EDU Statement on the Special Commission on Retiree Healthcare
EDU (Educators for a Democratic Union), a progressive caucus within the MTA, is deeply dismayed that the MTA leadership has endorsed a report which could result in the dramatic weakening of members’ retirement health insurance benefits. Last week a Special Commission on Retiree Healthcare issued a report that calls on the legislature to pass “reforms” that will in essence mean a giveback by public employees of $20 billion dollars over thirty years. EDU is outraged that this proposal was never presented to the MTA Executive Committee and Board nor to MTA members for debate. And EDU is outraged that MTA leadership has accepted, indeed has embraced, the idea that “reform” only means cuts to public employee benefits. EDU knows that the real issue of skyrocketing health care costs is creating a single payer health care system and a more progressive tax system, not a downward spiral of declining benefits for public employees.
The “reforms” will force future retirees to work longer and likely pay more for their health insurance premiums -- an estimated $1,000 more a year for some retirees. Public employees will have to accrue 20 years of service, up from the current 10 years, to get the minimum retiree health insurance (and 30 years to get the full benefit) and will have to work until age 60, not 55, before becoming eligible to start receiving retiree health care benefits. That applies to current MTA members not just future employees. You can read the MTA’s explanation here.
EDU is shocked that commission member and former MTA president Anne Wass voted in favor of the report while President Paul Toner stood alongside the Governor and praised its recommendations. Both did so having never presented the Commission’s recommendations to the MTA Executive Committee and Board nor secured any vote of endorsement. This is the worst kind of centralized, secretive decision making which turns members off and weakens the union.
EDU rejects this backroom deal which sells out our members, weakens public employee unions, and diminishes many state employees’ hopes for retirement security. We call on members and locals to unequivocally and vocally oppose this deal.
- Communicate your opposition to your MTA Board member. All members are free to attend any and all MTA Board meetings to speak their mind. You should also cc your opposition directly to MTA President Paul Toner (email@example.com).
EDU wants every MTA member to be aware of the pattern: our “friends” on Beacon Hill – usually ones we helped elect with our dues money – have rolled back public employee benefits. First it was municipal health care – members effectively lost their right to bargain over health care. Then it was pensions –all future members will pay more for their retirement and must work longer before they can retire. And now it is retiree health insurance – you better stay for thirty years and be at least age sixty if you want full retiree health insurance benefits. (It used to be you got the benefits after 10 years, and could retiree with full benefits after age 55).
Moreover, the commission’s report is just the starting point for legislative negotiation. The final law could be far worse.
Perhaps the most chilling comment in this latest debacle came from Steve Grossman, the State Treasurer, whom MTA endorsed this past election. He was quoted as saying that the report “is exactly what the investor community wants to hear.” In other words, our members and all future public employees are going to have to suffer financially in order to please the investors and the bonding agencies. And the “investor community”? They haven’t seen one dime of increase in their taxes while state budgets have been cut and public employees have seen their working conditions decline.
And do we think this is the end? If we go along with “the investor community,” the governor, and the legislature this time, will that be an end to all the attacks on our conditions and benefits? Or is it time that we begin to fight back and to take a stand against this sort of action?
Who we are
We are MTA members concerned about the future of public education, our union, the teaching profession, and the education workplace. We want the MTA to work with parents, students, community organizations, and other unions to popularize a powerful vision for public education and public life more generally. We want to be part of a union that fights back against attacks on education and so-called “reforms” that actually undermine quality universal public education. Because we know that what happens beyond the classroom has a profound effect on our students’ ability to succeed in our schools, we want an MTA that will fight equally hard for a more just society.
Unfortunately, we are worried that our union is headed in the wrong direction. While current MTA leaders may be well intentioned, in our view the organization has been willing to give in on fundamental union values and beliefs. In recent years, we have gone along with major compromises, passed by our supposed allies in the legislature, to take away collective bargaining rights over health insurance, worsen pensions for future educators, increase the number of charter schools, and increase the importance of test scores in our schools. In trying to get along with Democratic leaders, or in following poll-driven strategies, we have sometimes been too willing to compromise and not willing enough to fight for our core principles, for what we know is best for our members, our students, and our state.
We offer the following principles for public education in our Commonwealth, and principles for how our union will be most effective in achieving our goals.
Please join us in building the progressive union, and society, we all want.
A Progressive Agenda for Public Education
1. To thrive, our democracy requires public, not corporate, education
We believe first and foremost in public education – education for all, paid through fair taxation, and democratically controlled. As recently as a decade ago, few would have predicted that a full-scale assault on these very foundations of public education would be pervasive across the country. We reject the explosion of charter schools (many for-profit), of voucher systems, of outsourcing of education jobs, and the imposition of destructive and ineffective corporate strategies, such as the dramatic increase in the use of part-time educators, the misnamed focus on simplistic “performance” measures, and all manner of incentives for “improving” education which actually achieve the opposite. More and more control is being ceded to corporations, who increasingly shape testing and curriculum, and proposals have been made for further dramatic expansions of this process. We will build a union that fights for high-quality public education by reaffirming the commitment to democracy and the public good as the foundational purpose of public education.
2. Respect and Support Teachers and Education Workers
Schools can only succeed with well supported and experienced educators and support staff. In order to attract and retain quality teachers and staff, our society needs to pay them well, provide job security, and above all honor and respect those who are dedicating their lives to helping students learn and develop. If administrators, school committees, legislators, and the media attack and disparage teachers and their integrity – as has been happening for the past decade --– and if pensions and health care coverage are weakened, no one should be surprised when we are unable to attract the best, brightest and most committed to the teaching profession. We will build a union dedicated to supporting all in the education workplace and fighting back when they are under attack.
3. Poverty Undermines the Education of Our Children
An experienced teacher in a small classroom with engaging curriculum is actually the second most important factor affecting a child’s ability to learn. Family and community poverty is even more important. When a child is hungry, struggling with chronic health issues, and experiencing many of the other stressors associated with poverty, it’s hard for them to focus on learning. When a family moves three times a year, it’s hard to maintain continuity of instruction and the important relationships teachers and support staff can provide. When a child must fear for his or her safety before and after school, they will not reach their potential. Our students’ parents need access to affordable childcare and jobs - at living wages - with room to advance. Students and parents should have decent housing, in safe and well-maintained neighborhoods, free of harassment or the fear of deportation. The billionaire hedge fund managers who are driving so-called “reform” movements pay little attention to these issues, but poverty, jobs, housing, and health care are central education issues. We will build a union that sees fighting for economic justice – good jobs, progressive taxes, aggressive social and economic investment in the poorest communities – as an essential part of fighting for quality public education for all.
4. Educate the Whole Child, Don’t Teach to the Test
We reject the focus on rote learning and high-stakes testing fed to us by both political parties, which is harmful to the education of our children. To raise educated adults, thoughtful citizens, and skilled, innovative workers, schools must educate the whole child. Meaningful education is a process of critical inquiry and developing abilities, not a dreary and obedient grind. Many children find pleasure, and develop self-esteem, and learn to do math, read, write, and think through art, music, and sports. When schools are primarily data-driven and teachers function as technicians teaching to the test who are evaluated simply on test scores, students – and teachers – are much less likely to develop a range of skills and qualities, from leadership to creativity, that cannot be measured in the multiple-choice bubble version of “education.” We will build a union that will stand firmly against the testing mania because we, as public educators and support staff, know it is bad for our students and our future.
5. Race, Immigration Status, and Sexual Preference should not be barriers
Our nation has turned its back on one of the great crusades of the past half century: ending segregation and inequality in our schools and ensuring that all public schools have equal resources. Poor students of color should not be sorted into under resourced schools, while white students attend other—usually better-funded—schools. Nor should race and class-based tracking systems lead to de facto segregation within a school. Immigration status and the process of learning English should not be barriers to education. Sexual orientation should not result in students being bullied or shunned. We will build a union that will reengage in civil rights struggles to end racism and discrimination, which is an essential condition for achieving quality public education.
6. Free, high-quality public higher education
Public education is free from kindergarten through high school. If 12th grade is free, why does it cost up to twelve thousand a year to attend public higher education the next year? Attending some form of higher education over the course of one’s life should be a right, as it is for so many a necessary step toward individual fulfillment and economic success. Charging thousands of dollars for public higher education is a form of privatizing education. All residents deserve the right to attend public colleges and universities for free. At the same time that we reduce the cost, we must improve the quality, and rely on full-time staff and tenure-system faculty. We will build a union that ignores the naysayers and insists that free higher education is the natural next step in a two-centuries expansion of access to education.
7. Defend the contributions of unions, including collective bargaining
The rise of a plutocracy and the decline of the working and middle classes over the past generation are a direct result of the decline in the power of unions and the assault on collective bargaining. Unions are a way for workers to get together, decide what issues matter most to them, debate alternative policies and actions, democratically make a decision, and collectively work towards those goals. We defend the right of MTA members and all workers to have a union and to collectively bargain with their employers. We oppose the erosion of union rights and attacks on collective bargaining, whether those take place in Wisconsin or Massachusetts. We will build a union that will not capitulate to enemies, or or fair-weather friends who suggest that the way toward a better society is through the weakening of the rights of working people.
8. Build a pro-active “bottom-up” and “inside-out” union with a long-range vision
Our union needs to be open, transparent, democratic, and participatory. Ordinary members should understand and debate the issues, then be involved in decision making. If members are involved in union decisions, they will be more committed to the actions taken. If decisions (even good decisions) come from the top down, members stop listening and withdraw. This is the situation of the MTA today, where only a tiny handful of our 110,000 members are in any way involved in their locals and in the statewide union. In addition, as we engage our members, we must turn our attention to the communities in which we live and work. We will build a union that starts anew to build the confidence of the members, so that they are involved in shaping a long-range, activist vision for the MTA, a vision that reconnects the public sector with the public good.
9. Concessions must be a last resort, not a starting point
In the past two years the MTA has accepted – usually without a fight -- the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers, a drastic reduction in local unions’ ability to negotiate about health care, reductions in pensions for new educators, and has negotiated limits on locals’ ability to collectively bargain the terms of layoffs and involuntary transfers. In most cases we have embraced and even proposed the compromise, avoiding battles that would have mobilized the membership, and then consoled ourselves that if not for the compromise “it could have been worse.” But when the MTA backs off our principles without a fight, that only leads our opponents to come back at us with a new demand for concessions – as the record of the last two years proves. For too long we have been playing defense, always responding to the latest assault on our integrity, our budgets, or our benefits. Every election – and every legislative session -- we fight back yet another assault. It is time for us to develop our own vision, then put our issues and our agenda on the ballot and make them the focus of debate. We will build an MTA that will take a stand, put forward our vision for public education, involve the membership, and be willing to fight on principle in order to win the war for public education rather than negotiate a slow retreat.
NOTE: These principles are a continuing work in progress. Comments and suggestions invited.
-The Coordinating Committee for EDU