Panel for Education Policy Protest

Another great report from the NYC Panel for Education Policy Protest against their Verizon contract.—AS
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Bloomberg’s gift to Verizon
Source: Socialist Worker
By Sandy Boyer
August 22, 2011

Although it was recently announced that they were going back to work without a contract, while 45,000 Verizon workers were still on the picket line, New York City’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the company a $120 million present. His representatives on the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), which replaced the Board of Education, voted last week to give Verizon a two-year, $120 million contract to wire schools for Internet.

But thousands of strikers and their supporters were on hand—just days before an agreement was announced that sends strikers back to work while the company and the unions return to talks—to show they don’t appreciate the gift.

Bloomberg’s political appointees weren’t about to let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of their generosity to Verizon. The schools already have Internet connections. This contract will provide wiring for more computerized testing and instruction–something parents and teachers say they don’t need or want.

The panel also wasn’t fazed by the fact that Verizon has been implicated in a $3.7 million fraud against the city. The company allegedly colluded with a contractor, chosen by the Bloomberg administration, which systematically overcharged the city for Internet wiring. The special investigator for the city school system reported that Verizon facilitated the fraud by keeping silent. Verizon hasn’t returned a penny of the $400 million it made from the fraud.

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BEFORE THE PEP meeting, nearly 1,000 Verizon workers and their supporters marched outside the high school where the panel met. Most people were wearing red Communication Workers of America (CWA) T-shirts, but there were signs and T-shirts from the Transport Workers Union, District Council 37 AFSCME, the United Federation of Teachers and Teamsters Local 237.

As Peter Lamphere, a teacher and member of the Grassroots Education Movement, told the crowd:

When this strike started, the teachers and parent activists in the Grassroots Education Movement thought about what could help solidarity with strikers make sense to rank-and-file educators. What does a classroom math teacher have in common with a tech who fixes fiber optic cable?

When we found out about the contract up for a vote tonight, we realized that we had a heck of a lot in common. We were both being robbed by the same people. The same folks who are demanding concessions on job protections, health care and seniority rights from CWA and IBEW have been caught participating in the defrauding of the children of New York City, and have so far refused to pay the money back.

The Verizon workers on hand for the protest knew exactly what they were striking for. Marcel, a technician in CWA Local 1109 said, “[Corporations] want to be able to get cheap labor, without health benefits, retirement, pension…that’s what it’s all about. And they want to start with the biggest union around–Verizon CWA. If they can break our union, the rest will follow like a deck of cards.”

Robert Hardy, who has worked for Verizon for 21 years, put it in more personal terms: “They want to be able to move us wherever they want, like they do with their workers in Texas. Imagine if your company could come to you and say ‘we understand that you have to drop your kids off at school every day, but report to New York or else you’re fired.'”

There was a brief rally where labor and community leaders and some local Democratic Party politicians urged everyone to support the strikers. However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for mayor, were nowhere to be seen.

After the rally, people crowded into the small high school auditorium, where the panel was to meet. There was a policewoman standing at the door with a counter, controlling the number who could get in. The auditorium, which holds 300 people at most, was completely packed.

The crowd was there to support the strikers. Before the meeting even started, they were chanting “CWA” and “Verizon sucks.” When it got to the Verizon contract, the panel allowed the public to speak. No one was there to represent Verizon. Instead, a succession of union members, parents and community leaders spoke for the strikers.

As a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice said, “Bloomberg should put our children first. Why should he let corporate giants like Verizon and [Rupert] Murdoch feed at the trough?”

Everyone went wild when a representative the New York City Parents Union told the crowd, “We stand with the Verizon workers. We’re parents. We’re workers.” A representative of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents the teachers at the City Colleges, got a huge ovation when he said, “The union movement in New York City is waking up.”

Through all this, the panel members sat on stage and tried not to notice what was happening in front of them. Dennis Walcott, Bloomberg’s chancellor, who is in charge of New York City’s public schools, seemed to be checking his messages.

In the end, only Walcott would defend Verizon. The very first time he got up, people began chanting “Bloomberg stooge.” Walcott could only promote the contract by claiming that it was for basic phone service. He was constantly drowned out by shouts of “Liar.” One man kept yelling at him, “You’re a hack.”

But of course, the fix was in. Bloomberg’s appointees had already cashed their checks, and they were there to obey orders. The contract was adopted by a vote of 8-4. A mother with a child in the public schools summed it all up: “This contract is a total fraud.”

FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of education politics, theory and practice. I believe this constitutes a “fair use” of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more, see: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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