Friday, September 30, 2011
The Occupy Wall Street protest shows no signs of slowing down, and the spark that started the protest is spreading across the country with other Occupy events, including Phoenix. Some Baja Arizona folks are planning a trip up on Oct. 15 to occupy the Cesar Chavez Plaza, 201 West Washington Street.
Organizers have a spot on Twitter @occupyphoenix so you can keep up with their plans and they have a Facebook event page at #OccupyPhoenix.
While some still have a hard time putting their arms around what's taking place in New York City right now, I'm starting to think that this is the beginning of something more. However, isn't an occupation of Phoenix long overdue?
If you need two good reasons to go up there — now, I'm not thinking about Wall Street, I'm thinking of our own home-brewed idiocracy that needs your attention — here are two stories you need to follow:
On Tuesday, Capitol Media's Howard Fischer reported that a federal judge is blocking state lawmakers from imposing new restrictions on payroll deductions from the paychecks of unionized employees:
Judge Murray Snow said the law crafted this year by Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, unfairly singles out unions - and, specifically, their political activity - for unfair treatment. Snow pointed out that lawmakers are not creating similar hurdles for deductions for other purposes.
The judge also pointed out that lawmakers specifically exempted unions that represent police, firefighters and corrections officers. Snow said picking and choosing who is affected is unconstitutional discrimination.
Antenori blasted the judge's logic.
"He's trying to muddy the water, which is what I think judicial activists do, try to muddy the water, try to justify his B.S. arguments that somehow his ruling is justified," Antenori said. "It's not the same."
He vowed an appeal.
But Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, called the ruling a victory "for free speech for Arizona's teachers."
The AEA, one of the unions that sued, has been active in working to elect lawmakers favorable to its issues, as well as supporting tax hikes for education. That has often put the organization at odds with many Republican lawmakers.
Antenori, however, said politics had nothing to do with his legislation. He said it was designed to help employees, whom he said have had a hard time halting payroll deductions for union political purposes.
The judge's ruling does not declare the law, which had been set to take effect at the end of the week, illegal. It only prevents it from being enforced while the challenges make their way through court.
As approved, the legislation prohibits any public or private employer from deducting money from a worker's paycheck for political purposes unless the employee gives written or electronic authorization each year.
Snow said the exemption for public safety employees makes the law legally flawed.
"By imposing its burdens on the political speech of some unions and other organizations and not imposing like costs upon other similarly situated unions, or on other organizations that can use the funds for political activity, the law is underinclusive and discriminates according to the speaker," he wrote.
Antenori said that problem should be easy to resolve: Eliminate the public safety exemption. But that presumes he could get the votes for a broader measure: In getting the exemption in the first place, the unions representing police and firefighters have shown they have more clout than many other labor organizations at the Capitol.
In the Sunday, Sept. 25 New York Times, Marc Lacey reported on the ongoing debate on Arizona teachers fighting to keep their jobs over their accents. The state has an accent police, but a federal investigation called off the police-state tactic of going into these classrooms and getting rid of educators who have accents.
Silverio Garcia Jr., who runs a barebones organization called the Civil Rights Center out of his Phoenix-area home to challenge discrimination, was the one who pressed the accent issue. In May 2010, he filed a class-action complaint with the federal Department of Education alleging that teachers had been unfairly transferred and students denied educations with those teachers. The Justice Department joined the inquiry, but federal investigators closed Mr. Garcia’s complaint in late August after the state agreed to alter its policies.
“This was one culture telling another culture that you’re not speaking correctly,” Mr. Garcia said.
The state says its teacher reviews were in line with the decade-old federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that only instructors fluent in English teach students who are learning English. State education officials say that accents were never the focus of their monitoring.
“It was a repeated pattern of misuse of the language or mispronunciation of the language that we were looking for,” said Andrew LeFevre, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. “It’s critically important that teachers act as models when it comes to language.”
But the federal review found that the state had written up teachers for pronouncing “the” as “da,” “another” as “anuder” and “lives here” as “leeves here.”
The teachers who were found to have strong accents were not fired, but their school districts were required to work with them to improve their speech. That was the case even when the local school officials had already assessed the teachers as fluent in English.
“It’s a form of discrimination,” said Araceli Martínez-Olguín, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center in San Francisco, who is representing Ms. Aguayo in a discrimination complaint. “People hear an accent and think it means something.”
So we can rest easy now that the feds have slowed Arizona down? Oh, c'mon, this is Arizona — the land where state politicians don't let anyone prevent them from carrying out acts of discrimination or at least dreaming about it:
John Huppenthal, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, has sent mixed signals about the state’s position on accents. In a recent article in The Arizona Republic, he said he would seek authority from the Legislature to allow state monitoring of teachers’ fluency in English.
But Mr. Huppenthal’s spokesman, Mr. LeFevre, said last week that Mr. Huppenthal made that comment before he had all the information on the matter and that he had no plans to pursue the issue with lawmakers in the next legislative session.