What Do We Stand For?

Welcome Back and Happy New Year!

As our bargaining team prepares to work all day Thursday and Friday—and straight through the three-day weekend in the hopes of securing a fair settlement—I find myself reflecting on parallels between unionism and civil rights.

Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and there is so much to highlight about Dr. King and his work for social justice and education, but I keep returning to Dr. King’s last campaign.

Right before he was tragically killed, Dr. King was in Memphis to support African American sanitation workers, who were on strike trying to force the city to recognize their union and address unsafe working conditions and rampant racism on the job.

Dr. King saw the labor movement and the civil rights movement as sharing common goals, and in a 1965 speech to union members he spelled out his desire for a united economic and social justice campaign:

“The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. We have not used a fraction of it for our own good or for the needs of society as a whole. If we make the war on poverty a total war; if we seek higher standards for all workers for an enriched life, we have the ability to accomplish it, and our nation has the ability to provide it. lf our two movements unite their social pioneering initiative, thirty years from now people will look back on this day and honor those who had the vision to see the full possibilities of modern society and the courage to fight for their realization. On that day, the brotherhood of man, undergirded by economic security, will be a thrilling and creative reality.”

I’m proud of PAT’s commitment to the principles of both unionism and social justice, and wanted to highlight some of the ways our members have put those principles into practice this year, particularly through the work of our Social Justice and Racial Equity committees.

For example, we’ve stood in solidarity with various workers trying to form a union, including at Burgerville and New Seasons. We support these workers, because we know the collective power that comes from being in a union together. Not only are unions the key to better wages and working conditions, they provide us a crucial voice at work—a way to make sure we’re treated with the respect that everyone deserves on the job.

We’re also trying to use contract negotiations, one of our key priorities this year, as a way to address racial equity issues.

In the past, we added contract language that stretched our transfer policy to help with racial balance, making exceptions to seniority: “If transfer of a professional educator would decrease the building’s percentage of minority teachers to less than the student minority percentage in the building, or below the percentage of minority educators in the District.” This year, for example, we’re pushing to address extreme workload concerns for Dual Language Instructors when they don’t get curriculum in the language of instruction.

Our Social Justice and Racial Equity committees are currently working on addressing hate speech in our schools and promoting the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. Internally, we’ve formed a Racial Equity Task Force dedicated to supporting our educators of color. Through one-on-one listening sessions, we’re uncovering new ways to strengthen our advocacy and better represent all our members.

On Monday, I encourage you to attend the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, hosted by the World Arts Foundation. PAT has been a supporter of this event for many years, and Madeleine Allen, Chair of our Legislative Committee, will be speaking on behalf of PAT this year.

None of this work is easy. But as Dr. King reminds us, our struggles are what bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President