Jackson-Reed teachers join nationwide union movement

Rohini Kieffer, Section Copy Editor

Across the country, there has been a teachers movement under the name of ‘Red for Ed.’ This past month, it came to Jackson-Reed. 

On May 20th at Jackson-Reed High School, teachers came to school dressed in red shirts with the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) logo on them to raise awareness for new union negotiations. The union negotiations are discussions between Chancellor Lewis Ferbee, DCPS central office, and staff classified under the E15 and EG9 plan (teachers, librarians, counselors, social workers, etc.) —who are members of the union—to negotiate the union contract. Upwards of 95 percent of teachers are full members of the union.

“Our contract, between DCPS and the teachers, expired a couple years ago,” science teacher Katherine Wells said. This contract consists of subjects ranging from working hours and leave policies to class sizes and compensation. Currently, teachers have been without a union contract for over three years, as the previous one expired in 2019. Consequently, there have been no pay raises in this time. 

“Elections are coming up for the union and we are trying to get a better contract for all teachers, so [by wearing these shirts] we are showing that we are supporting the negotiations,” Spanish teacher and union member Susana Martinez said. Elections for roles within the WTU will likely be over by June 27.

“We are trying to send a message to DCPS that we want them to speak to the needs and demands that our union leadership is raising in the union negotiations and we want a resolution,” social studies teacher and union representative Michele Bollinger adds.  

Prior to May 20, teachers were sent an email saying “wear red for ed.” Red for Ed has a movement behind it that goes beyond the phrase. Protests started in 2018, with demonstrations ranging from walkouts in West Virginia to protests with tens of thousands of people in Phoenix, Arizona. Teachers have united within the Red for Ed movement to speak as one voice for teachers’ demands to be heard. 

There have been previous protests at Jackson-Reed. In fall of 2020, union members took mental health leave to protest for a delayed return to school amid Covid. “I think the mental health day made a big impact. I think it’s all about how many people do it and at that point DCPS was more willing to listen to what we wanted,” said Wells.

After this, the union successfully negotiated a safety checklist for schools to return to in-person school and the requirement to have a health-care professional on campus.

Bradshaw-Smith says “working three years without a contract is reprehensible with the things that [our central office and the chancellor] have imposed upon us. During the pandemic they were making people go [to in person school] knowing that people have families and we didn’t know what to expect with the pandemic.” She adds that in this new contract “[teachers] hope to have better working conditions, better understanding between the administration and the teachers, and better compensation.” She says this is necessary because “everybody disrespects teachers.”