Walk with GNTA on Sunday, October 19 at Jones Beach to Make Strides Against Breast Cancer. Get the details, and we hope to see you there!
The GNTA New Members Reception will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, October 15. Get all the information!
With Reclaiming the Promise as the main theme permeating all the activities at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the American Federation of Teachers held its 83rd national convention in July.
All the speakers proved creative in weaving the main theme into their presentations. From California
Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the dynamic Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President, North Carolina NAACP, Cynthia Nixon, Actor-Activist, newly elected NEA President Eskelsen Garcia to a host of others, the audience was inspired by the variations on Reclaiming the Promise. AFT President Randi Weingarten roused the 3,000 delegates and guests with her State of the Union address.
Her bold call to Reclaim the Promise of America included creating economic and educational opportunity for all. The unprecedented, unwarranted attacks on teachers, public schools and other public institutions, backed by big money and aided by ALEC, are starving public schools, hurting students and widening the gap among the wealthy, the middle class and the poor. Her response to the challenges is for the union, in solidarity, to: connect with the community; be solution-driven; engage, empower and elevate the professionals. She related that it is time to “fight back; fight forward; move forward.”
An important responsibility of the delegates was to debate 91 resolutions from AFT locals across the nation, first in committees, then in plenary sessions on the convention floor. The resolutions were divided into the following committees: Educational Issues, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Rights, International Relations, Labor and the Economy, Union Organizing and Collective Bargaining, Political Action/Legislation, Public Services, Retirement, Registered Nurses, Women’s Rights and School and College Support Staffs.
All seven retirement resolutions were adopted. One important issue had to do with ensuring the continuance of traditional Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Another resolution called for the adoption of a new consumer price index formula called CPI-E to determine cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to Social Security each year. The CPI-E more realistically tracks inflation for senior Americans. The longest debate on the convention floor dealt with The Role of Standards in Public Education. This resolution, submitted by the AFT Executive Council, affirms the importance of educational standards and the promise and potential of Common Core State Standards, but severely criticizes the way in which they were developed, implemented, evaluated and the excessive testing program. The resolution decries the lack of educational practitioner involvement in the entire process. It especially attacks the rush by profiteers and corporate interests to “cash in” at the expense of children. Further, it includes many specific sensible solutions to fix what is broken and to shift the present corporate model to one that is student centered. Finally, policymakers and administrators are held accountable for the proper implementation of Common Core State Standards.
A special resolution called for the resignation of United States Secretary Arne Duncan due to his anti-teacher, anti-public school and anti-union policies. His views represent corporate America’s attempt to instill the corporate/factory model of education into the classroom. When asked to approve this resolution, the entire body stood up, cheering and chanting “yes!” While the resolution is symbolic, it sends a message to the Obama administration that its educational policies have been destructive to teachers, parents and especially students.
This convention was one of the best that I ever attended. The intelligence, articulation, passion, thought-provoking ideas and respect for opposing ideas displayed in all sessions were evidence of the high level of excellence exhibited by the delegates representing their locals from all parts of the country. The 2014 AFT Convention was both encouraging and motivating.
HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION: ON POLITICAL ENDORSEMENTS!
Or at least a chunk of it!
In July I was honored to attend the AFT Convention in Los Angeles, which is held every other year, as one of three elected representatives from GNTA. This year’s convention, which lasted for five days, left little time for recreation but was often inspirational, sometimes contentious--never boring.
One of the main tasks of the convention is to determine the educational, political, and social justice goals and priorities for the AFT. A number of resolutions were debated, with the hottest topic by far being the Common Core Standards. There is consensus among teachers across the country that the standards are flawed in many respects, that the rollout has been atrocious, and that the coupling of the standards with testing has been harmful to education. However, there was significant disagreement over how to address those concerns, from those who believe the standards should be jettisoned completely to those who believe they should be revised and the peripheral issues of rollout should be addressed separately. Debate was prolonged, impassioned, and sometimes downright ridiculous as the rhetoric soared. In the end, the body passed a resolution calling for the AFT to
assist state and local affiliates to ensure that:
The convention also passed a lengthy resolution calling for “the development of ‘support-and-improve’ accountability models to replace the current, failed ‘test-and punish’ systems;” another to support age-appropriate assessment for young learners; and another to overhaul high-stakes testing. A resolution against standardized assessments for students receiving special education services was referred to the Executive Council for further study.
For me, one of the most fascinating things about the convention was witnessing the interplay among the largest locals (particularly the Chicago Teachers Union and New York’s United Federation of Teachers, which tend to be antagonists) as well as the state affiliates, particularly NYSUT. It’s obvious that both the UFT and NYSUT have tremendous influence on the way the AFT leans. In watching Twitter and blog reporting on the convention (often by people who weren’t in attendance), it is evident that there’s a great deal of lingering bitterness in the wake of the recent NYSUT elections as well as concern that the UFT may have undue influence on NYSUT’s leadership. This certainly bears watching.
In August, I attended the NYSUT Presidents’ Endorsement Conference in Albany to consider political races pertinent to our state. Despite the title, the process of determining NYSUT endorsements is multi-layered and sometimes unclear. Four groups weigh in with recommendations: NYSUT Legislative Staff, the Political Action Chairs from each region of the state, the NYSUT Board of Directors, and the local Presidents of NYSUT, myself included. Some decisions had already been made prior to our arrival: for example, it had already been determined that NYSUT would not make an endorsement in the governor’s race for either the Democratic primary in September or the general election in November. It’s not clear who ultimately made that decision, although it had been obvious at the Representative Assembly in May that an endorsement of Andrew Cuomo would have faced widespread opposition from the NYSUT locals, nor would there have been strong support for Republican Rob Astorino. There was a great deal of grumbling that NYSUT should have considered a primary endorsement of Zephyr Teachout and, if she loses the primary, of Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins. When the Long Island Presidents’ grumbles turned to loud calls for further discussion of this possibility, certain political considerations were explained to us, which most of us were able to accept, but many of us remained disturbed by the top-down, less than transparent nature of the decision-making in this case.
In terms of strategy, the other recommending groups wanted to endorse Democrats wherever possible, particularly in the state Senate, where it’s possible that a Democratic majority can be achieved this year. Among the local Presidents here on Long Island, however, there are many cases where we feel that Republican incumbents have been better for us than their Democratic challengers would be. For one thing, Democrats have traditionally appeared to favor the big five cities in terms of finances, whereas our Republican representatives have fought to return more state aid to Long Island districts. Many of us have built relationships with our Republican Senators and feel that we’ve made progress in helping them understand our issues. While we weren’t always successful in achieving endorsements for these incumbents, we were at least able to prevent alternative endorsements for candidates solely on the grounds of their being Democrats.
Two weeks after the NYSUT conference, Michael Norberto (JFK), Sandi Cooper (SMS), and I attended the New York AFL-CIO COPE Convention to consider that body’s endorsements. For the first time, NYSUT asked for a large showing of delegates in order to have a significant voice in the decision-making. There had been a great deal of speculation that the AFL-CIO would endorse Cuomo for Governor; however, discussions prior to the convention among the leadership of the various affiliates must have made it clear that such an endorsement would not be supported by the public service unions such as NYSUT and AFSCME, and the possibility was not even raised. For AFL-CIO endorsements, several groups make recommendations, but the final decision is made by the convention delegates. This resulted in lengthy debate as alternatives to the recommendations were frequently explored.
I was honored to represent GNTA at all three of these meetings and will distribute a list of NYSUT and AFL-CIO endorsements for all races pertinent to our members within the next month.