July 12, 2008

Weingarten on eve of the AFT elections

I've now seen Randi Weingarten speak three times in the last 30 hours, to different audiences and for different purposes. I can see how articulate and comfortable she is in different settings, including when challenged by one AFT delegate on an issue close to his heart. My (admittedly incomplete) judgment is that she is whip-smart, energetic, and definitely ready for prime time.

I don't know how the press will portray her election, though reporters have had several months to write the story in advance. (She's unopposed, and one union friend in another state told me his political judgment earlier this year that she essentially had no choice but to lead the AFT.) For some reporters, the lead will be a continuation of UFT dominance in the AFT leadership. For others, it'll be her shrewdness (or contrariness: take your pick) in leading the UFT towards charter school operations and somehow working with a schools chancellor many NYC teachers hate with a passion (and from my vantage point, for some good reasons). For yet others, it'll be her status as the first openly-gay leader of a major national labor union in the U.S. I don't know if reporters will write about retiring AFT President Ed McElroy's career or the speech by Senator Clinton this morning or Senator Obama later in the weekend.

As she takes over the AFT, the national union is in healthy shape, with a number of successful organizing campaigns over the past few years and growing membership. Internal debates seem focused largely on organizational matters (and relationships between state affiliates and the national), not on issues of (public) policy. Those internal debates are an important part of union democracy, but I suspect that the relative emphasis internally leaves Weingarten plenty of room to make AFT a major player in national policy debates.

One bit of trivia that I think has not appeared outside this blog: the NEA and AFT state affiliates in New York merged recently, so the new AFT president will also be an NEA member (and an NEA local leader, since she'll remain UFT president).

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Posted in Education policy on July 12, 2008 9:29 PM |