Wildcat Teacher Strikes Spread to Kentucky and Oklahoma

Educators are prepared to do “whatever it takes” to defend public education, says Kentucky public school teacher Blossom Brosi

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky walked off the job on Monday, April 2, closing schools statewide as they became the latest U.S. educators to demand pay raises and more funding for school systems reeling from a decade of budget cuts. The strike in Oklahoma by some of the lowest paid educators in the nation came the same day that Kentucky teachers dressed in red and flooded the state’s capitol demanding pension security.

EDDIE CAMPBELL: We are here today to rally for our schools, to rally for our public service.

JAISAL NOOR: Following a similar successful wage strike about a month ago by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a five thousand dollar pay raise last month. But teachers say that’s not enough, and are demanding an additional five thousand dollars over three years and a five thousand dollar raise for support personnel. Well, we now go to Kentucky, where we’re joined by Blossom Brosi, who is a teacher at the Danville Independent school.

So you just got back from this rally at the Capitol. Talk about what the scene was. You know, we have images we’re showing with, you know, shows hundreds of teachers, maybe thousands are rallying. What was your message that you delivered to leaders in the Capitol?

BLOSSOM BROSI: OK, thank you. Well, most of us Kentucky teachers are on spring break this week. We came up to the Capitol on the first day of our spring break. I got there about 7:00 in the morning, and there were thousands of teachers arriving, and we gathered at the Kentucky Education Association headquarters and then walked down the street to the Kentucky Capitol.

So what happened was last Thursday evening the legislators passed a pension bill that really just dealt us a huge blow. Changed our benefits, changed our healthcare, and basically took away our pensions. And then what’s happening today and tomorrow, these are the last two days of the Kentucky General Assembly. So our legislators have waited to the last minute to pass a budget. So we expect, unfortunately, that this budget is going to be full of cuts to education. We know that there is a charter schools bill that is going to be pushed through on these last two days of the legislation. So we were dealt a huge blow last week, and then we’re afraid of what’s happening today and tomorrow in the Capitol.

Our message really to our legislators is that we want a system of public education. What they’re doing is making it to where we can’t even have public schools. In Kentucky teachers are not eligible for Social Security. You don’t get social security. We also don’t get spousal Social Security benefits. And they have taken our Kentucky Teacher Retirement System away to where we have 401k plans that are terrible 401k plans.

JAISAL NOOR: The state says there’s not enough money to fund this pension. They say the state’s broke, and you know, painful cuts have to be made. So how do you how do you respond to that?

BLOSSOM BROSI: That’s absolutely false. You know, often states borrow against pension funds. And it’s happened in Kentucky before, it’s been happening for 15 years. Well, what happens is they put the money back in. So our legislators have tried nothing. They refuse to do any kind of tax reform. They refuse to think about medical marijuana. You know, all these would bring revenue to their state. But at the same time they’re giving 60 million dollars in tax cuts to corporations. They don’t need to give those tax cuts to corporations. We’re not going to see a penny of those tax cuts or tax cuts to create jobs. Well, that’s not where our budget needs to go. There’s not a budget crisis. This is actually a fabricated budget crisis.

JAISAL NOOR: You mentioned you’re on a break right now. Talk about how this rally was organized. Was it, you know, was it union leadership that got you together? Or was it rank and file teachers like yourself that, that connected to do this?

BLOSSOM BROSI: It’s a right to work state, which means that it’s illegal to strike. So technically, if you’re using that term informally, that’s what’s going on. But legally that’s not what’s going on. We have a Kentucky Education Association, we have a union, but they can’t tell us to strike. So basically what happened was last Friday, the legislation was passed Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. Friday morning enough teachers called in sick to where the schools couldn’t function. So the superintendents had to call off schools. So that’s what we’re doing. This is just grassroots movement amongst teachers in Kentucky. It’s illegal for us to use our school e-mails to organize. We can’t use a school phone or school e-mail. We’re using our home e-mails, we’re using our home phones. We’re creating Google docs that say, we’re trying to organize for the week after spring break. So you know, we only have 40 subs in our district. So 45 people call in sick then we can’t have school. So then, you know what, 45 people are going to call in sick on Monday. Different forty five people are going to call in sick on Tuesday. You know, different 45 people are going to call in sick on Wednesday. That’s what teachers are doing across the state to ensure that the superintendent has to call off school.

Well, why do we want to call off school. You know, we don’t. You know, it breaks our hearts to close school. This week we’re mostly on spring break, but last Friday a lot of schools called off. Well, we want to be with our kids. We want to go to work. But what’s best for our students is to save public education. You know, this is a crisis. Everybody in Kentucky needs to be aware of what’s going on. We can’t just pretend like it’s OK, and we can’t be bullied by those who say you should be there for the kids, and get back in the classroom. I mean, one of our legislators said to us, do your jobs. Don’t talk about politics. Go back and teach the kids. I mean, our governor was calling us thugs, saying we’re uneducated and uninformed, and you know, just name calling. Just being terrible to us. But we want to do what’s best for the kids of Kentucky, and that is to save our public schools. If we go to work and pretend like it’s OK that’s not going to happen. So we’re willing to take, to do whatever it takes.

JAISAL NOOR: And finally, you know, we can see you’re wearing red. We talked about the the recent historic strike in West Virginia. And the teachers we spoke to there said that they had the deep support of their local communities. They had been working with the communities and educating them about why to go on strike, and that’s part of why they were able to strike for so long. Talk about what the, what the mood and the feeling is in Kentucky, and whether you feel that you have the support of the, of the community, that where you live and where you work.

BLOSSOM BROSI: Well, that’s a good question. And you know, it’s really divided. I mean, I live in a county and a city in a county that voted for Donald Trump, that voted for our Republican governor Matt Bevin. Both our Senate and House Representatives, you know, this week in Frankfurt voted against what was best for Kentucky schools. Now, they’re all Republicans. Not all republicans vote that way, but all the ones I’m represented by. Well people are really confused. You know, in this community, they’re really divided. You know, some people think that not showing up to work is wrong and that, some people believe protesting or rallying is wrong, that there’s something wrong with that. We’re trying to change the way people think, and you know, this is our responsibility as citizens. This is what democracy looks like. But it’s definitely divided. But I think one important point is that our governor is trying to divide us.

You know, there were a ton of Republicans and a ton of Democrats at that rally today, and there were people holding signs that said, I’ve voted on one issue, abortion, and I’m never going to vote that way again. And there were lots of Kentucky teachers saying they voted for Republican Governor Matt Bevin and they’re never going to make that mistake again. Some of my colleagues in my school district went on Friday and changed their registration. Our governor and our legislators are acting like they’re concerned about this at all. I mean, I don’t expect Bevin to stay long in Kentucky, but he’s going to do a whole lot of damage for while he’s here.

JAISAL NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us. And you know, we want to keep in touch and keep following this as it develops. Thank you so much we appreciate it.

BLOSSOM BROSI: Thank you.

JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.