Adam Urbanski has been a labor activist for more than three decades. He walked the picket line in 1980 when Rochester teachers went on strike. After three decades heading the Rochester Teachers Association, he knows a thing or two about negotiating. He’s tussled with numerous superintendents, most recently Jean-Claude Brizard, who is now at the center of the Chicago teacher strike.
The strike came as no surprise to Urbanski and it’s no surprise he supports the effort. He acknowledges it is being watched by educators, unions and mayors across the country:
Jean-Claude Brizard and Rahm Emanuel have promoted adversarial relationships instead of collaborative relationships. They have tried to treat teachers as empty vessels and subordinates rather than valued professionals. They unilaterally canceled their salary increases. They asked them to work longer school day, longer school year for no additional money. They would not provide needed services for students such as social workers, school psychologists, reasonable class sizes. So teachers said ‘Let me figure this out. I feel like nothing to them. I watch these kids be denied what they need to learn. I am being denied what I need to teach.’ Even a strike, an act of desperation, seemed like the only recourse.
Frankly, if Brizard had remained in Rochester and continued the attitudes and policies that he promoted here and exhibited here, there was a real danger of a strike here, too. But we were able to avert it with a resounding vote of ‘no confidence’ and fortunately only weeks afterward, he decided to move to Chicago.
I don’t think that all of the blame (for the strike) can go to Brizard, but I don’t think he’s blameless. I think the real power of Chicago is the mayor’s office, but (Brizard) seems to be happy to do the mayor’s bidding and I think there’s a good fit between the policies the mayor is promoting in Chicago and Jean-Claude Brizard believes him.
A strike is an act of desperation. A strike is something you resort to when everything else has failed when there is no hope on horizon. Nobody wants to strike.
All of us outside of Chicago are watching carefully because what happens there will have an impact on the rest of us.
The strike was to gain a voice, a collective voice for teachers who were muzzled on all educational issues and were essentially being treated as Chicago teachers are being treated today. As a result of that strike, I was elected president with the hope that we would never allow the relationships and the situation in Rochester get so desperate that teachers would have to resort to a strike.
Strikes are always divisive. Strikes are always hurtful to schools and students. But sometimes strikes are an investment in a better future for schools and for students. Every worker should have the right to withhold labor. That’s the difference between slavery and the worker. But nobody should take a strike lightly.
In New York State, it is illegal for teachers to strike. If they choose to engage in an act of civil disobedience, they will be docked two days of pay for every day on strike. They could also be fired and lose their licenses.
More Links of the Day, Chicago edition:
- The Chicago Tribune is continuously updating a story about the strike.
- Mitt Romney is criticizing the teachers for striking.
- A Chicago teacher writes about why he’s striking.
- This is why giving principals the power to hire and fire doesn’t always work out. (In the private sector, managers have the profit incentive to keep good workers. In the public sector, there are few consequences for administrators of poor-performing schools.)
- The strike is ground zero for the education reform movement.