Looking at Black History to move toward a better future

At the AFT’s Black History Month telephone town hall Feb. 23, Black activists, educators and scholars joined AFT President Randi Weingarten in a discussion that chose to celebrate the history and triumphs of the Black community by leaning in on the actual work that still must be done. From passing an equitable American Rescue Plan to changing our school curriculum, history informs the many routes to a more antiracist nation.

AFT launches historic AAPI task force

The first meeting of the AFT’s new task force for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders kicked off earlier this month, its 14 members drawn from local affiliates all over the nation and across AFT constituencies. AFT President Randi Weingarten announced the task force at convention last July and attended the Feb. 9 meeting, where she said the representation of AAPI people must go beyond celebrating the Lunar New Year and teaching about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Union protests equity violations as university breaches contract on staff pay

The faculty-staff union at the City University of New York bundled up and made some noise at a demonstration Feb. 15, demanding that CUNY stop delaying the $1,000 equity pay raises promised in the Professional Staff Congress union contract. PSC fought for the increases to ease inequities experienced by a group of staff who are among the lowest-paid workers at CUNY, and who are mostly women and people of color. PSC is also fighting for equity increases for lecturers.

Pressure for safety mounts as Baltimore reopens more schools

Thanks to pressure for safety measures from Baltimore parents, teachers and school staff, the city’s public school system has agreed to delay its rollout of in-person learning until March. The step comes after members of the Baltimore Teachers Union held an online membership meeting last month that drew more than 2,000 participants, which surpassed the union’s previous record-breaking meeting last fall. The meeting was followed by a 300-vehicle car caravan and the release of a petition signed by about 4,000 family members, school staff and allies aiming to marshal the city’s coronavirus mitigation efforts into a safe and well-coordinated plan.

‘New Deal for Higher Education’ could restore public colleges and universities

The AFT and the American Association of University Professors launched a bold campaign Feb. 10, introducing “A New Deal for Higher Education” that calls for massive federal investment to make public colleges and universities more accessible to all students. The campaign lists, among other elements, free college, student debt relief, and sustainable workplaces for faculty, as the pathway forward. It also pays particular attention to inequity and access for Black, Indigenous and Latinx students, and has support from legislators including Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

A righteous fight in Philadelphia for a safe reopening

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is pushing back hard for a safe reopening of schools. On Feb. 8, hundreds of educators signaled their concerns by teaching remotely from inside tents and parked cars and right outside school buildings. Joined by AFT President Randi Weingarten and many elected officials, they rallied to demand safe teaching and learning conditions for themselves and their students. The massive day of action was a show of solidarity that resulted in two key wins: Mayor Jim Kenney announced a partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to vaccinate educators, and the district backed off its requirement that educators enter unsafe school buildings.

AFTerburners prove successful at boosting union power

AFT’s member volunteers, especially our retirees, are the lifeblood of the union’s organizing and get-out-the-vote effort, but the coronavirus pandemic made the more traditional forms of grassroots outreach impossible. So, the union found new and creative ways to engage members. The AFTerburners is one of the most successful programs, addressing the challenge while raising awareness of the AFT Retirees program in the process.

Hospital tech workers fight for a fair contract

For two days, more than 100 technical employees at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Ore., walked the picket line in front the hospital to demand fair pay and working conditions. Frank Dewolf, a cardiac electrophysiology technologist at St. Charles, was pleased with the turnout and community support for the picket held Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. “I think we showed over the past two days that we are a well-organized group and we are all on board to fight for a fair contract,” said DeWolf. The picketing comes a year after the hospital began contract negotiations with the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which represents about 150 technologists at the hospital.