The members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, stand in solidarity with the members of the Tacoma Education Association (TEA) and their courageous decision to strike for a fair contract.
Members of the GEO understand that withholding labor is vitally important as a tool in collective bargaining. It was only by first authorizing and then carrying out one of the five largest work stoppages in the United States in 2009 that the GEO was able to secure any reasonable concessions from the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in our current 2009-2012 contract.
The GEO commends the TEA’s decision to withhold education labor as a necessary tool for protecting conditions necessary for a quality public education, including the support and retention of experienced teachers, protecting teachers against discrimination, and contractual protections against excessive class sizes.
The Tacoma Public School officials said that TEA members acted unreasonably, claiming the strike hurt their student’s education. Nothing can be farther from the truth: it was the Tacoma Public Schools’ refusal to bargain fairly with the TEA that hurt students. We know that the decision to strike is never easy, but when other options have been exhausted, striking to protect the future of public education in Tacoma is in the best interest of students, families, teachers, and other Tacoma Public School employees.
According to the Tacoma News Tribune, “TEA President Andy Coons…said teachers are modeling for their students how to be active citizens.” The members of the GEO could not agree more, and we congratulate the TEA on their new contract.
We stand with the TEA in affirming that without a work action demonstrating the resolve and solidarity of TEA members and their allies in the community, it unlikely that the TEA could have successfully resisted district efforts to increase class sizes and denigrate the vital role that experienced teachers play in educating Tacoma’s children.
The News Tribune and other local sources argue that the manner in which the strike was resolved–with mediation overseen by Governor Christine Gregoire–demonstrates that the work action was unnecessary in the first place. The TNT and others further suggest that the strike was just a power play by the Washington Education Association.
Let us be clear: it is obvious even from the News Tribune’s coverage that this was a strike driven by membership. Nearly 90% of the TEA bargaining unit voted to strike, and an overwhelming majority of those voted to continue the strike in defiance of an anti-union court order. And for elected officials to become involved in this manner, unions must first demonstrate the value of their labor through work actions and other demonstrations of solidarity.
If the TEA strike was a Washington Education Association power play, it is a wonderful example of the power of democratic decision making among working teachers to protect their rights and the interests of their students. We at the GEO hope that other WEA locals will follow the Tacoma Education Association’s courageous example.
As university employees and members of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, we know that labor solidarity in education is necessary to protect the future of accessible and high quality public education at all levels. We particularly urge the students, staff, faculty, administration, and alumni of Tacoma’s colleges and universities (including Tacoma Community College, the University of Washington, Tacoma, the University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, and the Evergreen State University, Tacoma) to support the TEA in any way that they can.
The members of the UIUC Graduate Employees Organization
The Graduate Employees Organization, AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, represents approximately 2,700 Teaching and Graduate Assistants on the UIUC Campus. In November 2009, over 1,000 GEO members successfully went on strike to secure a fair contract for graduate employees and a more accessible UIUC. The GEO continues to work for high quality and accessible public education in Illinois. For more information, please contact GEO Communications Officer Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Read our related solidarity statement with the CMU Faculty Association after the jump.