AFT President Randi Weingarten on Saturday congratulated NYSUT members on their successful advocacy in the last year while urging delegates to vote for Hillary Clinton in the April 19 New York State primary.
The AFT last July was the first national labor union to endorse Clinton for president. Clinton addressed the Representative Assembly the evening before.
Acknowledging supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the audience, Weingarten said, "Both candidates will fight for us and our values," pointing out that Sanders and Clinton, when they were both U.S. senators, voted the same way 93 percent of the time.
But, Weingarten said, Clinton has a better track record of getting things done and supporting educators. Clinton "has our backs," and is right when she says that it is "just plain wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all the ills of society," Weingarten said.
Weingarten remarked, as did many of the speakers at the RA, on the difference between this legislative session and last year's when teachers were in the "crosshairs" and Gov. Cuomo was an advocate of a "direct line" between student testing and teacher evaluations.
"The scapegoating, the bashing, it didn't work," Weingarten said, because NYSUT members "stood up for ourselves, we stood up for our students, and we stood up for schools."
Educators and parents stood firm against hedge fund managers and so-called reformers who support the privatization of public schools, she said, and, "You won!"
The victories included a four-year moratorium on the current teacher evaluations; the appointment of Betty Rosa as Regents chancellor; the rescue of 500 union jobs at the Alcoa aluminum plant in Massena; the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment; and an increase of state funding for schools in 2016-2017 by $1.5 billion.
"You changed the tone and you changed the state," Weingarten said. Now, state leaders are coming to NYSUT to ask, "'What should we do?'" to ensure the state never again passes the anti-teacher legislation it has imposed over the past decade or so, she said.
On the national landscape, the "stakes are really high" in upcoming the presidential election, "and Washington is really broken," Weingarten said. She spoke about the importance of electing a Democrat in the fall to ensure fair-minded appointments to the Supreme Court, referencing the 4-4 decision in Friedrichs v. California Teacher Association, which threatened the financial model of pubic sector unions.
While the Court's decision to maintain the status quo provides a moment of respite, she pointed out that 26 other potential "Friedrichs" cases are making their way through the federal courts, and the danger is ever-present.
She also reminded delegates that Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are "waging an all-out war" on unions, public education and public employees, and, at all costs, Republicans cannot be allowed to attain the White House.
The wealthy Koch brothers plan to spend $1 billion in this campaign, prompting Weingarten to quip: "I guess they are the citizens in Citizens United," a reference to the Supreme Court ruling that gave all corporations the right to unfettered spending in elections.