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State Report

Saving Secure Retirement

Colorado: Colorado is a major battleground in the campaign by conservative politicians against the safe, secure, “defined-benefit” plans that most educators rely on. Three bills that would cut back on the state’s pension promises have been filed in the legislature. The Colorado Education Association (CEA) is fighting all of them, along with a proposed referendum that would put new state employees into a “defined-contribution” plan instead of the existing defined-benefit plan, which guarantees a set retirement income based on years of service and salary. In defined-contribution plans, the state only agrees to put money into an employee’s retirement account, with no guaranteed income.

Anti-pension advocates are increasingly active, and attacks in other states are likely. In addition to working with other groups to provide state organizations with information to help defend defined-benefit plans, NEA has built a Retirement Security Toolkit to help members understand the issues at stake.

Online Personnel Records Vulnerable

Oregon: The move from paper-based employment files to digital records controlled by private contractors and often located off school grounds is a growing concern. “It’s an area that is becoming problematic,” says Diane Trainque, state bargaining coordinator for theOregon Education Association (OEA) . Issues involving privacy laws, electronic spying, and identity theft are involved when computer hackers or hostile administrators gain access to electronic school personnel files.

“We have more districts moving to electronic records,” says Trainque. “So we’ve been negotiating language in contracts to protect confidentiality. Computer files containing Social Security numbers, payroll data, credit history, school name lists, and other classified information may be accessible to unfriendly sources, says Trainque.

“The level of sophistication toward monitoring our members is significant,” she adds, noting that many districts also track employees’ use of e-mail, intranets, and the Internet. “There’s potential here for disaster,” she says.    

Faculty Unionizes

Washington: Faculty members at Western Washington University agreed to be represented through collective bargaining by the United Faculty of Western Washington (UFWW) , an affiliate of the United Faculty of Washington State and the Washington Education Association (WEA) .

UFWW is the third union to organize under a 2002 state law that granted collective bargaining rights to faculty at public universities and four-year colleges. Union supporters at Western will seek a larger role in decision-making, improved compensation, and increased state funding. Unionizing allows the faculty to negotiate directly with the Western administration on issues such as wages and working conditions.

Ongoing Privatization Battle

Michigan: A county judge upheld the Grand Rapids Educational Support Personnel Association’s (GRESPA) charges against a transportation company’s privatization of district bus drivers. The Association charges Dean Transportation with intentionally undermining the union’s contract with Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), which doesn’t expire until June 30. Since 2004, Dean has supervised transportation employees who were still protected by their union contract. After the GRPS board hired Dean to provide other services in 2005, more than 170 union bus drivers, mechanics, and route planners were laid off.

GRESPA President Steve Spica called the action “illegal.” The ruling allows GRESPA to continue representing the transportation employees who were laid off. Both sides are now preparing to meet in court.

Upping Minimum Wage

Montana: According to government statistics, Montana ranks last in the nation in average annual wages—and first in the percentage of working people who hold at least three jobs.

The Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers (MEA-MFT) is part of a coalition working on a ballot initiative that will increase the state’s minimum wage by $1 an hour.

A full-time employee paid the current minimum, $5.15 per hour, earns $10,000 a year.

The campaign, titled “Raise Montana,” will particularly benefit many MEA-MFT members, says Eric Feaver, the Association’s president. “Members are building a coalition of like-minded entities, raising funds, and collecting signatures for the November ballot,” he says.

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