When the General Assembly returned from their primary vacation, Republicans began to move forward the “Protecting Excellent Teachers” Act, which would remove teacher seniority and replace it with an evaluation metric imposed by former Governor Tom Corbett. A side by side comparison of House Bill 805, which was introduced by Representative Stephen Bloom and Senator Ryan Aument last year, shows that sections of the bill was lifted from a white paper produced by corporate education reformers Students First. The bill passed the House last June and then breezed through the Senate at the beginning of May. While it was making its was to the Governor’s desk the PennLive editorial board and a group of Democrats who did not vote on the bill’s final passage urged Governor Wolf to sign the bill, but Governor Wolf followed through with his veto promise.
When the Governor vetoed the bill, Republican leaders held a press conference vowing to roll back decades long struggle to obtain seniority rights in the workplace – this time the classroom – as a negotiating chip in the classroom. Both Republican Leadership and the Pennlive editorial board have made arguments that Governor Wolf should put school children in front of “powerful teachers’ unions whose interests in protecting their members are often in conflict with the best interests of schoolchildren.”
As this one-sided debate has been going on, a 25 year Philadelphia School District employee and Service Employee International Union member Christopher Trakimas had been laying in a doctor induced coma with his lower body covered in third degree burns since January when a boiler nearing the end of its life exploded. When Governor Wolf finished giving his blistering budget address to the General Assembly in February, State Senator Vincent Hughes took time to talk to reporters and explained Trakimas’ story. The root of Hughes argument went to the systematic under funding of public education that has happened in Pennsylvania since Governor Corbett took office.
Yesterday, while leaders in Harrisburg were threatening to put the abolition of seniority for those in the classroom on the budget table, Christopher Trakimas, at 62, passed away from the burns he endured five months ago. Trakimas may not have been a public school teacher, but he was one of the many employees, students and teachers who have felt wrath of under funding public education.
The struggle for labor and workers rights is something that lives on to this day. People have fought and died for a fair days pay, an 8 hour work day, job security and safe working conditions. All of which we still have to fight for on a day to day basis.