When the Scranton (Pa.) School Board proposed a hybrid reopening model this fall, the Scranton Federation of Teachers knew it was the wrong move. Too many crucial safety variables hadn’t been figured out, from classroom ventilation to cleaning supplies.
This Labor Day, faculty at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia donned masks and rallied on campus to announce their campaign to form a union, which would represent more than 500 lecturers, adjuncts and full-time faculty. “Winning a union at UArts means more stability, granting faculty access to healthcare, not worrying about receiving contracts to teach last-minute, knowing that your class size won’t double without additional compensation,” says UArts lecturer Beck Gusler.
As the political campaign season enters the post-Labor Day homestretch, thousands of callers from across the nation joined AFT President Randi Weingarten during a telephone town hall that focused on the effort to elect a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. “We are deep into the choices that will be made by Americans about whether we have a president, House and Senate that will do the people’s work,” Weingarten said. “We need a Senate that does what people need.”
On Sept. 2, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted an online session to hear public comments on a draft framework that will assist policymakers in planning for equitable allocation of a vaccine against COVID-19. AFT President Randi Weingarten was among dozens of leaders, advocates and citizens who provided input that will inform a study to recommend priority for distribution of the initial supply of COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
Across the nation, educators and parents stood up on Sept. 2 to #DemandSafeSchools in a day of action campaign—ranging from one-person statements posted on social media to press conferences with elected officials that reached thousands—that insisted on funding to open schools safely in the face of COVID-19. More than 200 events, like distanced demonstrations and virtual town halls, included dozens of members of Congress and more than 50 partner groups. “Testing, tracing, isolation, PPE, ventilation, connectivity, tools and more require resources,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We don't have them from Trump, McConnell and Senate GOP lawmakers. Once again, we have to hit the streets to get kids the education they need.”
AFT convention delegates, who cast their ballots by mail, voted overwhelmingly to re-elect President Randi Weingarten, elect Fedrick Ingram as secretary-treasurer and elect Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus to her first full term. The results from the unprecedented election process were announced live on Sept. 1, several weeks after the union’s first virtual convention was held in July.
Since the pandemic lockdowns began in March, rules governing school meals have been waived so that school food service workers could make sure meals get to children who need them. Our members have been incredibly creative in making sure students stay fed—whether by deliveries at school bus stops or at outdoor distribution centers. Despite these heroics, the U.S. Department of Agriculture planned to cancel its accommodations by the end of September and make it harder for schools to distribute—and for families to pick up—school meals. Now, under pressure from the AFT and our allies, the USDA has reversed itself and decided to extend the waivers until Dec. 31. It is a partial victory for students and their families.
Fifty-seven years after Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, a new generation gathered there to celebrate the anniversary, mourn lives lost to police brutality, steel themselves for the continuing fight for justice and inspire one another with hope. Along with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, AFT President Randi Weingarten was there with other labor leaders to join the call to end to racial violence, renew a commitment to get out the vote, and remember the crucial role labor continues to play in the fight for justice.
The AFT is offering a series of free professional development presentations during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, one of the most influential policy gatherings for people engaged in the issues that impact African Americans and the global Black community. Held weekly through September, the series focuses on how to stop the criminalization of American schools and the related pathway to prison and low-paying jobs, with sessions on culturally responsive pedagogy, adverse childhood experiences (including trauma) and effective teaching during the pandemic.
On Aug. 25, AFT members tuned in to the union’s twice-monthly telephone town hall for a multifaceted discussion that not only addressed how to reopen schools safely, but also reimagined what learning might look like as this crisis breaks the old “factory model” of schooling wide open.