Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Elect Ben Visnick

Statement of 
Ben Visnick
Candidate for OEA Treasurer 

Monday, April 4, 2011

(The following is an edited version of the candidate’s statement to Rep Council)

I’m Ben Visnick, a history and driver education teacher at Oakland High and the parent of an OUSD student at Montera Middle School. 

I started my career in Oakland Public as a substitute teacher at Frick Junior High in 1977.
There was a 9-day strike that year which reduced secondary class size from 35 to 32 students per class.  In the late 70’s, I became directly involved in CTA as an organizer of substitute teachers in both Richmond and Oakland where the bargaining units were legally expanded to include per diem employees.

I received my first Oakland contract in 1982 and taught for 10 years at both Calvin Simmons and Madison middle schools.  During that time, I successfully advocated to include temporary teachers in the District health plans and to force OUSD to issue more probationary contracts.  OEA struck again in 1986 for 19 days and won a 20% raise.

In 1992, I was elected OEA President and the union initiated the 3 R’s campaign.
The OEA took the lead in demanding that OPS Reduce class size, Raise teacher salaries, and Reallocate resources to the classroom.  

Oakland was successful in sparking the state-wide K-3 class size reduction program, but it took a 26-day strike in 1995-96 to help accomplish it two years later.

I returned to the classroom in 1996 and watched the energy that OEA helped develop in the community dissipate by the turn of the century.  So I became First Vice President (again) in 2002 and opposed the 4% furlough/pay cut negotiated with State Administrator Randolph Ward by an OEA President who went on to become a principal in Vallejo.

In 2004, the OEA membership returned me to the presidency.  Our main goal was to restore the 4% pay cut, maintain a real choice of Kaiser and Health Net, guarantee at least one staffed elementary specialty period, and secure an actual raise for both contracted and substitute teachers.

Little did we know, as we conclude the 2010-11 school year, that the small 2007 salary increase would be the last raise Oakland educators would receive in four (4) years!

As I move closer to retirement and look back on our successes and failures within OEA, why would a 58 year-old teacher with a 12 year-old son want to become an elected OEA leader once again?

Why I’m Running

1) Since 2002, OEA has lost over 500 members.  This decrease is due to both demographic changes in the city, subcontracting of bargaining unit work, and the growth of non-union charter schools.

To better organize in the community against lay-offs and cutbacks to our Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, High School, Adult Ed and Special Education programs, we need to be on stronger financial ground.  OEA Reps will receive shortly (as part of my campaign) a detailed plan to begin organizing the charters, stopping subcontracting, and collecting the appropriate dues from every possible unit member.

2) While our local OEA dues have remained constant, CTA and NEA dues continue to rise to the point where we are paying $1,019 per year to our unified local, state, and national organizations.  This amount would not be unreasonable if we were receiving the necessary support from CTA and NEA.  Instead, much of our Oakland dues are being used to operate a duplicate CTA office on the estuary at a cost of $120,000 per year!  This money could fund two OEA/CTA organizers to visit schools and form alliances in the neighborhoods of Oakland.  This redundant office must be closed and we must return to a full-service and one-stop center on East 12th Street and 3rd Avenue.  Soon, I will provide a detailed plan to make the OEA Center an efficient office housing both OEA employees and the CTA staff assigned to serve the OEA/CTA/NEA members working in the Oakland Unified School District.

3) As Chair of both the OEA Scholarship and Hardship/Solidarity committees, I have the proven fiduciary skills necessary to be your next treasurer.  Not only will I provide monthly updates to Rep Council on our union’s finances, but will function (as one of five (5) OEA officers) as a team player to help our union transition to a younger generation of leaders.  Even my detractors recognize the wealth of knowledge I possess as a veteran of over 30 years of struggle to make OEA the most dynamic urban teachers’ union local in California and across the USA.

So please vote for Ben Visnick during the week of May 9-13 and look for the above plans to make OEA a stronger union for the future battles ahead. Together we will defend what we have achieved since the advent of collective bargaining in the 1970s and move forward in the current decade to enhance teaching and learning conditions in Oakland for our students and the dedicated educators who are the members of OEA.

labor donated/4-18-11

What Has Ben Visnick Done for OEA Lately?
May 2, 2011

1)      Ben reminds you to enroll any dependents under 26 years old into your negotiated Kaiser or Health Net medical plan.  Your young adult does not have to be a college student to receive this coverage!  The deadline is May 31 to change plans and/or add dependents.

2)      Ben, as Chair, has expanded the annual OEA Scholarship Program to support 7 deserving OUSD graduates who desire to become future public educators.

3)      Ben, as Chair, has written the amendment to allow the OEA Hardship Fund to support “solidarity” cases such as our $500 grants to Wisconsin teachers and the locked-out (for over a year) Castlewood Country Club workers in Pleasanton.

4)      Ben has encouraged the adoption of the Special Education Community Advisory Committee (CAC) Letter to require OUSD to hire more career Exceptional Educators for our Exceptional Children (over 10% of our students in OUSD).

5)      Ben hosted the meeting for our March 15 RIF recipients at Oakland High for over 538 OEA members receiving those needless/wasteful certified letters.
He continues to urge you to wear your buttons demanding “No Cutbacks, No               Layoffs” to Save Quality Public Education in Oakland.

6)      Ben advocates for the remaining laid-off/consolidated members whether they are Adult Ed, Counselors, Early Childhood, Foreign/World Language, Psychologists, Core, or Vocational Ed/ROP colleagues.

7)      Ben favors the rehiring of qualified temporary teachers from 2010-11 for 2011-12 positions in OUSD before any new employees are hired through outside agencies that are not designed to recruit and retain career educators.

8)      Ben is both a teacher and parent within OUSD.  Therefore, he knows what families and educators want in our public schools.  He strongly believes that best practices currently exist in all of our schools which must be replicated district-wide without the use of consultants or charter management organizations.

9)      As OEA Treasurer, Ben will provide Reps with monthly updates on the status of:

          a) Wells Fargo General Account; 
          b) Provident Membership Assistance/Solidarity Fund; 
          c) Loan “owed” to CTA;  and 
          d) Executive Board expenditures over $500.

10)   Finally, as Treasurer, Ben will continue to advocate that OEA prioritize opposition to the sub-contracting of our positions and organize the current charter schools to stop the attrition of our OEA bargaining unit which has lost over 500 members in the past decade.    

 (labor donated)