By Mike Schirtzer
Teacher/UFT Delegate- Leon M. Goldstein High School Brooklyn
Over a year before the 2016 Presidential election our AFT union leadership has already endorsed Hillary Clinton. The political move comes after two phone polls and one town hall meeting which supposedly included the input of 1,150 members. Our AFT is made up of over 1.6 million members. This is not a very scientific study or a good sample size. Mrs. Clinton may or may not be a good choice, but the manner in which our union endorsed her was problematic.
With the recent decision by the Supreme Court to hear a case that may mean the end of public sector unions as we know it and the continued anti-worker, union-busting policies from elected officials on both sides of the aisle from Scott Walker to Andrew Cuomo, now is the wrong time to be making back-room political deals that further distance our union from its members. This is the moment to engage our members, to make them feel like active participants in our union.
For far too long UFT/AFT leadership has been overly complacent and allowed member interest in the union to wither away. With this critical presidential election coming and the continued attacks on our unions, this should be the perfect moment to get all our members involved. They could have done that by offering more than a couple of limited phone polls and poorly advertised website questionnaire. They could have used this time to galvanize our members, to remind prospective nominees that anti-worker, anti-union, and anti-public education policies are not in the best interest of our nation. These very policies have widened the income gap and led our country to near financial ruin. Our union needs to properly vet each candidate to know where they stand on testing, common core, union rights, tenure, charter schools, and then share that information with each and every AFT member. We can then make informed decisions that will help our students, our schools, and our union.
It is fine if AFT President Weingarten is personal friends with Mrs. Clinton, but that is not a reason to give away our endorsement. The last twenty-five years of political endorsements have not helped our union or our schools, in fact, we could argue it has done further harm. They could have engaged the membership in a vibrant discussion on strategies and whether political endorsements are in the best interest of those we serve. AFT could have surveyed every member via email, held town hall meetings in all of the locals and throughout New York City with UFT members and parents like we did in the battle against Cuomo’s anti-education policies.
None of this was done, instead another top down decision was made in some back-room during the middle of the summer. This could have been the the right time for our union leadership to change direction, make our union more democratic, listen to diverse voices within the union, even to dissenters like ourselves who may disagree, but offer educated insights. Instead they chose to do what they always do; fail to engage the membership and then make a decision on our behalf.
We need new union leadership that is made up of members who are in the classroom, who speak with and for school based educators. A leadership that has new ideas, new voices, and actively seeks member participation. While we are upset at this endorsement process, it is just another example of the systematic failure of this leadership that has allowed our union to become weakened, our members to become disinterested, and public schools to be disenfranchised.