Labor Notes, July 2016: Continued problems at the VA and Unions’ grip on public education

“Labor Notes” is part of Labor Watch. For the full PDF, click here.

The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to deny services to veterans while it pays hundreds of its employees to work full-time for unions (see Labor Watch, Oct. 2014). The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in March that the VA declined to discipline supervisors in Arkansas for wait-time manipulation—that is, fiddling with records to make it appear that patients’ wait time was shorter than it really was. A report by the department’s Inspector General determined that
“both non-supervisory and supervisory [Veterans Affairs Medical Center] employees were improperly scheduling patient appointments by manipulating the appointment dates in the VA computer system.” Meanwhile, a review of 40 deceased patients’ records in Phoenix indicated that three of them likely would have lived if they had received timely treatment.” Phoenix in particular continues to be a source of trouble, whether it’s abandoning suicidal veterans, physicians keeping veterans out of open appointment slots or staff breaching the medical record privacy of whistleblowers,” noted the DCNF’s Jonah Bennett.

In May, VA Secretary Bob McDonald downplayed the importance of the long waits, noting to reporters that, “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”

Luke Rosiak of the Daily Caller reported on a VA hospital director, Japhet Rivera, who, according to Deputy VA Secre­tary Sloan Gibson, retaliated against a whistle-blower who had reported Rivera for doing little work. Also, Rivera allegedly had sex with a VA employee and sent repeated unwanted messages about the matter to the employee’s daughter (herself an employee). His punishment: He was paid $86,000, plus attorney’s fees and other expenses, in exchange for his resig­nation. Rosiak also reported that a VA worker “who was fired for bringing a stun gun to work and repeatedly discharging it claims everyone else in her office just watches TV all day, so she doesn’t understand why she’s being singled out for rare discipline.”

In a related story, Sarah Westwood of the Washington Examiner reported on a legislative package that was supposed to help clean up the VA, noting that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) attacked the measure as too weak on employees who abuse veterans. “If you work at the VA and work against the interests of our veterans . . . , the VA secretary should be able to fire you.” But, Rubio said, “the labor unions have so far gotten their way in writing the VA accountability provisions” in the bill.

According to Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Success Academy charter schools in New York serve students who are “nearly all . . . minorities,” and three-quarters of the students in the program are classified by the government as poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Last year, 93 percent of the
schools’ students ranked proficient in math, compared to 35 percent of New York City students overall. Yet after a group of philanthropists raised $35 million for Success Academy schools, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blasted the donation as “part of a coordinated national effort to decimate public schooling” in which “Wealthy donors and their political allies are pushing unaccountable charter growth in urban centers while stripping commu­nities of a voice in their children’s education.”

But at least Weingarten’s members are trying to help their students—help them cheat, that is. In New York City, teachers have been inflating test scores to help students graduate high school, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER reports that 40 percent of scores near a proficiency cut-off were inflated by teachers, increasing those students’ chance of graduating by 22 percentage points.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) had a one-day strike on April 1, closing hundreds of schools, but Joseph Ocol, a teacher at Eagle STEM Academy, refused to participate in the strike—so the union is seeking to expel him and to fine him an amount equal to his pay for the day. (If kicked out, he would still have to pay dues.) Ocol coaches an all-girl chess team that won a national championship. He’s said he’ll give up the money, but only if it goes to his students, who are trying to raise enough so they can travel to the White House for a scheduled meeting with the President.

Meanwhile, CTU President Karen Lewis has made clear who the real enemy is: Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.), who is push­ing for reforms to save his state from bankruptcy. “Rauner is the new ISIS recruit,” said Lewis. “Yes, I said it. . . . Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working-class people.” She has called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Obama, the “murder mayor.” Lewis, however, is not the most radical member of the movement in which she is a leader. In April, she keynoted a city-wide protest against Rauner and Emanuel, bringing together a coalition of teachers, transit workers, nurses, “Fight for 15” minimum-wage activists, supporters of Palestinian lslamofascism, and various affiliates of the racist, anti-police Black Lives Matter movement. During her remarks to the assembled protesters, Lewis responded to anti-police chants by saying, “The cops are not our enemies.” But another speaker declared: “F*** the police!”

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