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Amazing victories for Milwaukee Public Schools led by union members

By staff |
May 28, 2018
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Milwaukee, WI - On Thursday night, May 24, Alex Brower, the president of Substitute Teachers’ Union for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), ended his 21-day hunger strike with a victory. Brower was fasting to win health care benefits for full-time substitute teachers. Before now, subs received their hourly pay and nothing more; previously granted benefits for subs were stolen by Scott Walker in 2011. Through his fast, Brower says he was “simply embodying the suffering that full-time subs endure every day they are forced to work without basic benefits.”

Healthy, qualified and excited substitute teachers are a critical aspect of a functional public school system - an aspect MPS lacks severely. This is no doubt an issue stemming from administration’s unwillingness to grant an entire sector of full-time workers basic health care rights. Many MPS subs are a medical emergency away from bankruptcy or complete financial devastation. Paraprofessionals, food service workers, office workers, and others have been afforded this benefit for years.

Over the course of the fast, a petition to earn support gained serious momentum around the city, including with State Senator Chris Larson. Several other MPS employees and union representatives entered day-long solidarity fasts over the course of Brower’s 21-day strike. Last week, the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association (the union representing MPS) held a candlelight vigil to honor Brower’s heroic efforts and rally the people in defense of a basic human dignity - healthcare. This effort was also helped along by ATU Local 998 President James Macon, who spoke in favor of MPS Substitute Teachers receiving health insurance, explaining that many former teachers are now driving buses because they were forced out of the classroom by cuts to the profession.

Before Thursday’s meeting, Amy Mizialko, the vice president of the MTEA, announced that she would join Brower on his hunger strike if the school board failed to amend the current budget proposal to include healthcare for full-time subs. This never became necessary, as the MPS school board made the right choice on Thursday evening at the most recent budget planning meeting. Because of this heroic struggle led by Brower, 62.5% of next year’s substitute teachers will now be fully insured! This is an incredible victory, and proof that people’s struggles are worthwhile.

Substitutes’ health care was not the only people’s gain from last night’s meeting - there were several other victories, including fewer required staff meetings (allowing teachers more prep and tutor time), and a huge budget adjustment in favor of the classroom. Interim Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley presented a budget proposal that would restructure central offices, cutting $2.5 million from each office and returning the district total ($11.6 million) to the classrooms. Previously, schools had been informed they may need to cut 5% from their overall budget; this proposal ends that concern. "Schools will receive that money back, every single cent," Posley said. There is still time for further amendments, but the May 24 victories are here to stay. The budget will be finalized in the coming weeks.

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