AFT president visits East Bay, defends union rights

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. (photo courtesy of the AFT)American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten came to the Bay Area today. I heard her on KQED this morning and again tonight, at a Commonwealth Club event in Lafayette.

Weingarten appeared in the “Waiting for Superman” documentary about the state of public education in the country; UC Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller, who moderated this evening’s talk, joked that the audience might remember her as the “evildoer who resists all reforms presented in public policy circles.”

Weingarten’s central message was — no surprise, given what’s been happening in Wisconsin — in defense of collective bargaining. While it’s perceived to be an adversarial process, she said, it doesn’t have to be. Weingarten said teachers and other public workers (who, she noted, did not cause the budget crises facing so many states) can play a vital role in helping public institutions weather the budget crises by making cuts that will cause the least long-term damage. She described it as “problem solving that incorporates the wisdom of the front lines.”

In response to questions about why unions seem to be opposed to change, she emphasized that unions are not “monolithic” — “just like management is not monolithic.” She also repeated her call for improving teacher evaluations (for the purpose of supporting teachers, she said, not sorting them) and a hearing process for removing poor teachers that wouldn’t last longer than 100 days.

Weingarten said a narrow focus on multiple-choice tests has not helped schools prepare students for the “knowledge economy,” and pointed to an investigative report by USA Today about the extremely high rate of erasure marks (and answers switched from wrong to right) on the state tests at many Washington, D.C. schools, including some that former Chancellor Michelle Rhee touted as success stories.

The AFT president didn’t say too much about the future of the federal law currently known as No Child Left Behind (other than that fact that no one in Washington is using that name anymore) or what its next incarnation might be. Given the budget cuts and the prospect of losing “thousands and thousands of teachers,” she said, “If you don’t have the budgets, it doesn’t actually matter what federal policy is.”

Do you agree with Weingarten’s point about the problem-solving potential of collective bargaining? How have you seen that play out in your district? What role have local unions played in budget discussions?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • joe

    You could not have picked a worse representative than this woman. man- she looks and acts like a snob!

    She has perhaps has done more to hurt the union tan help