In Partnership with 74

At AFT convention, teachers union expected to fire up the base

Vanessa Romo | July 9, 2014

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Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten, AFT President

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) kicks off its annual convention in downtown Los Angeles tomorrow bringing more 3,500 national union delegates to the home of LA Unified, the second largest school district in the country.

On the agenda: fending off what the union sees as its biggest threats, including billionaire money, an assault on tenure, and the “pervasive fixation on testing over teaching and learning,” according to a union press release.  A proposed hike in union dues is also on the table.

It is less clear whether the delegates will seek a resolution asking for the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as its counterpart, the National Education Association, did at its convention last week.

The gathering is attracting political and union heavy weights: AFT President, Randi Weingarten will deliver the keynote address Friday morning, following a speech by Governor Jerry Brown. Other speakers include Mayor Eric Garcetti, and California State School Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a teachers union ally who is facing a November re-election fight against education reformer Marshal Tuck.

AFT is the second largest teachers union in the country, representing 1.5 million teachers, health workers and school-related personnel nationwide.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the newly installed president of the Los Angeles teachers union (UTLA) will lead a panel on social movement unionism that will include teachers union leaders from Chicago, St. Paul, and Philadelphia.

“It will be about how to take on some of the challenges that unions are facing by building a broader alliance with parents and community all around the quality schools agenda,” Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report.

“Obviously we’ll get to talk about some of the dilemmas we face in Los Angeles, like the billionaire funded Vergara lawsuit, as well as some of the problems with Superintendent John Deasy putting forward an unacceptable offer around pay,” he said.

The union is currently in contract negotiations with the district but appears to be at an impasse. UTLA leaders flatly rejected the district’s recent proposal of a 2 percent raise for 2014-15 plus a retroactive 2 percent bonus for 2013-14, calling it “insulting.”

Meanwhile in a letter to members posted on the convention website, AFT President Weingarten explained why she is recommending a dues hike, taking members’ annual contribution from the current $213 to $225 a year by 2015.

“We face continued assaults through privatization, profiteering and deprofessionalization in the schools, universities, hospitals and institutions that serve the American public,” Weingarten wrote. “The dues increase is intended to support organizing efforts, mobilize political power and enable us to incubate new approaches and solutions to helping those we serve, their families and our communities.”

On Saturday union members will rally at Staples Center Plaza to join with California postal workers protesting Staples’ plan to use store employees to staff U.S. Postal Service counters at Staples stores.

The conference will end Monday with a press conference on due process with teachers and community leaders.

All speeches, general sessions, and business discussions, will be live streamed here.

Previous posts: Top 6 shockers: how Weingarten and Deasy agree on tenure, Strike talk emerges on Caputo-Pearl’s first day as union chief, Weingarten: Bad Teachers Need Another Profession

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