At Time, Katie Reilly reports on “what it’s like to be a teacher in America” and the new momentum to improve working and wage conditions following this year’s teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky. According to the article, America’s 3.2 million full-time public school teachers experience some of the worst wage stagnation of any profession — taking inflation into account, teachers earn less, on average, than they did in 1990.
The public response to the teachers’ protests shows signs of a shift in the perception of the profession. Even in conservative states, many voters backed tax increases to support public education, and called on lawmakers to stop cutting school budgets. State funding for public schools fell off a cliff 10 years ago, when recession-wracked states slashed education budgets and cut taxes. The uprising in West Virginia seemed to mark a turning point in public support for refilling the coffers.
But like most stories, the fight over teacher pay has many shades of gray. Generous retirement and health-benefits packages negotiated by teachers’ unions in flusher times are a drain on many states. Those who believe most teachers are fairly paid point to those benefits, along with their summer break, to make their case.
Teachers, however, say those apparent perks often disappear upon inspection. Many regularly work over the summer, planning curricula, taking continuing education and professional development courses, and running summer programs at their schools, making it a year-round job. Indeed, teachers—about 40% of whom are not covered by Social Security because of states’ reliance on pension plans—must stay in the same state to collect their pensions. Studies have shown that the majority of new teachers don’t stay in the same district long enough to qualify for pensions. Even for those who do stand to gain, it can be hard to find reassurance in distant retirement benefits when salaries haven’t kept pace with the cost of living.
“Utility companies do not care that you had a great day with one of your students. They don’t care that you’re coaching the soccer team. They want you to pay for the services that they provide you,” says NaShonda Cooke, a teacher and single mother of two in Raleigh, N.C. “I can’t tell you how many letters I got this summer that said final notice.” Cooke, who makes about $69,000, often skips doctor’s appointments to save the co-pay and worries about paying for her eldest daughter’s college education. “It’s not about wanting a pay raise or extra income,” she says. “It’s just about wanting a livable wage.”
Read the full story at Time.
In other news:
Charleston Gazette-Mail: Kate Mishkin reports on a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on the links between black lung disease and the working environments of coal miners. Study researchers interviewed 19 former coal miners with progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung, at a federally funded black lung clinic in Virginia. A majority of the men said they hadn’t witnessed proper ventilation throughout their careers; eight said they were more diligent about proper ventilation when federal health inspectors were present; and some said that dust samplers were often placed in areas of the mine known to have lower dust levels. One miner said during the interviews: “I can’t walk around the room without feeling like I’m passing out. I can’t lift anything. I can’t mow my grass. I can’t pick my grandson up. I’m toast, I mean, as far as breathin’.”
Business Insider: Hayley Peterson reports that more than 200 delivery drivers have come together to sue Amazon and one of its subcontractors, TL Transportation, for unpaid wages. The class-action lawsuit got the green light last month after a judge ruled that TL Transportation failed to pay drivers for overtime, which is a violation of federal labor law. The suit also claims that drivers are under such intense pressure to get out deliveries that they’re not able to take breaks to eat and use the bathroom when they’re on the road. One of the lawyers representing the drivers told Peterson: “Amazon is using third-party contractors to push off any responsibilities for being good employers on these small, thinly capitalized companies. One repercussion of that is that these companies use pay schemes that potentially violate the law.”
Associated Press: David Crary reports that McDonald’s workers voted to go on a one-day strike next week, Sept. 18, at restaurants in 10 cities to demand that management get tougher on workplace sexual harassment. Organizers of the walk-out include several women who have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over what they say is pervasive harassment at the fast food restaurants. Strikers are demanding better procedures for receiving and responding to harassment complaints and new training for workers. In response to the strike, McDonald’s defended its anti-harassment efforts, but also said it was seeking outside help to “evolve” its policies. Crary writes: “Another organizer is Kim Lawson, 25, of Kansas City, who also filed an EEOC complaint alleging that managers responded ineffectively when she reported sexual harassment by a co-worker. Lawson, who has a 4-year-old daughter, says she makes $9 an hour. She is heartened by strong support from other workers for the planned walkout.”
Civil Eats: John Washington reports on life as a farmworker in the lettuce fields of Yuma, Arizona, where thousands of people cross the border each day to work the fields during harvest season. Teams of workers typically pack about 1,500 boxes, or 63,000 hearts of lettuce, each day. The work is hard, it comes with few — if any — benefits, and workers face a number of dangers and vulnerabilities, including pesticide exposure, workplace injury, family separation, minimum job security and high stress. Washington writes: “This is the pace of modern American farming: a Mexican-American great-grandfather dipping at the waist and brandishing a lettuce knife like a musketeer. In about a minute, each romaine heart Manuel cut out of the ground would be bagged, boxed, and stacked on a flatbed truck—ready to be whisked away to a cold storage warehouse and then sent to your local grocer. Manuel is an early link in the long chain of food production; he may also be the most vulnerable link.”