UMass unions oppose question
Daily Hampshire Gazzette
By CHERYL B. WILSON, Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
AMHERST - Leaders of five unions at the University of Massachusetts announced
their opposition Tuesday to question on next week's state ballot that would
abolish bilingual education.
Question 2 would replace bilingual education with English immersion for
"A large number of immigrants belong to our union," said Francis Martin,
president of local 1776 of the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Workers. "They are from Cambodia, Bosnia, China, Russia. We see how
difficult it is for them to master the English language and can imagine what it
is like for the young children. Without assistance, it may take them years to
Although most campus members of the Service Employees International Union are
not directly affected by bilingual education, union president Tom Coish said
statewide his union has many immigrant employees. The union represents the
janitors who recently staged a strike in Boston for better wages and health
"Unions at this time are involved in social justice issues," Coish said. "When
an issue like this comes along, we speak out."
The ballot initiative has been bankrolled by Ronald Unz, a California
businessman who helped pass a similar act in that state.
Donna Johnson, president of the University Staff Association, which is
affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said teachers know what
works best for children. "Who is Ron Unz to tell people what to propose? He
should spend a day in a bilingual classroom."
Anthropology professor Robert Paynter of the Massachusetts Society of Professors
said, "Everybody knows how hard it is to learn a foreign language. People long
for a magic bullet, but this is a terrible bullet."
Leo Maley of the Graduate Employees Organization said many graduate students
have children in local schools, and many are international students whose
children need bilingual education.
Also on Tuesday, the linguistics department at UMass agreed unanimously to
oppose Question 2.
"The success of bilingual education at getting children to learn English and
their other academic subjects is well proven and backed up by solid research
funding," the 11 professors agreed. They said English immersion would segregate
children and put those learning English at a severe academic risk.
A UMass rally against Question 2 is scheduled for today at 12:30 p.m. on the
steps of the Student Union. English professor Martin Espada will be joined by
other professors, graduate students, union leaders and state Rep. Ellen Story,
A forum on the ballot question is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. in Campus
Center 903. Panelists include an Amherst Regional High School student and two
UMass students who are successful graduates of bilingual programs, in addition
to several professors.
Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at