Bert Marley, the Idaho Education Association's public policy director, was among the speakers at the “We Are One” rally in Boise on Monday, April 4. Here are his remarks.
Forty-three years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis as he labored to bring economic justice and respect for 1,300 city sanitation workers. As we remember the courage and determination of Dr. King and those Memphis sanitation workers who endured assault and arrest as they walked a picket line for two months, we stand here together with other public workers all across this country of ours whose bargaining rights are under attack, we stand with private workers who can’t get bargaining rights, and we stand against those politicians and their allies who want to silence our political voice.
I bring greetings from IEA President Sherri Wood, who is unable to join us. On behalf of the 13,000 members of the Idaho Education Association it is my great pleasure to address you. Thank you for being here and thank you for all of your support and efforts on our behalf this session. There truly is a feeling of sisterhood and brotherhood and solidarity among the unions of Idaho. As Dr. King once said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Make no mistake: This has been an unjust year for all of us, not only here in Idaho but across this nation as unions and especially public sector unions have come under relentless, virulent and vicious attacks from those who would take away our basic rights, reduce us to the status of peasants, and destroy our public education system—the tool to a better future for our children and the pathway to our economic future. It almost feels like a war.
You have all heard about the Luna plan for education. While I could go on and on about the absolute wrongness of these laws, I want to focus at this rally on the portions of these laws that diminish and demean educators, and by extension affect each and every working Idahoan and union supporter.
- The Luna laws prohibit providing proven teachers with protections against arbitrary discipline and firing.
- These laws allow school boards the right to impose settlements without mediation or fact finding thus making the collective bargaining process a sham.
- They allow for the breaching of contracts during the school year.
- They forbid school districts from even considering seniority or contract status in layoff decisions.
- The laws forbid negotiations regarding class size and other issues that affect the learning conditions of students.
- They allow school districts to unilaterally reduce school employee pay and benefits.
- The Luna laws mandate that all locally bargained agreements expire at the end of every year.
There is more but I think I make my point.
Although the proponents of these laws would like to see the Idaho Education Association disappear, that’s not going to happen. We have been here for almost 120 years and we will be here for many years to come, still fighting for our students, our members, and an education system that protects our democratic way of life.
Let me be crystal clear: These laws will not silence us. These laws will not halt collective bargaining. These laws will not cut us out of the political process. These laws will not deter us from advocating for our members and for the children our members educate. These laws will not keep us from our mission.
I am reminded of a quote from Garrison Keillor. He said, “I support unions. Organized labor gave us the two-day weekend, an eight-hour day, health insurance, pensions, and other good things. They were not bestowed upon us by a grateful management. They were fought for. What was fought for can and will be taken away, unless it’s fought for again.”
We have much to be grateful for and much to protect. In the days ahead, we will be working to undo the damage that has been done to education and to our basic rights to have and maintain a meaningful and productive bargaining process. As we move forward we ask for your help and support and promise you ours.