D), tweeted criticism of Fallin’s approach to the teachers strike.

After Fallin signed the legislation, Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest released a statement, which read, “The governor and lawmakers keep closing the door on revenue options when Oklahomans are asking for a better path forward. Filing for office starts Wednesday. Public education should be the issue this November. We need candidates who are worthy of our children.”

There is a line set up at the capitol for candidates to file beginning Wednesday and ending on Friday. In 2016, dozens of teachers ran for seats in the state legislature. Over 100 candidates filed as of 9:30 a.m.

The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) has shifted its demands and said lawmakers only need to raise $50 million more in revenue for the state budget in order to end the strike. According to KOSU, OEA Vice President Katherine Bishop said that even if there isn’t enough funding for this year, there needs to be recurring revenue for the future and it can’t be a one-time stipend. The OEA is proposing that the funding come from either the wind tax or repeal of the capital gains exemption. Republican senators have proposed wind tax credit reform.

It’s still unclear when the strike could end. The Oklahoma Education Association applied for a permit to continue coming to the capitol next week, according to FOX23 News. The strike began on April 2.

Some teachers are less optimistic this week. Mary Means, a special education teacher from Luther High School told NewsOK, “My heart wants to be encouraged, but I am a little pessimistic. We’d be willing to come out here as many days as it takes, but some of our school systems are calling us back.”

Some parents have also been feeling the strain of the walkout, especially single working parents, who have to find out each day whether schools would open and whether they have someone to watch the kids. The majority of parents have said the strike is not a burden on them, according to an OEA poll.

Last week, teachers said they would end the strike if the governor vetoed the hotel/motel tax and if legislators took action on repealing capital gains exemptions. The governor has already signed legislation approving teacher pay raises of an average $6,100. Teachers initially asked for a $10,000 raise for teachers over three years and $200 million to restore education funding, among other requests.

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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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