Public Unions Under Attack Fight Back
Above photo: Erik McGregor.
The Supreme Court has entered the final phase in its deliberation of Janus vs AFSCME and is expected to announce its decision this June. If the decision is made against public sector unions, as is expected, it will be one more nail in the coffin of collective bargaining and protection of worker’s rights. Union leaders and workers are taking this assault seriously. They recently held a national day of action, #UnrigTheSystem. Unions are educating their workers about the case to overcome billionaire-funded propaganda being aired in support of it. And in West Virginia, teachers and other public school employees are now in the eighth day of a wildcat strike for better pay and health benefits. Oklahoma teachers are planning to go on strike too. We speak with Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union and Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
Relevant articles and websites:
The Radical Roots of Janus by Joseph A McCartin
Union Busters Set Themselves Up for Janus Backfire by IUOE Local 150
Worker’s National Day of Action for Unions, #UnrigtheSystem by Kevin Zeese
West Virginia Teachers are Now out on a Wildcat Strike by Kate Arnoff
Elizabeth A. Davis – After winning an upset election on a platform of reform, Elizabeth “Liz” Davis was sworn into office August 1 as President of the Washington Teachers Union. In her successful campaign, Davis promised to…
- Restore democracy and involve more members in the union to strengthen teachers’ voice.
- Build strong alliances with parents and community organizations round issues of common concern, from the need for more transparency and fairness in school budgets to the ways in which the district’s alarmingly high teacher churn negatively impacts learning.
- Engage on the content of education reform, teaching and learning within DCPS, including curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
- Work to improve the climate in schools to create a more respectful place to work and for students to learn.
Davis, an award-winning educator, has taught in DC Public Schools for 41 years, most recently as an Information Technology teacher at Phelps High School. After being recruited to teach drafting at Jefferson Junior High School in 1972 by the superintendent who was impressed by a course she designed, the school’s principal tried to bar her from the job because she was female. Fighting for her right to teach – and her female students’ right to take classes – in a male dominated vocational education field set the tone for a life as an activist.
During decades when many DCPS facilities were literally falling down around students and staff, Davis became known as a teacher who was unafraid to stand up to unsafe conditions, from water contaminated with unsafe levels of lead to tar fumes that were sickening students and teachers forced to stay in a school with a collapsed roof.
While working at Sousa Middle School, a National Historic Landmark associated with the struggle to desegregate schools in the nation’s capitol, DCPS put forth plans to close the school. She inspired her students to create their own design for a new school building and organize their parents, community, and political allies to save their school. After helping students and teachers lobby city officials to pass then-Mayor Fenty’s school modernization bill, speak out for much-needed resources like adequate books in their library, and even taking her class to Capitol Hill to speak before the Congressional Black Caucus, DCPS officials changed course, invested in modernizing the school, and even integrated student ideas into their renovation plans. A donor funded much-needed books for the school library.
When DC Voice was trying to understand the concerns of the community on school issues, the organization asked Davis to convene roundtables with parents and teachers. She has also been active in Empower DC, Save Our Schools, and the Ward 5 Education Council as well as the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society for Women Educators and the National Commission on Writing.
After watching strong students struggling to write, Davis developed a keen interest in nurturing literacy and writing skills among the youth she taught. She became a teacher consultant to the DC Area Writing Project in 1995, and also has been active in the Telling Stories Project of Teaching for Change.
In 2008, Davis co-authored an op-ed “Bargaining for Better Teaching” in The Washington Post about the failure of the WTU to bring good ideas to the bargaining table with Michelle Rhee on how to support and improve teaching and the quality of education in DCPS. Her union activism has included many years as a Building Representative for the WTU and service on the union’s contract negotiating team in 2007-2008. Her tenure in nine different DC public schools included a stint working alongside Jason Kamras, DCPS’s Chief of Human Capital.
Davis has been honored by DCPS as a highly effective teacher, and awards over her long career have included the MetLife Foundation Ambassador in Education Award and the Masonic Scottish Rites Excellence in Teaching Award. She is a graduate of DC’s Eastern High School and holds a BS in Technology Education from American University and a MA in Educational Administration.
Dale Lee – A native of Wyoming County, Dale Lee is a graduate of Clinch Valley College (Wise, VA) and obtained his special education certification through the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies (WV COGS). He is completing his Master’s degree through Salem International University. A veteran teacher of 22 years, Dale’s assignment was teaching special education at Princeton Senior High School. He is currently on a leave of absence to serve as WVEA President. As WVEA President, Lee is the leader of the state’s largest education employee organization. He first assumed the full-time duties of WVEA President on June 15, 2008. His was recently reelected to his fourth three-year term. Lee will serve as WVEA President through June 15, 2020. Prior to being elected WVEA President, Lee served for three years as Vice President, five years as WVEA Treasurer and was a member of the WVEA Executive Committee for three years. He has also been active in the Mercer County Education Association since he began teaching in 1986 including serving as its president. Lee’s immediate priorities include a salary increase for all school employees to begin to move teacher salaries to the national average. In addition, Lee wants to ensure public education funding remains a priority for our elected leaders at both the state and local level. He also wants to increase the level of respect shown to education employees for the tremendous jobs they do. Lee’s wife, Brenda, recently retired from her teaching position in Mercer County. They are the parents of two daughters. Danielle is a teacher in Mercer County. Jessica is a 2008 graduate of Princeton High and a graduate of Concord University. She works in the Princeton area.