Randi Weingarten is the President of the American Federation of Teachers and she’s hilarious and amazing, in many ways. I knew nothing much at all about Randi prior to my arrival at the @AFTunion Convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center (July 11 – 14); but within hours of live-tweeting, it was clear the leadership was phenomenal, thoughtful and we would all have a good time!
After her speech, a group of us had the privilege to interview her and I had a chance to ask her a very pointed question about the election of Ras Baraka in Newark, New Jersey (which was featured in some of the AFT video montages) and Antar Chokwe Lumumba’s loss of the election in Jackson, Mississippi, which was mentioned but I felt was related.
In her opening remarks to the press, regarding her speech, Randi stated, in part:
I tried to make it clear, what we’ve been through and where we’re going. The people who serve… have been through tough times…they’ve taken on a lot…and there’s been this attack through depoliticization, privatization, etc….and I wanted to be a mirror and reflect it back…it’s both economics and educational opportunity, it’s important that people have the healthcare they need….And [in my speech], I wanted to be honest.
Q: How do you see your relationship with the Department of Education moving forward?
Our relationship tomorrow should be what it’s been in the past… that is an arm’s length, professional relationship where he is who the President of the United States of America appointed as secretary of education. So, our job is to advocate on behalf of the needs of students, parents and educators to do the job they have asked us to do. I would hope it would be the kind of workman-like relationship.. which is why I said it, that point was for the secretary… and I do hope he listens to what people are saying [references John King]. The fact that he refuses to listen has created a toxic, polarizing situation… And so I would actually ask others, you know, what have you learned from these last three months and years and why aren’t you adjusting when you hear this level of deep frustration? We have dedicated Sunday morning to education… but the members have to have their say and at least a venue at the AFC provides that… Any resolutions that come about as a result of this AFT Convention should come from the members….I’ve complimented the President as well as criticized him. When the President said people should be “mass fired,” we criticized that…when the secretary talked about education in New Orleans, we criticized that…
Q & A:
What Norman is talking about is that there are political parties in our union… and I’m a member of the progressive caucus… I know you don’t believe this but if members want to bring that resolution… I am behind any action that the members do on this issue. What this is about … this is emotional… this is people feeling like the people who are our bosses, who lead policy, don’t have to agree with everything every teacher does, but they have to be supportive….And, so they expect some social covenant from leaders to actually help them, not to throw more obstacles in their way.
Q: Why does the Union stand by and do nothing?
Everybody is entitled to their opinion and I respect yours. I think UTLA has done a lot and they probably should have gotten involved in the Reed case and when we did get involved.
Q: The AFT supports nurses, correction officers, etc. Is that new?
No. We are a union of professionals and have represented nurses for about 20 years, public sector employees for 25 years… over the course of 10 years, we had three different “futures” committees… talking about how we are servicing and championing not just the members that we represent.
My Question: Can you talk a bit more about what the election of Ras Baraka as Mayor of Newark means, especially following the media darling that is Cory Booker, his prominent use of social media and with Mark Zuckerberg’s financial investment? And do you have anything to offer to new voters in Jackson, MS who were saddened by the death of Chokwe Lumumba and the loss of his son, Antar’s election to corporate interests?
As I said and Rev. Barber said as well, progressive forces that are fighting to ensure that regular folk have a real voice have more of an uphill battle today than ever before… let me put my social studies hat on… more of a battle than the last gilded age… more of a battle around social inequality… worse in the South than in the North but we see tremendous polarization in the North, too.. our schools are more segregated today than 50 years ago… so, what you see as a result is that state and local races, which are absolutely vital, are getting played out. Money in these races is corrosive… we spent collectively $600 million, business spent $9.5 billion… we just don’t know how much the Koch brothers have collected, we just don’t know… [segues into support for turning around transparency and ending Citizens United]…. we are championing not just economic rights but voting rights. What we see happening is in Newark because of the fightback we have done with community over the course of the last year, like in DC, because there was a collective bargaining contract, the deFurs and Chris Christies of the world couldn’t make the union the issue. The issue in the Newark election, the issue was Cami Anderson and there was a real fightback between community and labor in terms of fighting to get Ras Baraka elected. So, when you see that coalition that’s really working together and inspiring the public, we win elections. And I think that’s the difference between those two elections … And let me just say, it doesn’t happen two minutes before the election, it’s a lot of community organizing along the way. We see that in Philly as well.
Q: Can you tell us your ideas on tenure and what’s a reasonable time for a teacher to teach before they get tenure?
So, this is what I’m not gonna do… I’m not gonna talk about what my specific idea is for this because we need to create a process in California to do what New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland did, which was to work together to solve the issues and solve them… they got to a meeting of the minds of due process in New Jersey… we are appealing that decision, though, but that decision was not right, for many of the reasons…I have said that 18 months is not enough time but the flipside is, take the copycat cases where you have laws that are three years… they’re still making the same argument and that’s how you know they’re not about fairness, it’s not about kids having great teachers, it’s about throwing out peoples’ rights.
Why are these riffs and this dissension happening now?
Remember the adage, the straw that broke the camel’s back? I think that’s what you’re seeing right now… CTA and CFT are engaged in the appeal. The State is appealing the decision as well.
Let me just say, the fact that the Governor [of California] was here and spoke about how we support kids, was a very important thing to happen today.
The end. It was a great press conference.
So, as you can see, the American Federation of Teacher’s Convention started off robust and will undoubtedly end that way as well. Randi Weingarten seems to be an excellent leader, as are all of the Executive Committee and the members. The election results were announced this morning, the Progressive Caucus has won and the AFT remains women-led — Randi Weingarten, President, Mary Cathryn Ricker, Vice President and Lorretta Johnson, Secretary.
Want to live vicariously through tweets to experience the Convention? Check out my Storify!
See you in Minneapolis, MN in 2016 and in every classroom and community in between time!