Teachers across Connecticut are coming out to their local CEA County Forums to stay on top of new threats to their profession and public education—and to learn how they can protect themselves.
Top among those threats is a court case that aims to weaken teachers’ ability to collectively bargain for fair salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Janus vs. AFSCME, which will be decided in the coming months, is nearly identical to the Friedrichs case that teachers faced in 2016, said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. Janus would do away with fair share fees, allowing those who do not pay dues to still benefit from the union’s efforts, all in an attempt to weaken unions and mute teachers’ collective voice.
At this week’s forums, held so far in Hartford, Middlesex, New London, and Windham counties, Williams explained what’s at stake in Janus (collective bargaining and all the rights and benefits that come with it), who’s behind it (so-called corporate ‘reformers’ and profiteers—think the people who brought us Betsy DeVos), and what teachers can do now to ensure that their union stays strong (stay engaged and make sure your colleagues do too). In his “State of the Union” presentation, Williams included a question-and-answer period, where teachers voiced their ideas and concerns.
“I think belonging to the union is invaluable,” said Bolton music teacher Dan Ayer at the Hartford County Forum on Monday. “Whatever we can do collectively will empower us to maintain fair working conditions and not to lose jobs. I would tell any teacher who is unsure about the value of union membership that we’re the ones who are fighting for your salary, your insurance, and your benefits. The union is fighting every unfair thing thrust upon you. I have friends in North Carolina who do not have the kind of strong union you see here, and I realize how very fortunate we are in Connecticut. “
Alan Trotochaud, a chemistry teacher at E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield and the treasurer for the Norwich Teachers League, added, “The value of the union is that there are lobbyists for the other guys, and we need our lobbyists too. If we don’t have a voice at the Capitol, the union-busting side will. So many people today don’t understand the function and importance of unions, especially newer teachers who are understandably focused on their immediate needs and don’t know how unions have laid the groundwork for the positive working conditions we have today. The fact that Janus could take that away is disconcerting.”
Williams and CEA President Sheila Cohen warned of the impending attacks on teachers unions by groups that often masquerade as friends of teachers or advocates for education—groups that try to convince educators that they don’t need their unions.
“Connecticut is in the eye of the hurricane,” Cohen cautioned.
She described, among other groups, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), through which corporations hand lawmakers model legislation that benefits their business interests—often to the detriment of students, teachers, and public schools.
“Think about Wisconsin,” Cohen said, referring to a state where teachers’ rights and public education were severely eroded. “You can thank ALEC for that. Think about Michigan; you can thank ALEC for that. Think about Betsy DeVos. You can thank ALEC for that.”
At the combined Middlesex/New London County Forum held on Tuesday, Madison teacher and building rep Danielle Fragoso described her colleagues as “impassioned” about their union. “We all see the value of our union. But we also know there is a need to share that information with others. If you don’t get out and talk to people, they won’t necessarily understand. It’s so important to keep our members abreast of what’s going on not just in your building but in your district and beyond. That’s how the dialogue starts. That’s how it continues. That’s how we stay connected.”
“The time is now,” added Cromwell eighth-grade science teacher Andrea Middlebrooks. “Go to your local CEA County Forum. It’s so critical, so crucial to come together. We don’t want to end up like Arizona. We don’t want to end up like Wisconsin, with no representation, with a weakened union. We are professionals and need to be treated as such. We have to rally and show who we are, as teachers, as CEA.”
CEA County Forums run through February 1. Register for your local forum here.