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Philadelphians rally against cuts and school closings

AFT president Randi Weingarten stood shoulder to shoulder on Jan. 19 with Philadelphians fighting to preserve vital public services, to maintain worker bargaining rights and to keep the doors of the city's public schools open in the face of reckless calls for wholesale closings.

Philadelphia rally

The AFT president participated in a rally sponsored by labor and civic groups that called on Mayor Michael Nutter to negotiate with city unions, including units that have been locked in four-year contract standoffs. Participants at the rally also highlighted the urgency of keeping neighborhood schools open. Late last year, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission hatched a plan to save money by closing 38 public schools, sparking a backlash from families and communities across the city that would be affected by the drastic, shortsighted action.

The commission has been widely criticized for developing plans with no meaningful input from the families and residents of the affected neighborhoods.

"Have a moratorium on closing schools," Weingarten told the crowd gathered at Philadelphia's Independence Mall. "Let's fix schools and let's make sure we invest in kids rather than de-invest."

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, one of the co-organizers of the rally, has joined with the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools to advance an alternative proposal to shuttering dozens of school buildings. The coalition is championing a different strategy—one generated by the community to ensure that every child in Philadelphia can attend a great neighborhood school. The PCAPS proposal gave Philadelphians a real voice. That puts the plan head and shoulders above the recommendations of the school reform commission, stresses PFT president Jerry Jordan, who is also an AFT vice president.

"In its bottom-line rush to close neighborhood schools, the [commission] is turning its back on the parents, students and communities that will be affected by these closures," Jordan warned.

The rally drew heavy participation from members of several AFL-CIO unions and was part of a weekend of events leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances. AFSCME and the Philadelphia AFL-CIO central labor council were co-organizers of the event, which featured comments from AFSCME president Lee Saunders, the Rev. Al Sharpton and AFL-CIO executive vice president Arlene Holt Baker. [Mike Rose/video by Brett Sherman]

January 24, 2013