Fight Back Friday: labor journalism

Tomorrow, NYSUT will celebrate the work of its locals’ newsletters and websites from across the state at its 3rd annual journalism conference. In addition to receiving awards for their work (NYSUT has been giving awards for years, not just the last three), the editors and webmasters will participate in trainings on how to tell their stories and share with each other their sucessess and challenges.

Challenges we have plenty of, but in reviewing some of the winning entries, it’s clear we have lots of successes too.

Dawn Clemens of the Beacon Teachers Association and Samantha Falk and Robert McHugh of the Arlington TA took a look at what was going on last year and both crafted excellent articles spelling out for members what labor faces at the national, state and local levels, and the impact it could have on them. They share the Solidarity Award for their newsletters Between Assignments of the Beacon Teachers Association and The Educator of the Arlington Teachers’ Association.

Meghan Rilley of the Valley Central TA also provided strong solidarity information in VC Echoes of the Valley Central Teachers’ Association and more (which is why that newsletter won the “Best of the Best” award.) In addition to great use of photography and strong design, she confronted head on the widespread feelings of betrayal many members might be experiencing ing and explained why members still needed to support the school budget. (Instead of applying funds the union fought for in additional state aid or provided for in concessions in the hopes of saving programs, the school board  applied to lowering the tax levy, contributing to the angst.)

If only I read such well-reasoned and balanced reporting in the mainstream media! That criticism is based in the reality that newspapers, magazines and television stations have suffered budget cutbacks as severe, if not more, than many schools have been facing. I worked at daily newspapers in Wisconsin, Arizona and two cities in New York. I still have friends at all newspapers, although fewer still work in the field than would like as dozens have been laid off. They do what they can with the cutbacks they have been dealt.

Which is why labor journalism is more important than ever. Getting the story of what you do, and why it matters, is so important. Also, workers need to speak out against attacks on the laws that protect them. For example, attacks on the Triborough admendment are coming fast and furious. Local newsletters and webmasters must be vigilant that Triborough merely provides that when a contract expires, the employer cannot unilaterally lower wages or diminish other contractual terms and conditions of employment, so long as the union refrains from striking. We must correct misconceptions whenever someone says the law unfairly advantages public employee unions or guarantees annual raises even after a contract has expired. The truth is that if the parties agreed in prior negotiations, the law permits such benefits to end, or “sunset,” with the expiration of the contract.

The messaging challenges are, indeed, many. But it is apparent from the labor journalists who will be at NYSUT headquarters this weekend, we are up to the task.

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