Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Today, in brief....

Anxiety dreams. Awake at 5:30, hailed cab in front of apartment at 6:45, shared ride uptown with two others. 30-block conversation with postal service employee about the strike, working conditions at the Postal Service, etc. Dropped them off, rode uptown along 6th, traffic slow. Picked up another passenger for 20 blocks, crossed over to the east side. Crosstown traffic the slowest. Rare morning glimpse of midtown draped in Christmas lights. Every cab always has its light on to show it's available these days, no matter how many passengers it may be carrying. Arrived at 90th & Lex $20 poorer but 30 minutes early. Sat at a coffeehouse counter, chatted with the waiter about the strike and teaching, drank a second cup of coffee. Full carpool to the Bronx. In school by 8:30. If you count only travel time, the ride took less time than my normal commute, though it was significantly more expensive.

A handful of kids were already at school when I arrived, sitting in the principal's office, reading. A dozen more trickled in as the start of the school day approached. I put them to work cutting pieces of twine, nylon string, and dental floss, threading straws onto the strings, and sorting balloons.

Three teachers out, two for reasons unrelated to the strike. 75-80% attendance. On the sixth grade, we taught all day - no breaks except for lunch. We had two slightly long morning periods and one normal length afternoon period. I had the kids shooting balloons across the room, taped to straws which were threaded onto different kinds of string. They will relate all this to friction & to Newton's Laws. It was a new lab for me - destined to become a favorite, but untested - and I learned a lot from the many disasters and near-disasters. For example, don't tape the strings to the bulletin board unless you plan on re-covering the bulletin board after the lab. Also, dental floss tangles really easily. It was the kind of science classroom that you dream of, the kids all extremely engaged, noisy but on-task - but it was also the science classroom of your nightmares, with balloons flying everywhere, little pieces of tape strewn all over the room, kids backing up and accidently tearing down their neighbors' experiments. It was fun, and chaotic, and frustrating, and stressful.

Afterschool was cancelled. Back into the carpool, offer of a ride all the way to 23rd Street to avoid paying a huge taxi fare. Around 70th, we got out because we could walk faster. Walked about an hour downtown with a friend/colleague. Darker, colder, hungrier, but it wasn't a bad walk at all. I walk that kind of distance fairly regularly, but usually by choice, not out of necessity. Everytime we passed a subway station, one of us would forget and point it out, We could always get the 6 train here... Or not.

Rewarded ourselves with beer & french fries in my neighborhood. Stayed long enough that as I was leaving, I ran into the musicians who play there on Wednesdays - my favorite jazz & blues band - coming in. They'd walked over the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn with their instruments: I had to stay. We chatted while they got their instruments ready. I graded some papers and just chilled out to a more-or-less private concert in the backroom of the bar. Another friend of the band came in later, having walked over from her office on 42nd St. More chit-chat while the band took a break. I left before the second set.

And here I am. I'll be walking up to 23rd tomorrow morning to meet the same friend/colleague I walked downtown with today. From there, we will cab it to 90th & Lex, where we will squeeze 6 people into one little car for the ride up to the Bronx.


The commenters below and on various blogs are right, coverage of the strike seems extremely biased, and for sure the media is not telling the workers' stories. TWU has got to communicate to all of us why we should care. Where are those stories about what it's like to be a train operator or a track worker or whatever, about how conditions are hard, about disrespect from management, etc.? The story that I've heard talked about the most along these lines was in one of the tabloid papers about female workers not having long enough breaks even to go use the bathroom. I read it; it gave me something specific I could identify with and use to explain why I was on the side of the workers. But I haven't seen very many other stories like that in the news these last couple of days. The workers' voices seem largely missing. (Are there any strike blogs written by workers? That would be interesting.)

(Update) NYC Educator links to a column in the Daily News that begins to fill this gap. But there need to be so many more!
"Ever since I started missing work for chemo treatments, my supervisor's been accusing me of chronic sick-leave abuse," Casiano said.

In the meantime, I've had so many conversations with so many different people who are saying, "I was initially supportive, but I'm not sure anymore..." And they're not just whining about their own hardships, either; the reasons range from the union's apparent folly in risking total bankruptcy in the face of $1 million dollar fines (they have less than $4 million in cash), to the fact that the national union is not supporting the strike, to the idea that the MTA's final offer may not have been completley acceptable, but it was progress, and the union might have been able to postpone the strike a few days more in order to use that as a starting point for further bargaining, without losing face. Then again, people point out that the fines might not stick if the union appeals, and someone needs to challenge the Taylor Law, and that every month some new horror comes to light about the management of the MTA, and that the city is losing so much money during this strike that could have covered the costs of raises for the workers. Take a look at TPM Cafe for a discussion that is fairly similar to what I've been hearing all day.

I am 100% behind workers being paid fairly & treated well & not selling out the new hires. In no way do I doubt that these people work hard, make our city run, etc., etc. On the other hand, I don't know enough about politics to know if this gamble was well-advised. Making a stand is important, but it isn't a paycheck; I just hope in the end that they don't spend the next 2 years working to pay back fines and make back lost pay and pay higher union dues, and that it all leads to actual improvement in their day-to-day lives. And if they can topple the Taylor Law, more power to 'em!


Anonymous Schoolgal said...

Glad to see your post today. I got home late after dinner and drinks, and when I didn't see a new post from you, I thought you were too exhausted or just stayed at a friend's.

Why didn't you get your prep?

I too read NYC Educator's blog today. I really think there is more to this strike than what the media tells us.

When I hear people say that the TWU shouldn't make more money than teachers, I have a problem with that. Is it the TWU's fault or the UFT? The UFT negotiated our wages not the TWU (but I hope they do in the future).

I am also confused about the pension issue. Do they want to institute a Tier V??

Lastly, I wish the UFT had brought a stike vote to the delegates. Just the thought of a strike might have meant a withdrawal of some of the givebacks. A little backbone couldn't have hurt.

12:29 AM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

Oh, there is a TWU blog, btw. It's a little disappointing as regards worker voices, though, but go check it out:

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. Thank you for your dedication to your students to do whatever it takes to get to the classroom!

I liked reading about your day. Sounds like it was a great learning lab for all.

Take care --


5:52 AM  
Blogger Aunt Murry said...

As I sit in the middle of the United States, I think I get more out of your blog then I do the evening news. I too am eager to hear the side of the workers. I am always anti-strike but I was raised white colllar and that principles don't feed your kids. I don't understand how unions work and I think that they have out lived their usefullness. What do I know. I am all for the workers having better days and better working conditions but could it have been done with out the strike? Who knows now. God be with all of you. Hopefully there will be a swift end.

9:49 AM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

I very much appreciate your support of organized labor, despite the hardship it's caused you personally.

I'd also like to tell you and your readers that Juan Gonzalez, perhaps the only worthwhile element of the anti-labor, union-busting Daily News has another story detailing how the MTA is itself in violation of the Taylor Law.

Check it out.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

It's interesting to read about the strike from a different perspective. It makes sense really that all of this naturally would have a domino effect. The educational system is just one piece of the puzzle.

P.S.- Congrats on being nominated for best education blog (you do know, right?)

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The transit strike was nothing more than a failed attempt at extortion from the taxpayers of NY state, and the commuters who depend on mass transit.

The transit workers are in the enviable position of being the highest paid workers in the country who perform the unskilled and low-skilled work called for in most positions.

They can't find higher pay for similar jobs elsewhere because it doesn't exist. Thus, they attempted to forceably take higher wages from a dependent public.

The fines against the union members and the union must be collected. And the union should be reminded that Ronald Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers in the PATCO union for striking in 1982. No planes fell from the sky. Therefore, the subway and bus systems could quickly replace and forget striking workers.

7:14 AM  

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