Thursday, November 17, 2005

Parents, Teachers and Students are the Heroes in Averting the SF Schools Strike of 2005

Despite the mainstream coverage of the Mayor's involvement and SEIU 790 and Teachers Union involvement in settling the labor dispute with the SF Unified School District, I think the real heroes are the hundreds and thousands of parents, teachers and students that flooded the board with emails and phone calls, and spoke out at school board meeting after meeting about the need for a fair contract for the 1200 SEIU 790 members who work as custodians, secretaries and cafeteria workers in our district.
Parent groups like Coleman Advocates, Parent Advocates for Youth, Parents for Public Schools, the SFUSD Parent Advisory Council and others played a significant role, as did Youth Making a Change and hundreds of students from schools like SOTA, Balboa, Mission and Lowell that wrote letters to the Board, superintendent and other district officials.
Teachers and Paras from United Educators of SF and other labor groups were constantly active at board meetings and behind the scenes in supporting the SEIU 790 workers. The labor solidarity of the teachers and other unions supporting SEIU 790 was unprecedented in our school district.
Thanks also to PPS, Green Party leader Kim Knox, Parent Advisory Council leader Rick Reynolds, sfschools listserve and K.C. Jones' blog for providing timely up to date info for parents and community members as well.

Another unmentioned hero also was my colleague Commissioner Sarah Lipson. On Tuesday night, in the midst of a full moon and during the heat of the discussion of an ill-conceived proposal from the Superintendent to shift 2 January and March professional development days to Thursday and Friday, thus locking out Paras and classified staff from their jobs, many in the audience [students, parents, teachers, and community members] lined up one after the other to denouce the proposal as 'sneaky' and disrespectful to staff. Lipson made a 10:30 pm motion to kill the proposal and then later to delay it until our negotiating team could have a last chance at reaching an agreement with SEIU 790 leadership. Luckily the motion passed with Commissioner Mark Sanchez, Norman Yee and my support.

If the motion had failed, I believe the negotiations would have broken down and we would be dealing with a strike right now. The delay allowed me to become involved in the labor negotiations that resumed after midnight at City Hall. And, with the help of SF Controller Ed Harrington, Mayor Newsom's Chief of Staff Steve Kawa and others, we were able to hammer out an agreement by 4am. We collectively had prevented the strike from proceeding.

I woke up this morning in an incredible mood not just because of the weird SF warm sunny weather, but because our schools would be open and running and that we had all worked collectively to ensure a fair contract for the 1200 SEIU members and avoided a potentially devastating and costly strike in our schools.

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