Teachers, government employees, farmworkers hold weekend protests

Kerry Hogan, a teacher at Westgate Elementary in St. Petersburg, told CL, "The problem is it seems like public workers are an easy target because so many of us as teachers, we’re obviously not in it for the huge salaries or the fame.

"We’re in it for the students, we’re in it for the kids. Policeman, firemen, they’re not in it for the big money, they're into it to help people and that’s truly what we want to be, and we feel like we’re really being targeted because they know we’re not in it for the money so this is an easy group to try to take things away from.”

As Hogan was talking to CL, a good percentage of cars driving by honked their horns in support of the teachers, all clad in red.  Hogan acknowledged that support, saying, "Who’s not going to support teachers, who’s not going to support police and firemen? I mean, these are valuable jobs and the people in the community know it, so I think it’s going to get the ball rolling, and say, ‘Hey, stop taking things away from the people who don’t have it.”

Jennifer Sinphay teaches math at Dixon Hollins high School, and held a sign reading, " I will teach for food." CL asked her if she had a chance to speak directly to Governor Scott, what would she say to him?

"I would invite him to come to my classroom. He needs to see what we do on a daily basis. I don’t know what type education he had. I don’t know where his kids went, if it’s private education. But he needs to sit in a public education classroom," she said.

Most of the instructors we spoke to sounded a bit depressed at how they're currently in the situation that faces them; they also take exception to criticisms of their work ethic, saying they put many more hours in on the job than the actual hours they're teaching classes.

And there was yet another protest this past Saturday. Organizers for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said several thousand people descended upon the Publix grocery store in South Tampa, demonstrating for the grocery chain to pay farmworkers the equivalent of an extra penny per pound for tomatoes, a demand the group has successfully won when battling bigger corporations  such as Yum Brands! and McDonalds.

But Publix is still holding out — for now.

Yesterday on a talk show I guest-hosted on WMNF, St. Petersburg homeless advocate Bruce Wright criticized some new CIW supporters, claiming that they're only now jumping on the bandwagon because the issue is "sort of sexy now."

I'm sure the CIW doesn't mind that there are more people marching with them in support of their cause.

Late Sunday afternoon in Largo more than 100 Pinellas County public employees hosted a rally on Rick Scott's proposed state budget cuts that directly take aim at government workers.

The state goes into its regular Legislative session Tuesday with a $3.6 billion shortfall, but Scott is looking to cut up to $5 billion from the budget. That could mean government employees may have to make contributions to their retirement accounts, something they've never had to do but is starting to happen to their brethren throughout the country.

As Assistant Public Defender Nina Hayden, one of the organizers of last night's event in Largo, told the Tallahassee Democrat's Bill Cotterell,

"What's become increasingly difficult is the financial situation of all individuals in the state attorney's office and the public defender's office," she said. "The public defender's office had to go on furlough for several days and it's been very, very challenging."

Hayden, 36, said most public employees "are very passionate about public service" and accept lower pay in part for good benefits.

"Slowly but surely, over the years, there's been a chipping away at those benefits," Hayden said. "Just the whole overall tone coming out of the governor's office seems to say we don't really acknowledge the importance of being a public servant."

She said the proposals emanating from Tallahassee are not good for morale.

"People are really afraid," she said. "When people are so passionate about their work, and so concerned about what's going on in Tallahassee, you've got a serious issue."

Another group of public employees in Pinellas County, teachers, held their own demonstrations late Friday afternoon in three different locations.  CL attended the rally in St. Petersburg, at the four corners of 66th and Tyrone, where there appeared to be at least 200 people in attendance (the St. Pete Times on Saturday reported about 700 teachers in all at the three locations where teachers protested).

The teacher's concerns are also about pensions, and SB 736, the "son" of John Thrasher's teacher tenure SB 6 bill that Charlie Crist vetoed near the end of last year's legislative session.  The new bill will be voted on in the Senate this week.

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