FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — On March 29, 2018, state lawmakers passed the sewer bill. The bill - Senate Bill 151 - had teacher pension reform tacked onto it at the last minute.
The move sparked large teacher protests at the Capitol, and it also created KY 120 United, a grassroots education group that has been advocating for public education in Kentucky ever since.
On Monday - the three-year anniversary of the sewer bill - KY 120 United took a new step. The group announced it is unionizing.
"That day we were protesting the sewer bill that would have destroyed our pensions forever. But today, three years later, we are here for a much different reason," said KY 120 United co-founder Jeni Bolander. "That day was just the beginning of what we realized what we could do together as a group."
"We seek a fresh start. We seek union. Union is not a dirty word," said KY 120 United co-founder Nema Brewer.
"We seek to show that here in Kentucky. When we first started this journey together - and it has been a journey - none of us knew where we would end up today."
The group is creating the Kentucky chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, a national teachers union.
The group says other public employees, teachers, school and university staff members, and retirees are able to join the union, by becoming associate members of the American Federation of Teachers.
KY 120 United, who also goes by 120 Strong, isn't the only public education group that has fought in Frankfort over the last few years, but the group has earned the reputation of being more outspoken than others. However, leaders of the group say being a grassroots organization has its disadvantages.
"We've worked within the systems that have been put out for us and we've worked our high ends off," said Brewer. "We've lobbied. We've gotten involved in associations. We've done everything that's been asked of us. And this year, it just really seemed like in order to be heard, we had to do something a little different."
KY 120 United leaders say being a part of a national union will help give them structure and outside support - and a seat at the table in Frankfort.
"We need a voice," said Brewer. "What we pledge today is a fresh start. We will gladly meet with anyone who wants to meet with us. We might not agree, but we're going to meet with you. We also seek partnership with our parents, our communities. We are you."
"We are unapologetically here to stay," said Brewer. "And with AFT, we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we can continue our message. But 120 ain't going away, y'all. We are still who we are. Our mission remains. Our attitude remains. But we seek better. We seek more. We seek our voices to be heard in the halls of Frankfort and our local communities."
The group's announcement also brought a new color to the battle over education. KY 120 United is switching from red - the color associated with public education in Kentucky - to blue, the color used by AFT.
"Out with the old, in with the blue," said Brewer.