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Federation chapters receive Union Values in Action Awards

(Lake Charles – November 22, 2015) Seven local chapters of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers today received the Union Values in Action Award for improving the lives of members, enhancing the influence of the union and advancing the mission of public education.

This convention marked the ninth year that Union Values Awards have been given to LFT local chapters. The award recognizes the efforts of local LFT chapters to promote the union agenda and express commitment to the values that make the Federation the largest professional organization for teachers and school employees in Louisiana.

The awards were presented at the 51st annual LFT convention at the Golden Nugget Casino Hotel in Lake Charles. Recipients included:

Calcasieu Federation of Teachers: In union work, the idea is to go big. And what could be bigger than the Guinness Book of World records? The Calcasieu Federation, led by President Teri Johnson, provided copies of The Growing Table to over 1,200 elementary school students, who joined with young readers from 60 nations to earn a new world reading record. In addition, the union worked for passage of a half-cent sales tax, winning a $4,000 raise for teachers and a 10% raise for support employees, plus a supplement awarded this month.

East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers: The state takeover of Baton Rouge’s Istrouma High School was disastrous. After a series of efforts by for-profit charter organizations and the State Recovery District failed, the school – once the pride of a predominately African-American neighborhood – was boarded up. The East Baton Rouge Federation, led by President Carnell Washington, spearheaded a community coalition aimed at restoring the school to local control. A 10-day rally gathered thousands of petitions and aimed a media spotlight on the school. Local leaders pledged $2 million to refurbish Istrouma. The state capitulated, and signed a contract to return Istrouma High school to the East Baton Rouge Parish school Board. Classes will begin in the 2016-1`7 school year.

Jefferson Federation of Teachers: The enemies of public education once thought they had the Jefferson Federation of Teachers on the ropes. When big business took over the parish school board in 2010, they eliminated the automatic renewal of union membership and the popular and successful Health and Welfare Fund. In what was supposed to be the death blow, the board abolished the Federation’s collective bargaining agreement. JFT fought back hard, erasing the big business majority in the 2014 election. And this year, under the leadership of President Cathy Johnson, the Jefferson Federation of Teachers negotiated and ratified a new contract. No question about it: JFT is back!

Plaquemines Federation of Teachers: Plaquemines is a small parish that struggled to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. But its people are resilient, and they support their schools. With that in mind, Plaquemines Federation President Mary Ellen Hamner went all-in in support of a half-cent sales tax to give pay raises to teachers and school employees. PFT organized a “Vote Yes” campaign that mobilized members to call voters, flier parking lots and work football games. The union launched an e-mail campaign, distributed t-shirts to members and held “get out the vote” parties. The tax passed with a 70% vote. Teachers will get a $6,500 raise, and school employees 11%. The first checks will go out on December 11, retroactive to July 1, 2015.

Red River United: When Caddo Parish voters failed to renew a critical bond issue for schools, Red River United President Jackie Lansdale saw the need for a broad mobilization of educators extending beyond her own membership. RRU created a labor-management committee in Caddo Parish that included local affiliates of the National education Association and Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana. Committee members travelled to last summer’s TEACH conference, where they joined in frank and deliberate dialogue on the nature of collaboration, trust building, and how to move the district forward. In the absence of a district contract, the committee successfully crafts policy and deliberates on issues relevant to teachers and support personnel in the parish. Reconciliation and trust building take time, but RRU knows that the work is necessary to reclaim the joy of teaching and learning.

St. Landry Federation of Teachers and School Employees: Under the leadership of President Janice Mason, the St. Landry Federation fought an uphill battle to win a salary supplement for all of the parish’s teachers and school employees. The union launched its campaign by successfully asking the school board’s finance committee for a $1,000 supplement. A proposal was approved by the committee and sent to the full board for adoption. But then several board members signaled an intent to vote down the supplement. President Mason and her members redoubled their effort. A petition drive mobilized hundreds of employees to ask board members to approve the supplement. Their aggressiveness paid off when the board relented and approved a $1,000 supplement for all teachers and support employees, and $250 for substitutes.

United Teachers of New Orleans: What is the role of unions in the charter school movement? The question seems ironic, since the concept of charters was first broached by AFT President Albert Shanker decades ago. But charters exist somewhat outside the traditional contractual model, and unions across the country are grappling with the organizing dilemma that poses. In New Orleans, for example, there are dozens of boards, not a single entity, overseeing charter schools. But under the leadership of President Larry Carter, the United Teachers of New Orleans is forging new ground and providing an example for the rest of the country to follow. Last spring, teachers at Benjamin Franklin High School – the highest-performing school in the state – reached a contract agreement with their board. That same month, teachers at Morris Jeff Charter School petitioned their board for a contract, and negotiations are underway. UTNO is proving that unions are up to the challenge or a rapidly changing educational environment.