GNTA High School Director
I attended the biennial AFT Convention in Minneapolis this July representing the GNTA. It was my first AFT convention, and it was an honor to represent our members. Having attended the NYSUT Representative Assembly for the past three years, I was not surprised to find how similarly the AFT operates. Of course the major difference is that there were representatives from around the country, and although there are issues that are particular to different states, there is much that unites us.
From union leaders to leading politicians, the lineup of speakers was inspiring and made clear the power and reach of the AFT. We heard from Leo Gerard, the President of the United Steelworkers and Dolores Huerta, one of the founders of the United Farm Workers, Congressmen Keith Ellison and Bobby Scott, Governor Mark Dayton, Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. International speakers included a young woman member of the Israeli Knesset, and a Palestinian educator and an Israeli educator working together to build schools where Israelis and Palestinians can learn together and from each other.
There was recognition and discussion of events in our country beyond education. A number of Florida educators were wearing #Orlando United shirts, which are a fundraiser for the OneOrlando Fund for the benefit of the survivors and families of the victims of the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Because of the interest of members from around the country, the link to order was posted and announced from the chair a number of times. http://www.orlandocitysc.com/post/2016/06/14/orlandounited-t-shirts I ordered one online and had it within days.
In the weeks leading up to the convention, Alton Sterling was shot by police in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile was shot by a police officer not too far from where the convention was being held. Philando Castile worked in a school in St. Paul and was an active member of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. Many teachers joined with activists to protest these killings. http://www.startribune.com/teachers-join-activists-to-protest-castile-shooting/387511391/#1A special order of business on fighting for safe communities and racial justice for citizens and for first responders was overwhelmingly passed by members.
During the business portion of the convention there were many resolutions discussed and debated in committee and then on the convention floor. The issues they addressed ranged from education to international events. The complete list can be found at http://www.aft.org/about/resolutions.
One of the more controversial debates had to do with a proposal to change the way in which AFT endorses candidates. Those supporting the proposal felt that the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary was premature and should have been done with greater member input. This was similar in many ways to the debates at the NYSUT RA over the election of regional directors that I wrote about after the RA earlier this year. As at the RA, many from UFT, which is run by the Unity Caucus that requires its members to vote as a bloc directed by their leadership, and which had the largest number of votes at AFT of any local in the country by far, argued that the process works and there is no need to make it more democratic. The proposal was defeated.