Sunday, May 1, 2011

ISTA President's Speech at April Representative Assembly April 2011

Thank you, Teresa.
What a powerful message.
Isn’t it amazing that on some level, history always has a way of repeating itself?
Indiana and many other states across our country are currently in the midst of some very powerful times as workers’ rights are being assailed by anti-union governors and state legislators.
Basic rights we have taken for granted are under attack from Alaska to Florida, from Texas to Wisconsin and just about every where in between.
Clearly what is occurring in our country is a national agenda aimed to diminish worker rights, to weaken unions and to give total control of the work environment to management.
The current attacks on the working class are the civil rights issue of our time.
Here in Indiana our governor and some legislators are advancing that agenda by supporting legislation that would drastically weaken many of the basic rights we, as educators, hold as core values.
Their legislation will limit collective bargaining, negatively alter teacher evaluation and compensation systems, eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools, and divert financial resources already budgeted to public schools to private institutions.
Colleagues make no mistake about it; these are not “education reforms.”
We all know that this education agenda has almost nothing to do with “reform” but has everything to do with a political agenda designed to weaken our association.
We know that if education reform were the objective then we would be seeing proposals to:
Decrease – not increase class sizes,
Increase – not decrease class offerings,
And to increase – not decrease funding for remediation programs.
So instead of focusing on real education reform, those things that actually help our children in public schools, this agenda is focused on diverting resources away from public schools.
Hoosier common sense should tell us that their real objective is to defund or “fiscally starve” our public schools so that it becomes more and more difficult for public schools to be successful.
Let’s be clear; the ultimate goal of these proposals is to weaken Indiana’s public education system and to weaken our association so that in the future our detractors would have free reign to do what they want - without facing any questioning.
But I know I’m preaching to the choir here.
You have heard this before and you understand it.
So let me shift direction and take a few minutes to answer questions some of you have sent me.
I have heard these first four questions or ones similar to them from several members.
First question:
Have we been working with other unions, like IFT and the AFL-CIO?
Yes we have held joint rallies and joined forces legislatively with both IFT and the AFL-CIO. We also meet on a regular basis with the AFL-CIO labor council.
Have we tried to work with Republicans as well as Democrats during this session?
Yes, even before the session started -right after the election we began to meet with leaders and others from both parties to discuss education issues. Those meeting have continued throughout this session and we hope to continue them even after this session is completed.
This question is from Rick Marshall North Knox Co-President.
How will members retain their current level of Governance representation considering consolidation of Governance UniServ Districts?
Rick, even though in the future service regions may change there will be no need to alter current governance districts.
Therefore what you point out will not occur.
Crystal Flath from Southwest Sullivan Education Association asks.
Has ISTA discussed lowering our dues?
This is a great question because I don’t think that everyone knows how our dues amount is determined.
Our dues are determined by a formula contained in our bylaws.
Each year dues are determined at 1.4% of the Average Beginning Teachers Salary of the previous year as reported to Indiana Education Employment Board.
Because this formula is dictated according to bylaw it can only be changed by amending the current bylaw which can only be done by delegates at the annual Representative Assembly.
Here is a question from Sara Litwicki, a member in Crown Point.
What do you see in the future for ISTA if/when the Republican House and Senate pass the legislation that is currently pending.
Actually I think Sara’s question is getting to the same point as one I received from Dan Potter, the vice-president of our East Allen teachers local.
So I’ll try to answer both at the same time.
Dan says, Nate, I have fielded questions about the future of ISTA.
These questions relate to whether people are going to retain their membership next year in light of impending collective bargaining legislation.
How will ISTA work to insure their relevancy to members?
These are not only two excellent questions, but they are questions we must all be able to answer.
In reference to Collective Bargaining and how will changes in that law affect how we operate in the future.
First, there is still a Collective Bargaining Law. Granted that it has been restricted but there are still things we can and must bargain.

We will still need to represent members legally and at the bargaining table for salary and benefits.

Secondly, ISTA was advocating for educators and public education long before there was collective bargaining.

Remember ISTA was formed in 1854 and the collective bargaining law was not passed until 1973.

Third, there are a number of states that do not currently have a collective bargaining law and they do a great job advocating for the rights of educators and promoting public education—and educators continue to join.

Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee are successful ones that come to mind.

Fourth, without all of the previous protections and provisions of collectively bargained contracts our members will need their association even more than ever.

But let me emphatically say that ISTA is much bigger than just collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining is one part of what we do for our members and the need for our association to continue to advocate for and to work for our members in all areas will most certainly continue.

As for what I see as future work for ISTA?

That question reminds me of a quote from John F Kennedy, “When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters – one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

I believe we have a great opportunity to enhance our power through some different channels and we will need our members help at the grassroots level to do it.

We will still need to be politically active during election season, both locally and statewide.

We will need to engage in collective action and carry out our 18-month program designed to elect pro-public education and pro-public educator candidates. That takes collective action and resources.

And we must be serious about finding Democrat and Republican candidates who are public education friendly.

Then we must support them again at the grass roots level in primary and in the general election.

We can only do this if our members stay committed and work together for the good of all.

We must advocate for public education just as we have in the past but we must be more focused in doing so.

Folks, think about it, what would it be like without ISTA?

What would it have been like during this legislative session?
(talk about changes we made)

Without ISTA who is going to stand up for educators?

Now, please think about this.

How do those who want to destroy our organization and therefore have complete control over us as educators and over public education achieve their agenda?

How do they win?

There is only one way - and that is if “we” give them what they want.

If we and our members become self centered and forget that unions are about collective power and say nope I’m not joining. Then they win.

If our members forget that all of us together can accomplish more than any one or small group of us can on our own. Then they win.

If they are, in fact, successful in dividing us, and separating our members from their own interests, then they win.

I will tell you that our detractors are counting on you to give up on this fight and turn your back on your union.

I believe that our fabric is stronger than that and that we will not be fooled that easily.

Friends, we can make one of two choices.

We can decide to give up and say there is no hope.

That will only assure that there will be no hope.

Or we can decide to stay together and work together and fight together, like those leaders who came together to form this association in 1854.

Through the passion and resolve of our members our organization has risen to meet challenges in the past and if we have the will, it shall do so again.

As Winston Churchill once said, “If we are together nothing is impossible, if we are divided all will fail.”

One thing I have learned during the last two years is that trying times make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew.

Folks I know this, trying times are not a time for fear, or for panic, or for giving up –either individually or as an association.

Trying times are a reason to reach inside ourselves and to summon the courage to do something that our detractors think we cannot do.

The choice is clear.
We can either let others determine our future for us, which they are most certainly anxious to do, or we can determine it for ourselves.
I know which choice you want to make.
In these powerful days we need to again be the authors of our own story, the captains of our own ship, and the architects of our own future.
In these powerful days we need to seize the opportunity to make our association stronger, not to give in to those who would destroy her.
In these powerful days we are the stewards of the future and the responsibility is ours to keep the advocacy alive for our generation and for all those who will follow.
Let me end with this thought.
In this time of turmoil, let’s remember where we started from in 1854, and why.
Thank you.

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