AFT endorses Warren, Biden, Sanders – for now
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. | Chris Carlson/AP

WASHINGTON—Citing responses from more than 300,000 members, union town halls, regional forums, and meetings with state and local members and leaders, the Teachers (AFT) board endorsed Sens. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination – for now.

But regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, the union, one of the two largest in the AFL-CIO and one of the four largest in the U.S., will be in their corner, the board said.

That’s because “Trump and his appointees, including Betsy DeVos” – Trump’s Secretary of Education – “threaten our democracy, climate, public education, healthcare, public services, freedoms and way of life,” AFT’s resolution added.

It also declared “nobody can stand on the sidelines” in 2020.

While the union now backs Sanders, Warren, and Biden, its resolution, which union President Randi Weingarten and several colleagues unveiled in a national town hall with members the night of Feb. 20, made clear conditions could change.

“Until the American Federation of Teachers decides to make a national endorsement in the primary process or at the AFT convention, the AFT urges the affiliates, members and leadership, including the three AFT national officers, to be actively involved in supporting and helping” Biden, Warren or Sanders, its resolution concludes.

The union’s decision – and the process it used to reach it – could help Warren, a one-time special education teacher, and Biden. Both trail Sanders in public opinion polls and in delegate counts in the runup to the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3.

And AFT nodded towards union activists who are already running for Democratic convention delegate positions, as well as one of the few Teachers local endorsements, by the big United Teachers of Los Angeles, for Sanders. California’s primary, which will send more than 500 delegates to the convention, is the biggest Super Tuesday contest.

The AFT board’s decision also is a direct contrast to what happened four years ago, when Weingarten unilaterally announced the year before that AFT supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She promptly got bombarded by outraged grass-roots Sanders supporters, who argued, convincingly, that AFT shut out everyone else, including them.

This time, the union said the big goal is to defeat Trump, thus ousting both him and DeVos, infamous in the labor movement for her anti-teacher, anti-worker, anti-public school stands. DeVos is a GOP big-giver who champions vouchers to parents of private school students and who disdains public schools, their teachers and their students, a majority of whom are students of color.

“Donald Trump is an existential threat to the values and aspirations of our members and those we serve,” the union said. By contrast, “while several candidates share our values,” Biden, Sanders, and Warren drew “significant support from” AFT members.

But even if none of them win, “in our quest for a better life for our members and the communities we serve, to preserve our democracy, and to defeat Trump, we must ultimately be unified and support the eventual Democratic nominee.”

“We are fighting for working families and our communities to have the freedom to live, and a voice at work and in our democracy,” Weingarten told a national town hall of her members.

Left unsaid was how the union board eliminated the five other Democratic hopefuls: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., former Mayors Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg of New York City, multimillionaire Tom Steyer, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. The union did not answer calls seeking clarification on those points.

But Bloomberg, as mayor, hated the city’s teachers union in general and Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, in particular. He refused to bargain with the United Federation of Teachers, AFT’s New York City affiliate, and constantly pushed charter schools.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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