November 26, 2012
By Anne Silverstein, CSA News Editor
One of the longest-serving officers of CSA is also one of the hardest working. But former CSA Vice President Richard Oppenheimer, who has marched in and spoken at more rallies than probably any other CSA member, has decided to put down his bullhorn as a CSA officer.
Mr. Oppenheimer, the indefatigable Family Day Care Director of Nuestros Ninos in Williamsburg, has been a member of CSA since 1972 when Day Care Directors and Assistant Directors were just becoming part of the union. He was already well versed in the fight against faceless bureaucracies and social wrongs, marching against the Vietnam war, fighting for social justice and protesting for civil rights. (As a Hunter College student, he helped establish the schools Black and Puerto Rican Studies Departments, one of the first in the US, he told the CSA News.)
It's been a long fight for early childhood education, he says, through the down cycles of budgets in every decade right through until today when Mayor Bloomberg oversaw a major transformation of how early childhood education is delivered in this city. Mayor Bloomberg called for an overhaul of the system, which included, union officials say, the destruction of affiliated unions.
Called EarlyLearnNY, Bloomberg's program further slashed the number of seats available for youngsters and broke the Day Care unit of CSA. Now in a reorganization since August, the Day Care Chapter quickly grew to a membership of approximately 175, which is half the membership CSA had prior to the Oct. 1st implementation of EarlyLearn.
Mr. Oppenheimer, of course, is saddened at the non-stop assault on early childhood education through the years, a service to the city that he says has always been undervalued. (CSA has been fighting for parity in salaries for years – state-certified teachers and supervisors in day care, performing similar tasks as their colleagues in the public school system, are paid much less and have much fewer benefits.)
CSA President Ernest Logan has known he can always count on Mr. Oppenheimer to rally the troops, support the union and do the right thing for children in this city.
"Richard is among a handful of people who have the institutional memory when it comes to early childhood education in this city. That made him invaluable to us. He's been here since the beginning of the Day Care unit at CSA. He's among our hardest fighters for children and for the union," Mr. Logan said.
"We're playing a waiting game with early childhood education now. We're hoping enough of the system is left so that in 2014, when we have a new mayor, we'll have something to discuss with him or her. We hope that person will listen to the professionals who work with children every day."
Mr. Oppenheimer concedes that the toughest battle he's seen has been EarlyLearnNY. "We're dealing with the most inflexible, unnegotiable, secretive administration in my 40 years of working in early childhood education."
"There was absolutely no conversation. There is absolutely no realization that the experts in the profession are the ones running the programs in the community. And there's no respect for that," he said with anger and regret in his voice.
He also expresses sadness when he discusses the state of labor in this nation, which has seen union membership drop in this country (as a percentage of the labor force) from 20 percent in 1983 to nearly 12 percent in 2011.
"I come from a family that saw and sees unionization as the foundation to a growing middle class. Unfortunately, we're seeing the disintegration of the middle class, and during the last couple of years, we're seeing a concerted in-your-face, anti-union effort across this land," Mr. Oppenheimer said.
Despite the years of fighting, Mr. Oppenheimer remains philosophical and oddly optimistic about what will be. "You can't give up," he said. "What would be the point in that?"