Teachers across the country are up in arms over the American Federation of Teacher’s (AFT) endorsement of Hillary Clinton. But the AFT and AFT president Randi Weingarten should not bear the full brunt of the profession’s ire, as this was not the decision of one person, but rather the entire AFT executive council. Here in New York, we must look to our own state union and demand some transparency and accountability or at the very least, an explanation.
On July 9th the AFT announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential candidate. Five days later, NYSUT’s webpage and twitter feed do not include a single mention of an endorsement that has made headlines around the nation, nor is there any mention on either the UFT or UUP (United University Professions) website.
Many find this omission strange considering that NYSUT employs a fulltime director of communications. Certainly an endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate 6 months before the Democratic primary warrants some type of member engagement.
Looking at the AFT’s leadership team, the reason for the omission becomes crystal clear. NYSUT president Karen Magee, vice presidents Andy Pallotta, Catalina Fortino, Paul Pecorale, Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner, UFT president Michael Mulgrew, and UUP president Fred Kowal are all vice presidents of the AFT, and therefore part of the very same executive council who voted for the Clinton endorsement. Given the outrage over the AFT endorsement, it makes sense that NYSUT, UFT, and UUP leadership would distance themselves as far as possible from their own culpability in this fiasco.
Tweets and emails to NYSUT leadership requesting an accounting of their votes have gone unanswered but one thing seems clear, NYSUT leaders are desperate to keep their hands clean and stay above the fray.
Perhaps NYSUT leadership is hoping that the anger of its members towards the AFT will distract them from the fact that NYSUT has provided zero member education regarding any primary candidate’s platform or voting record on education. Or perhaps NYSUT is hoping that its membership will fail to register that union leadership has just given away any chance for members to voice their preference or concerns.
A video of NYSUT at-large director and executive board member Don Carlisto praising Hillary Clinton (Carlisto calls Clinton “personable and funny”) is included on the AFT’s website, but not on NYSUT’s website. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems clear that NYSUT leadership is hoping that we won’t notice the obvious – while a select few had a “say,” their members did not.
To be fair, we do not know how NYSUT leadership voted on the endorsement or which leaders were actually present at the vote. This is because they have not even acknowledged the endorsement, let alone their participation in the decision. But we can note with certainty the failure of NYSUT leadership to create an opportunity for members to influence the outcome of the AFT’s vote to endorse Clinton.
To their credit, NYSUT leadership has not attempted to convince the public that their members overwhelmingly support Clinton’s endorsement. Then again, how could they? No polls, surveys, or any other attempts at taking the pulse of NYSUT member support for a candidate has taken place.
NYSUT leaders have engaged in an epic failure to engage and inform their members (members who are required to pay dues to the AFT) but even more importantly, it appears that they have attempted to hide their involvement in the Clinton endorsement. Such an egregious lack of transparency and regard for the will of their membership will surely come at a cost.
Putting aside for the moment the fact that Hillary Clinton has not fully revealed her education platform (nor have any candidates), has voiced support of charter schools, and has never spoken out against the use of high stakes test scores to drive instruction and evaluate teachers and schools, many see Clinton as an obvious choice due to her ability to outspend other Democratic primary hopefuls. But the fact remains that an endorsement 6 months before the Democratic primary election is a giveaway. By holding out on their endorsement, the AFT and through its involvement, NYSUT, could have held out for an affirmation from Clinton that she will work to end our current system of test-driven, Common Core education and to ensure that schools are funded fairly.
NYSUT leadership has usurped any kind of democratic process for giving their members a voice. Social media seems to indicate that many New York educators support pro-union, anti-high stakes testing candidate Bernie Sanders, but the truth is, we will never know who NYSUT members would have supported for the Democratic primary because they were never asked. Not willing to be ignored or spoken for, rank and file teachers have ignited an impressive groundswell of support for Sanders that is taking hold in New York State and across the nation.
As the opt-out movement continues to grow, so will the demand for new leadership in NYSUT. But this time around, it will be teachers AND parents calling for change. Make no mistake, parents are increasingly aware of the fact that the current NYSUT leadership has the ear of both the legislature and the Board of Regents and that thus far, has failed to use this influence to protect teachers and students from the current “reform” policies that are destroying our schools.
As Kevin Glenn, a Long Island educator, parent, and founder of Lace to the Top so aptly stated, Hillary Clinton may have won an endorsement, but Randi Weingarten lost a union. With a slightly different twist, the same may be said in NY. While NYSUT leadership once again sold out its members to keep their seat at the table, they most certainly lost any credibility or hope for re-election to leadership positions in New York State.