Large majority of educators favor local decision-making on mask use
- CDC guidelines updated last week recommend masks in schools
- AFT launches campaign for investment in safer campuses
- Texas AFT ads to promote HVAC upgrades and mask use
Texas AFT calls on the governor to reverse his orders and allow local school districts to set their protocols on mask use. The Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread through Texas and puts students and school staff at risk—including the millions of schoolchildren under age 12 who currently cannot be vaccinated. Gov. Greg Abbott’s May order prohibited government entities, including school districts, from mandating mask use. He again issued a similar order Thursday in conjunction with prohibiting government entities from requiring vaccinations.
A large majority of Texas AFT members surveyed last week—78 percent of 7,384 respondents—said the governor should allow school districts to mandate mask use in schools. The survey took place amid a change in CDC guidelines last week that also recommends masks in schools, including for vaccinated individuals.
Texas AFT member Chrisdya Houston, an Alliance-AFT member and Dallas ISD teacher, has spoken out on the need to take all precautions necessary for a return to school. “The information about this Delta variant is not good at all, and as we know, our elementary-aged students are not vaccinated yet,” Houston said. “Banning local governments from being able to institute a much-needed mask mandate endangers our lives and poses increasing risks to all of those in our community.”
AFT has dedicated $5 million to a “Back to School for All” campaign to help states and local unions educate school employees and families on the need for investments in better ventilation, technology support, vaccination education, and support for the emotional needs of students during the pandemic. This week, Texas AFT will place ads throughout the state urging the use of federal funds for ventilation upgrades in schools, as well as stressing the need for local decisions on mask use.
AFT President Randi Weingarten is traveling throughout the country to participate in door-to-door canvassing, vaccine clinics, town halls, book fairs, and other grassroots efforts.
“We know students learn best in person from their trusted, highly qualified educators—from teachers and nurses, to guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, and bus drivers—who will use every tool at their disposal to enhance teaching and learning,” Weingarten said. “Schools are critical for our kids’ recovery, and this moment is an opportunity to fund our future fully and equitably.”
Texas AFT President Zeph Capo stressed that to meet the goal of educators and kids back in school, our local communities need to ensure that the school environment is safe.
“With our governor refusing to allow local flexibility, we are advocating for all school districts to continue to make safety a priority, including mask use in schools when necessary,” Capo said. “While we celebrate a return to school, let’s not be careless and reckless. We must take the responsibility to make sure that those who can’t be vaccinated and those that are at risk from compromised health aren’t harmed by lax safety protocols.”
House admin committee details consequences of governor’s legislative budget veto
This past week, state Rep. William Metcalf, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, which manages payroll in the Texas House, sent legislators a memo outlining the specific consequences of Gov. Greg Abbott’s veto of funding to the Legislature.
In June, Abbott vetoed Article X of the state budget, effectively defunding the Legislature. This move was made in retaliation against Texas House Democrats who broke quorum in May to prevent the passage of the highly restrictive voting bill that Abbott supported.
In his memo, Metcalf states that if Article X funding is not restored before the beginning of the new budgetary biennium on Sept. 1, “the House will not have the authority or funding to pay for employee salaries and the many services, contracts, and leases currently in place.” Aside from their salaries, legislative staff will be responsible for paying the entirety of their monthly health insurance premiums and cannot make contributions to the Employee Retirement Service (ERS) pension fund.
The memo also stated that the House will no longer be able to pay for leases for the district offices of Texas House members, effectively cutting communities off from their elected representatives. Throughout August, the House Accounting department will begin notifying landlords to cancel district office leases. Texas House members will no longer be able to purchase supplies for their offices starting in mid-August. For a full list of all the consequences, read Metcalf’s memo.
With House Democrats in Washington D.C., to prevent the passage of another restrictive voting bill, Article X is likely to remain unfunded going into August. As a result of Abbott’s petty political games, thousands of state employees are now poised to go without pay.
To protest this unfair treatment of hard-working state employees, the Texas State Employees Union will be hosting an informational picket in front of the Governor’s Mansion from 5–6 p.m. Thursday. Protestors will meet at the Texas AFL-CIO Headquarters in Austin and then walk across the street to the Governor’s Mansion. For additional info, contact TSEU Legislative Director Tyler Sheldon at TSheldon@CWA-TSEU.org
Texas AFT joins unions in new clean-energy initiative
This past week, the Texas AFL-CIO announced the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project, a new initiative based on a report by climate and policy researchers at Cornell University. The report recommends using tax credits to expand carbon capture, installing solar panels to Texas public schools, electrifying school buses, and more. The report states that Texas’s transition from fossil fuels to clean energy could create more than 1.1 million jobs over the next 25 years and emphasizes that those newly created jobs be high-quality, union jobs.
“Texas AFT is solidly behind a simple idea promoted by this project—that you can have well-paying jobs and a solid economy while taking bold action on climate change,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.
Twenty-seven labor unions, including Texas AFT, will be participating in the effort after delegates at the Texas AFL-CIO convention voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution endorsing the plan outlined by the report. Bo Delp, formerly a political organizer for Unite Here Local 23 and Better Builder Director at the Workers Defense Project, was chosen as the executive director of the Texas Climate Jobs Project.
“We must ensure that working people thrive in this clean energy transition,” Delp said. “If we cannot solve that problem, our ability to meaningfully address climate change will be much more difficult.”
Texas House Democrats testify in Washington for voter protections
Texas House Democrats made their case for federal action to protect voting rights last Thursday. Reps. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, Diego Bernal of San Antonio, and Nicole Collier of Dallas testified before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that sweeping election law changes in HB 3 would disproportionately hurt the voting rights of African-American and Latino populations. Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, also testified remotely and denied the bill infringed on voting rights. Republican members of Congress pushed for the Democratic lawmakers to return to Texas so the special session could continue.
Texas Democrats detailed the ways they say the Republican-backed legislation would make it harder for many Texans to vote, including provisions in the bills that are aimed at discouraging people from helping older voters and voters with language barriers to cast ballots; eliminating 24-hour and drive-thru voting; and cutting some polling locations.
The proposed legislation also expands what partisan poll watchers are able to do in polling places while restricting elections officials’ ability to deal with those who are committing crimes. Democrats say this likely will lead to more voter intimidation in a state that has a long history of intimidating African-American and Latino voters.
When Rep. Pete Sessions of Waco accused Texas Democrats of violating their constituents’ rights by breaking quorum and exaggerating the impact of the voting bills, Thompson said, “You’re damn right I left Texas, and I’m glad I did. You know why I left, Pete? I left Texas to give my people a right to be able to vote without them being infringed upon. I am the voice of my constituents, and if I have to walk to Washington, D.C., to get you to hear what I have to say, to fight for my constituents, I’ll use any means necessary to get my point over.”
All on the Line and Texas Civil Rights Project provide opportunities to engage in redistricting
All On the Line, an organization fighting for a fair redistricting process in Texas, is partnering with organizations throughout the state as the Legislature prepares to tackle a redrawing of Texas legislative and congressional district maps.
Though the Legislature is currently at a stalemate, All On the Line is using mapping programs mapsbythepeople.org and representable.org to allow individuals to review possible redistricting areas. AOTL and the Texas Civil Rights Project are conducting training in English and Spanish to ensure more communities are heard. We want educators to feel engaged in this process, and you can find events and upcoming training opportunities online. Census data needed for redistricting is expected to be released Aug. 16.
Texas AFT unions in the Valley will hold citizenship clinics in August
Our local unions in the Rio Grande Valley will be co-hosting a citizenship clinic in McAllen on August 28. The “Together We Rise” clinic will help guide permanent residents to full citizenship. Applicants must attend an informational forum before the clinic. Find all the details here.