After Janus decision, teachers say: “We’re sticking with the union!”
AFT president Randi Weingarten speaks to delegates about the union's fighting response to the Supreme Court's anti-worker Janus decision at the convention in Philadelphia. | AFT

PITTSBURGH—Three thousand teachers and other education professionals, delegates to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention here from July 12-16, gave a resounding answer to the union-busting Supreme Court Janus decision. Their answer: “We’re sticking with the union!”

A delegate to the AFT convention decked out in buttons and pins. | AFT

In a historic display of unity, AFT President Randy Weingarten was joined on stage by Lily Eskelson-Garcia, President of the National Education Association (NEA), Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Together, the unions they head represent some seven million workers. Surrounded by members of all four unions, they held up signs that read, “We’re in it together!”

Each of these leaders reported on extensive engagement with their members who are rallying around their union. Weingarten reported that organizing efforts have paid off. The AFT now has the largest membership in their history: 1.7 million members. United, they plan to bring out the vote in November and elect a Congress friendly to working families. Then, with the help of community allies, convention delegates marched through the streets of Pittsburgh to demand funding for public education.

A new AFT report details the disastrous effect on schools and students when states refuse to fund public education. The austerity policies that are starving the schools start with cutting taxes for the top 1%. The report, “A Decade of Neglect,” lists the damage austerity measures have done in the last ten years: “25 states spent less on K-12 education in 2016 than they did prior to the recession, shortchanging their schools by $19 billion; in 38 states, the average teacher salary in 2018 is lower than it was in 2009; and 41 states have shortchanged higher education by a total of $15 billion.”

Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton addresses AFT delegates on the first day of their convention in Pittsburgh. | AFT

A progressive political program was outlined by national political leaders who spoke at the convention. Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stood firm on the progressive issues that had been outlined in her platform, such as health care for all and free tuition at public colleges and universities. Bernie Sanders roused delegates with his call for a political revolution, and Elizabeth Warren exposed the deregulation of the banks and removal of protections for consumers.

Resolutions adopted by the convention reflected the progressive tone of the gathering. While the central issues were defense of public education with adequate funding, union rights, ending racist practices, and opposition to school privatization, many other topics were also considered. These included Justice for Puerto Rico, health care for all supporting HR 676, progressive not regressive taxes, student loan fraud, and ending the state of war in Korea.


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Beatrice Lumpkin
Beatrice Lumpkin

Beatrice Lumpkin is a long time labor activist with laundry workers, steelworkers, and teachers. As a math professor at Malcolm X College in Chicago, she fought to restore the contributions of people of color to the educational curriculum. She has served as a multicultural consultant to textbook publishers and to public schools in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Portland, Ore. She is the author of “Always Bring a Crowd, the Story of Frank Lumpkin Steelworker” and “Joy in the Struggle, My Life and Love.” Beatrice Lumpkin is an active member of the Teachers Union and SOAR.