"We call out what's wrong and do what's right." With those words, AFT President Randi Weingarten succinctly voiced her vision of solution-driven unionism in a wide-ranging speech that focused on NYSUT's and AFT's leadership on issues in public education and health care.
With her roots firmly planted in New York as a former UFT president, Weingarten spoke of the "disastrous way New York state has implemented Common Core," noting the state "took something that has tremendous potential to transform the DNA of education and led with testing first, not teaching."
But union activism is making gains in countering bad policy, she said.
"You are leading the way for change - in the labor movement and in public education," she told delegates. "We are changing the climate and more and more people are listening," including members of the media who used to give so-called reformers like Michelle Rhee a "free pass" but who are now starting to challenge the status quo.
She praised NYSUT's "Tell It Like It Is" campaign and looked to the future, saying: "Yes, that June 8 rally is important, and we have to get the Truth About Testing bill passed." Weingarten celebrated the recent vote by 34,000 nurses to affiliate with AFT, making it the second-largest health care union in the country.
She also announced an exciting initiative that has resulted in TIAA-CREF, a pension fund for higher education, committing to a "responsible contractor policy" dealing with all its real estate investments.
"A responsible contractor is one who pays workers a fair wage and fair benefits, including health care and retirement benefits,"
Weingarten said. This "really important step," the brainchild of PSC's Mike Fabricant, will help rebuild the middle class and makes a "common cause with our brothers and sisters in the building trades," Weingarten said.