Right now, a whole bunch of union leaders are lined up in front of the council dais to smack down on the plan from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to make hundreds of employees at D.C. Public Schools headquarters “at will”—-i.e., that they can be fired at any time for any reason management sees fit.
Call it the first big roadblock for the Fenty/Rhee juggernaut since the mayoral takover of the school system last spring. Several councilmembers have already expressed skepticism of the administration’s plan.
Most of the labor leaders—-which include representatives of the Washington Teachers’ Union, the Metro Washington Council of the AFL/CIO, and locals of the Teamsters and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees—-put forth a slippery-slope argument. None of the affected employees are unionized, but the concern among the union honchos is that their members are next.
Josh Williams of the local AFL/CIO council adapted the famous line of Lutheran minister Martin Niemöller about the Holocaust: “They came for the management workers, and we were silent. They came for the nonunion workers, and we were silent. Then they came for the unionized workers and we were on our own.”
A particularly interesting case in the WTU, whose members’ contract expired recently and is soon to begin negotiations with Rhee on a new employment agreement. President George Parker and General VP Nathan A. Saunders both testified against the legislation, citing a meeting Tuesday where more than 200 WTU members voted “overwhelmingly” to oppose the central-office firings. Last month, Saunders sent a letter to union leadership urging them to fight the “at-will” bill.
But there’s plenty of support out there, too: A previous panel at the hearing, composed of parents from Ross Elementary School in Dupont Circle, each strongly endorsed passing the Fenty/Rhee legislation.
Also of note: Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray took a pretty big smack himself at Fenty. Gray noted on the dais that mayoral aides wanted him to attempt passing the bill as emergency legislation at next Tuesday’s council meeting. (Emergency legislation goes into immediate effect after a single council vote.) When he refused, Gray says, mayoral staffers approached other councilmembers, trying to get someone else to introduce an emergency bill. No one bit, apparently.
Doing emergency legislation, he says, “would have been an incredibly disingenuous way of dealing with an issue of serious importance.”