Louisiana: The State We're In; 279; East Baton Rouge Parish Teachers' Strike
Production funding for this program was provided in part through contributions to friends of OBB. The thing is now we have a common enemy before the people. The enemy was some vague person. They blame teachers they blamed our taxes they blamed communists they blamed all manner of people. Now we have a common enemy the common enemy is a union takeover of our public school system or other public facilities. So I think all of a sudden after listening to all these people very quiet ordinary decent citizens have said nothing is more important then we stop this you might and I think that's what's happening. We deplore and reject the implication made during a news conference at 11:00 a.m. today by a representative of the school board the Teamsters business agent is speaking for teachers. No authority is invested in him to do so. The implication is so unpredictable that it's virtually defamatory deceptive in its intent and immoral in judgment.
We realize however that some central office staff careers are at stake. We shall assume that some persons are being forced to compromise their moral character. We pray for them. In public affairs for. The reason you stayed around with us. You are. One. Good evening welcome to this edition of Louisiana the state we're in tonight. We depart from our normal format to bring you an in-depth look at the six day old teachers strike in Baton Rouge. A strike that has state wide national implications by some it is perceived as a teacher's rights movement by others it is viewed as unionization of public education.
There is also the larger issue of whether public employees have a right to organize and strike in the first place and whether the drive toward public employee unions is inevitable. In Louisiana we begin our examination of the issues in advance of the teachers strike with the dramatic vote taken by teachers a week ago. A vote that left about two thirds of the East Baton Rouge Parish teachers on the picket lines. We asked our teachers to stop this sudden awful strike immediately and return to the responsibilities they owe the children of this parish. We're out on strike and we took a very drastic step on Friday so it will. Our demands now are for recognition as the collective bargaining agent in negotiation.
There are only two parishes in this state of collective bargaining we wish with each. Neither one of those is of the. Battleground. Today is Baton Rouge. It's been so stated that. National people that I have to communicate with for a number of books that this wouldn't be the battleground. If Baton Rouge was indeed a battleground this week. Both sides say they wish the confrontation could have been avoided. But at this point battle lines appear to be drawn with both sides and entrenched positions. And the key to any resolution appears to be the issue of collective bargaining. Superintendent Clyde Lindsay in the majority. The school board members feel that any step toward collective bargaining would be an abrogation of their responsibilities to the public and the crack in the door that would allow for recognition of other bargaining agents such as the Teamsters for their part. Leaders of the striking teachers say collective bargaining is a necessary tool to force board members to make the changes teachers have been requesting all along. Equally at issue
is the fear that collective bargaining may places school systems in jeopardy of a strike. Every time a contract is negotiated with teachers on this point the two sides have widely different opinions. I wouldn't say that collective bargaining or negotiating a contract is always going to end in a crisis I just don't believe that's true. Lenny Penn is president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Association of educators and a spokeswoman for striking teachers. Most situations like this do not in crisis I mean thousands of contracts or negotiate negotiated every year and it doesn't anywhere close to a crisis situation. So I think the percentage of strikes is at actually very small and the small percentage of strikes that occur of course make front page news and they seldom take into account the thousands of contracts that are negotiating very peaceful and everybody's happy about the whole situation and there's no crisis at all. The fact is this is kind of tantamount to those systems that have the unions have the strong. Wish people would say
that that's not necessarily true. Well. I just pull up to the contract they sent me today. It's not. You may not have a strike if you give it or if you give everything away but if you give it all the way to day what's there's going to be some other debate. And the bar is what I have. Seen. Clyde Lindsey's superintendent of schools says he's not sure teachers want collective bargaining but he realizes that teachers do want change. You do get the feeling though that the teachers are genuinely upset genuinely concerned. Do you. Think they have something to be upset about. Yes I think teachers are angry and I would have to say this that to some degree I think the right answer to a great extent I think rightfully so. If you just stop and think of what's the criticisms that have been leveled about well in the past year and they criticize that and not any good. The public turns them down in their
quest for pay increases and inflation is eroding their earnings to where they have to have second jobs to make believe living. All the different types of criticisms and attacks of all the. Effects. By the media. And not for. The media. Particularly but I guess the media reflects So what so was. A that they're not doing their job effectively. Effectively and those go from every direction. I think they rightfully have a right to feel frustrated to feel some anger about the situation Larry and because you see they are helpless in the situation just like what they are helpless in the same way that the school system is helpless in this situation. You know. I know they asked for more but I don't have it. I don't have a way to give them the money. Which I would
like to do. The money is in but the way it is dictated before we start. So in that respect it's most difficult to see demands that the teachers are asking for a 12 percent. Raise. There's no way that this kind of money is available without additional taxes. But for many teachers money is not the key issue. Their sense of frustration comes from their feelings that the school board has been indifferent to their expressed concerns. What has been happening to us we will go to the proper channels go to the committee meeting and. You know nothing has ever been done. And I think it's all a long time for just years of building. And things have just been. More and more frustrating conditions as far as teaching and the discipline. All of these things have been mounting. And the teachers just felt a need for something to make their voices heard and that was what happened.
The latter part of January 1st of February when we sent out a survey in. 83 percent of the teachers in the parish want collective bargaining. I asked this question earlier to Dr. Lindsey and then I asked it to Mr.. Balgo. That was off. Do you think the teachers know what collective bargaining is. Because I do sense that there there is a total sense of frustration with all the teachers that read that they are angry that they are upset that there's something the matter. But. I. Wasn't sure that they could articulate it. Do you think that's when they originally walked out. The teachers knew what the problem wasn't. You think they understood collective bonds. Yes we went to great lengths back in January and February. We sent out brochures with questions and answers. Why is collective bargaining and explaining it so that when they made a decision that they would know and understand what they were asking for. And. Do they understand that it's an orderly process to sit down. And. Talk over your concerns and come to some
agreement and you can call this negotiating or you can call it bargaining. It's a compromise. Although teacher leaders are fighting for traditional union rights. They are also working hard to avoid the union label. We are an independent united professional organization the word union is a label it's not an idea but the Baton Rouge teachers are members of the Louisiana Association of educators and affiliate of the National Education Association and the IRS considers them a union. There are eight representatives of the NEA in Baton Rouge now Chuck Bolden veteran of 83 teachers strikes is their leader. The way I view it is we are what teachers perceive us to be the organization the present time we are an independent united teaching professional organization and teachers perceive you organization to be that way. They pay dues dues to the organization and that's what they think. When you think about the initiative they think about a united independent teaching profession.
I ask you that because I've got an interesting reaction to that. I asked Mr. Bucy who's head of the AFL CIO for Louisiana and he said that they were professionals organized in a union and and they maybe they didn't want to call themselves that. But they were. And of course to him that was not a bad connotation he thought he thought it was a good one. Do you think that. Well let me let me just talk about Mr. views his comments about our organization. I think he really doesn't understand what we're all about. And I think perhaps if he's viewing. This telecast what ever shown that the organization. Is interested in. The economic and professional security of teachers that translates to collective bargaining OK we believe in collective bargaining. We view our organization as a professional organization.
We do do the things that unions do for their members but our perception of where we are and what we are is we are an independent united teaching profession. Some people will say well since you do the things that unions do why don't you call yourself a union. That's something that 1.8 million members will decide and not Mr. Vick to Bucy if the teachers do not choose to call themselves union members. Those who have no hesitancy in embracing that label have joined the teachers strike. Maintenance workers and lunchroom employees who want the school board to recognize the Teamsters and Edward Grady pardon is their bargaining agent on the picket lines and other Teamsters are honoring those pickets. State AFL CIO chief Victor Bucy says it's not unreasonable to expect workers to band together say one group goes on strike then another group honors the picket lines and then another one said subsequently you have really you can have a shutting down of the whole city does it. Does that ever does that trouble you.
Do you think it was segregated to work one part of management didn't join in with the other part of management. Whenever employees go on strike look at the first groups who spoke out when these employees were talking about wanting collective bargaining and stifling lobby immediately appeared on the scene said don't give them anything. The Chamber of Commerce said the same thing the employer the employee group spoke out against those employees. So the school board has its allies. Why shouldn't the workers have their allies. If you're going to pass a law which limits it to the two the two parties that are directly involved that would be one thing. But if this is going to get interested in and choose sides with the employees then the employees ought to have some protection too. And they ought to be able to have their allies by now the issues transcend the simple proposition that more communication is necessary between the Baton Rouge School Board and Baton Rouge. Teachers leaders on both sides agree. They say that this is a nationwide movement and therefore outside experts are needed. Have you talked to other superintendents around the country to see what experiences they have to
get some advice if you will. Yes ma'am. Hi. Two hour chat last week last Tuesday morning in fact with Dr. Geisler we all wish they had. As you know a. Major strike 30 day shot at their school system I think it's 13 days for the state school system at the beginning of this school year. What advice did he give you. And. We had a. Nice long talk. I think. The most important things that most of us. Can share with you is things that they did that weren't mistakes. It's difficult to always tell you exactly what to do. At a given time or out of given situation the circumstances dictate that. But what they do tell you is it's mistakes to make. And. Just. To. Live. To. The. You we. Had for Chicago certainly he gave me advice on
things that I'm sure I would have done. That would have not helped the situation. They all know this. I was right that on the day of play it and everybody would. Love it. He threw it in the waste paper basket. So watch for that. Why didn't. You find you after. Oh he said you discuss everything and every contingency never emergency that. What. You do not. Lay a detailed plan. For the other people to create disruptions for. Your boy. And you know I want even say that rather than worry too much about strikers I wasn't really worried about them too much but I would be worried about his ending. No one knows what plans I had for my decision to take the situation. Paul this is. A nationwide movement. I like to refer to it as a teacher rights movement. Teachers all over the country have been denied the respect and dignity. I think it was exemplified here and he's said
Ruth Parrish this is not unique to the Spanish pairs However 33 states in these United States have decided to give teachers collective bargaining rights by law. Over 6000 local school boards have given teachers the right to bargain collectively. Those are NEA affiliates. Those are any affiliates we think that since. This is started it will not stop. Teachers understand the value of collective bargaining. It creates an orderly process for teachers to just sit down. And discuss with their employer the school board or their concerns. Teachers are on the firing line every day. They know what the needs are in those classrooms. Board members are not fair. They need to know a principal is not in a classroom. The superintendent is not in a classroom. Boards have chosen to talk to the superintendent and
talks to the principal. What about the teacher who who's on the firing line every day. I think it's absurd for teachers to be ignored. The way they have been ignored. If teachers have felt ignored in the past both they and the school board are now receiving an overdose of media attention. Proposals and counterproposals are broadcast live via daily press conferences. The effect of this kind of intense media coverage seems to have left teachers goals in the shadow of the bigger issue. Collective bargaining. This time the battleground may be Baton Rouge but in every teachers strike in any city the hostages and the casualties are the parents and the children. What do you say to the children who aren't in school right now. What's your message to them. What about those high school seniors those the ones who have learned a lot from you. I know you've heard those meetings Well what do you say. Well they're saying democracy in action. They're saying teachers speak out for their rights and we've done it in a very orderly way where we're complimented today by the place saying that it was the most orderly well behaved group of people and strong that they had ever saying.
And I feel that our students will see a process in action. That every American citizen has the right to voice their opinion. I think if for any good to come is for to have to go. It's going to have to be resolved fairly quickly because I think we continue with this. There's no question that you hurt me. It's a students program of education. And. You certainly is what we have is disruptive to the economic prosperity and prosperity of a community a city such as Baton Rouge. I just. Say that I. Would hope that we could be. Resolved. You can see Ron emotions certainly running high in this this controversy. I think whenever you have a strike that affects this many people when you have this many teachers on the picket line when you have families torn people not sure what to do with their school children and yet wanting to be supportive of teachers. I think the
sentiments are are confused in any issue as complicated as this. I think the latest proposal we saw is an interesting one. It says that Linnie been proposed on Friday that the two groups be locked in a room together and forced to negotiate and then not come out again until they reach some kind of an agreement. The school board now has a labor lawyer who is giving them some advice. And I think that maybe this will take some of the fear out of everything if both sides feel that they are getting good advice. I think it happened so quickly. A lot of people were prepared for it. You since then it happened quickly for the people who hadn't been following it talking to some of the reporters who've been covering the board that they felt that this had been brewing for some time. It's interesting to note that the striking teachers can react more quickly to these various proposals and counterproposals being a school board you're tied up with the Open's media open meetings law. They also you have to get a consensus among the board members and we've seen two of those
board members going off in their own direction. One of them has now just flat sided with the teachers. There were things we talked about during all this was all the media coverage you had you had a proposal made on live on television and then another group would come in would have to react to it. I think this has made it to in some ways it's good but in other ways there's so little time to to to reflect. Of course you have media coverage in any kind of strike situation. But a truckers strike or something like this both sides in this strike are using the media to their fullest because after all it's the public that is really affected by this. And as we said being held hostage by this I find it interesting the only other teachers strike I was involved with in any coverage was in Washington D.C. Several years ago and there any reporter that happened on the picket line the teachers would almost mob them to tell their side of the story in the Baton Rouge situation. The teachers are being told not to talk to reporters. Let's just have one or two spokesmen talk. So it's been hard for me to find out just where the teachers stand and how they feel about all these developments.
I think they each side is now having a spokesperson. So I think that certainly implications this will continue for some time to come if we can say anything about the situation it's that 1979 may be remembered as the year of the public employee strikes in Louisiana it was just a month ago that the New Orleans police strike was holding Mardi Gras hostage. Is that strike began. We took a look at the public employee unions situation in Louisiana. It's a report that bears repeating is more public employee groups turn to the ultimate weapon the strike. There are unions representing some employees of the state but the strongest public employee organizations are the local unions or they have won the biggest gains in bargaining and were the rapid growth is now taking place. The federal labor laws say very little about public employee unions. So for the most part this new growth in unionism in the public sector is regulated. We've had employee unions for a number of years particularly in our local governments but it has not been much of an issue in in recent in recent months. I guess there has been a lot more activity in that area and without some
sort of guidelines or controls. The public has no safeguards nor protection because we're still dealing with public money different than that corporation and private money. But we're talking about public money and public activities and unless we have something like that there's a possibility that as the saying goes up give away city hall and then we think the public need some protection. Art deal is director of Louisiana's Public Affairs Research Council a so-called good government organization which studies and offers solutions to the major problems facing state and local government. He says he's worried that local officials won't have the expertise or inclination to do some tough bargaining with the union that's recognize that most of the. People that had these governments elected and so they come under undue pressure particularly from an organization of any kind not necessarily from the general public. And we had recommended in our study that they use professional labor negotiators rather than using say the mayor or somebody that is not knowledgeable in that area because we feel that the the the cost involved there will be saved many times over because the union
representatives obviously are well-trained in this. They've done it for many many years. I think then that the public is at the mercy of the union negotiators. If the city or parish officials or governmental officials do not have a knowledgeable person doing that can be the negotiating for them. Also concerned is Ed Steimle. He heads the state's largest business organization and lobby group. He says he's worried about the weak bargaining posture of government officials. The management side is just not there. These people are elected. They go to the polls and they look for union support at the electorate to make. Concessions to them during the campaigns and as a result they are rendered useless when it comes to the bargaining table. That's what scares you. That's the problem. Sure it is there. You just simply don't have the same condition and bargaining in the public unions and private unions. Of course that's why the big unions are now going public. They know now that they have a weak management that they have to face. And as a result are just unionizing.
The country right and left have local government officials really become pushovers for the public. Union bosses we put that question a Teamster official Ed Parkin. He recently won an attractive package for Baton Rouge garbagemen and he's considered one of the toughest labor bargainers in the state. I agree that they could be remembered very much. Because it's cooler. Than I ever could for negotiating a contract here to turn it. Over to the face of that they had to return it get got to warn Bono when he and he left it on the label. So weird. And then we go to bed. We didn't do it because. I have to and raise who. Was going to school. And I want to be the place to live. I know we've met with people and tell them I don't care what kind of tricks is your interpretation and we all live by. We're not going halftracks Eagle increase phone was a work to have a problem
because you're negotiating with. The government in effect all of the people who pay the tax. It seems like it's a different kind of ballgame than negotiating with a corporation that is. So you find you have to have to sell your package to the public as well as to management. Right. The first thing you do let the public know what I think any person ok with is you know you find a person like could to save my own nosy keeps for them. You know when you get you get the Hill we know what that does go on for. If he's going to sit down and the can and the Skewes expression trouble is to get the public to the fact they need this and let him see it. He let them put this in place that work and I could do it. And then that's that's where you start with public works employees. Martin says he's now getting a steady stream of government workers asking for his help. He
says it's not that the workers are for unions it's that they feel they have nowhere else to turn for economic security and job protection are below par agrees laying much of the blame for the new wave of unionism on poor management practices government many local governments have very poor personnel policies and practices. And so this makes union membership attractive especially after there are situations where in some local employees or even state employees might negotiate a good contract with the government and then the other people employees around the state say hey maybe we can do the same thing why don't we organize. And the experience in the private sector has been that if they do not want their people organized that they have to have real good personnel practices and communications then there isn't as much incentive or our need for the employees to join a union. What kind of future do you see for Louisiana. For public employees. Do you think most of them are going to be organizing over the next two years.
I think you people that recognize it needs. Oh that will be. I would imagine probably a lot of people could care less about the union but this so that we said is south. Things will be state wide the next one. And when they do organize what's the danger of that or without a general law they can negotiate almost anything. And you get into the area of management rights as to some things that can be done. For example one of the contracts that was signed with a union organization the union has a right to to hire the dude to determine who's going to be hired. So I think this is going to grow in Louisiana rather than subside. I think we're in for a period in which there will be a great deal of effort to organize employees fail to realize the needs of the people through it. We'll be back next week with an update on the teachers situation and examination of other news stories with pop reporters. Until then I'm back for Ron Blome. Good evening.
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- This episode of the series "Louisiana: The State We're In" from March 23, 1979, features an in-depth report on the strike by teachers in East Baton Rouge Parish, including: interviews with the leaders of both sides, Lennie Penn, the spokesperson for the teachers, and Clyde Lindsey, the Superintendent of Education for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board; the issue of collective bargaining and whether the teachers are considered part of a union; and the nationwide movement towards "teachers' rights." This episode also includes a repeat showing of a report on the growth of public employee unions in Louisiana.
- Louisiana: The State We're In is a magazine featuring segments on local Louisiana news and current events.
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- Chicago: “Louisiana: The State We're In; 279; East Baton Rouge Parish Teachers' Strike,” 1979-03-23, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 18, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-17-97xktqjf.
- MLA: “Louisiana: The State We're In; 279; East Baton Rouge Parish Teachers' Strike.” 1979-03-23. Louisiana Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 18, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-17-97xktqjf>.
- APA: Louisiana: The State We're In; 279; East Baton Rouge Parish Teachers' Strike. Boston, MA: Louisiana Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-17-97xktqjf