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AFT Chief of Staff Jessica Smith tells the MTD Executive Board that the Teachers are fully behind the Jones Act.

The chief of staff for the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) thanked the MTD, its affiliates, its Port Maritime Councils and all the union members who have worked with the Teachers on various projects from the U.S. Virgin Islands to California over the last year.

From walking picket lines at varied locations to delivering badly needed supplies to U.S. citizens recovering from the 2017 hurricanes in the Caribbean, the MTD has been assisting the AFT to improve the standard of living for workers and their families.

Jessica Smith addressed the MTD Executive Board meeting on February 22 because AFT President Randi Weingarten was “busy with a few strikes.” (A six-day teachers’ strike in Los Angeles had just ended while a new one was hitting the bricks in Oakland.)

Smith delivered a ‘thank you’ from the AFT for everything the MTD, its affiliates and its Port Council had contributed. She noted the effort of the MTD-affiliated Seafarers Union – working with its contracted company TOTE – to provide 100,000 water filters (built by Kohler whose workers are members of the MTD-affiliated United Association) to “communities across Puerto Rico – to families, to the elderly, to childcare centers, to schools, to hospitals, to people all over the island.”

She described how AFT-member nurses went to the U.S. Virgin Islands after the hurricanes to provide hearing and vision tests for public school students. A Seafarers-affiliate there made sure the nurses were fed everyday so they could continue doing their jobs. In addition, the SIU (with union-contracted Crowley) worked with the AFT to deliver supplies donated by Teachers in New York for their counterparts in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Talk about solidarity,” Smith declared.

When the United Teachers of Los Angeles went on strike in early February, the Southern California Port Council adopted a local elementary school, delivering food and supplies while joining with the teachers on the first day to walk a picket line in the rain.

“You don’t let your brothers and sisters down,” Smith noted. “And because of that kind of support in Los Angeles, we shouldn’t have to do this but we won a nurse for every school, counselors for every 500 kids, community schools – we are putting the public back in education with your help.”

She said Weingarten had toured the school facilities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following the storms and found rats, mold, broken plumbing and other serious problems that hamper students from learning. Smith added many of these situations can be found in public schools on the mainland.

“It is this lack of investment that is causing teachers around the country to take to the streets,” she pointed out. “These strikes, walkouts, are happening because of the failure of our nation, states, cities and counties to invest in public education and public services. So teachers are taking extreme steps because the normal legislative and collective bargaining avenues are not working. And you have been there!”

Smith, who had been communications director and organizing director for the Seafarers before being hired by the Teachers, informed the audience of maritime union and industry representatives that fighting for the Jones Act involves all of Labor. She told a story about President Weingarten being at a retirement party for an AFT official in New York City “when an elected official started talking smack about the Jones Act. Now, I don’t think he expected a five-foot president of the Teachers union to know what he was talking about. But Randi stepped in and they were off.

“Here’s the lesson that that elected official learned: Don’t mess with the Jones Act because you’re messing with Randi Weingarten, you’re messing with the Teachers union, you’re messing with the Labor Movement and we’re not going to stand it!”

She concluded by stating, “This is a “Which Side Are You On” moment. Teachers are rising up. Veterans are rising up. Let’s rise up for good jobs. We are rising up for unions.”