Union leaders gathered Saturday in Manhattan to express displeasure with the current political direction, particularly in regards to education, under the governance of Sam Brownback.
The community forum was organized by the American Federation of Teachers Local 6400 and took place in the basement of College Avenue United Methodist Church Saturday afternoon.
Those on the speaker’s panel included Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan; Bill Glover, the president of AFT Local 6400; and Lisa Ochs, president of AFT Kansas.
AFT Kansas is the largest public employee union in the state, representing public workers including teachers, school personnel, local, state and federal employees, and higher education faculty and staff.
A common theme during the forum was Brownback’s “extremist” agenda, with Ochs saying that Brownback is trying to create a Kansas that is “of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation.”
“This is our opportunity to stand up, stand together, fight back and to move Kansas forward,” Ochs said.
She said the current budget shortfall was created by Brownback with his lofty 2012 income tax bill that cut taxes for about 191,000 limited liability corporations, subchapter S corporations and sole proprietorships. Ochs said they are now using that self-created shortfall to justify gutting the education budget.
In January, a panel of three district court judges ruled that school funding in Kansas was deficient by $440 million. Brownback and his supporters are now calling for a constitutional amendment to keep the courts from interfering with school finance.
Also in January, the Kansas senate approved a proposal to give the governor more power in appointing judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals and Kansas Supreme Court.
At the forum, Carlin called Brownback’s agenda “severe,” and denounced the multiple constitutional amendments being proposed in Topeka, saying that there is not presently anything that needs to be changed in the state’s constitution.
AFT Local 6400 president Bill Glover spoke out for the public laborers working at K-State, including the school’s custodians, clerical workers and electricians.
He said that over the past 10 years, pay raises have not been steady and that many custodians barely make it day by day.
He said workers are not getting proper sick leave, are too scared to report at-work injuries and are not making a liveable wage. “Public employees know they’re not going to get rich,” Glover said.
Glover said workers are also “scared to death” of privatization at the university, a practice wherein private firms perform non-academic services such as printing, food services, bookstore operations, or general building maintenance.
Another speaker, Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, called Brownback’s tax policies, trickle-down economics à la President Reagan. He said that theory did not work for Reagan and it will not work for Kansas. “We’re going to be the laughing stock of the country,” he said.
Teske said that legislators should do the job they were elected to do, not change laws so judges can be re-selected for the purpose of cutting education funding.
A coordinator for the Manhattan Living Wage Coalition, Geri Simon, also called for using tax dollars in Manhattan to create jobs that pay $12 an hour or more.
Simon said half of the tax dollars used to create jobs in the city have gone toward low-wage jobs.
James Neff, a representative for KNEA’s Konza Uniserv Administrative Board, Donna Potts, a K-State professor and chair of the AAUP Assembly of State Conferences, and John Exdell, a K-State professor and vice-chair of the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice, also spoke at the approximately two-hour forum.
On Saturday, forum organizers announced that there will be a rally sponsored by the Working Kansas Alliance at the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 2 p.m.