OP-ED | Serving Up A Preferred Candidate
I’ve been commenting privately for years that the unions don’t need the Koch Brothers to destroy them — they are doing a good job of that themselves by working against the interests of their own rank-and-file membership. I speak in particular of AFT President Randi Weingarten, who reportedly pulled in an AFT income of over half a million dollars in 2014, while the average teacher salary in the United States has declined by 2.3 percent since 2000 to $56,689.
Okay, so maybe her 10-times-the-average-worker-pay ratio isn’t up there with the 354-times ratio we see from some CEOs in private industry, but it does make one wonder about the “we’ve got to keep our seat at the table” argument that teachers eating in the school cafeteria have been told repeatedly. It appears that union leadership is dining at a much more upscale table.
This feeling was confirmed when an AFT union member contacted me this week, upset about AFT’s process for endorsing a candidate in the upcoming presidential election:
I listened to a town hall meeting from the AFT . . . The first 1/2 hour was Randi speaking about (selling) the transparency and inclusiveness (my words) of AFT leadership before they decide who to endorse for President. She talked about sending the attached questionnaire to all the candidates and receiving responses from Democrats only. After the questionnaires the candidates were invited to be interviewed.
The purpose of the town hall meeting . . . was to allow members to ask questions.
I pushed [zero] and spoke to a very friendly person. I had to tell her my question before going in the cue. My question was: “Where can I find a copy of the candidates’ answers to the questionnaires and a transcript of the interviews?” Obviously, I was not chosen to ask this question publicly. However, Randi announced that everyone who had waited and did not get a chance to ask their question could email her to get their answer.
I emailed her and this was her response: “We promised the candidates that we would not distribute questionnaires beyond the Exec Council — that’s why we are trying to do it orally as part of these Town Halls. Why don’t I send you the questionnaire and then you give me a sense of which of the questions you want answered.”
AFT political director John Ost did indeed send my contact the questionnaire, but this just raised more questions, because the candidate questionnaire clearly stated: “The AFT has prepared this questionnaire to gauge your views on issues of concern to our members . . . Please note that your answers will be made available to our members and posted on the AFT public website.”
So much for transparency and inclusiveness. Who wants to bet which of the Democratic candidates doesn’t want their positions on teachers unions and education made widely available?
On Tuesday at 1:16 p.m., I sent Mr. Ost an email pointing out this anomaly, and asking the following:
Having sat through Gov. Malloy’s 2011-12 town halls at which he answered every teacher complaint about S.B. 458 with, “but Randi Weingarten agreed to this!” and then seeing the AFT re-endorse Malloy and then watch them claim to be “stunned” and “disappointed” by his veto of the bipartisan legislation requiring that the Education Commissioner have educational qualifications, I’m curious as to why, once again, it appears that the union leadership seems to be kow-towing to the candidates at the expense of the rank-and-file?
I would be interested in your views as to why this is good policy for unions, particularly at a time when they are already under siege?
I know Diane Ravitch thinks very highly of Randi, and many bloggers have given her a pass, but my teacher friends are extremely unhappy at this point, and as an observer of both the Connecticut and national political scene, I find this strategy highly questionable. Is the purpose to anoint a chosen candidate, rather than give members a genuine choice?
I didn’t receive an answer to my email prior to deadline* but at 2:10 p.m. the teacher who had alerted me to this situation did receive this response:
With regard to your email, just want to let you know that yes we will be posting the candidate’s responses to the questionnaire. We will do so soon. My apologies for any confusion.
Now, more than ever, with a well-financed, sustained campaign to destroy the important worker protections put in place over the course of the last century, and wealth inequality levels that are approaching the conditions that created the union movement, workers need strong advocacy. But they aren’t going to get it from a leadership that has become part of the problem. If union leadership is trying to protect a particular candidate from having to take a public position — so, for example, they can keep fundraising from the Democratic charter “hedgerati” and still get the endorsement of the AFT, then we have to ask: Is union leadership is representing its members or itself?
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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