AFT President Randi Weingarten Endorses Elizabeth Warren While Her Union Supports Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren!

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Dear Commons Community,

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed  Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president at a rally yesterday in Houston.  

Weingarten is backing Warren in her personal capacity. The 1.7 million-member AFT has encouraged local unions and members to support either Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination to challenge President Donald Trump.

The endorsement could provide a jolt of support for Warren,  ahead of Super Tuesday, when voters will decided how to award roughly one-third of the pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Warren is counting on a strong Super Tuesday performance in California, Texas, Massachusetts and elsewhere to make up for middling results in the early states.

The decision by Weingarten, who was a prominent backer of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential primaries, is likely to frustrate some local affiliates and members who have chosen to back Sanders. Several AFT affiliates, most notably the United Teachers of Los Angeles, have backed Sanders’ presidential bid.

“It’s a big deal that there’s a former special education teacher running for president,” Weingarten wrote in a Medium post explaining her endorsement. “Being a teacher means being fearless and flexible, loving and compassionate, hardworking and resilient, and dedicated and devoted to making life better for all kids and families. Being a teacher means having an innate understanding of the value of public education and what is needed to help all children succeed and to support all educators. Elizabeth Warren gets this.”

Many large national unions have been unable to reach a consensus on who to endorse in the crowded Democratic primary field. But Sanders has succeeded in winning the support of more local affiliates than any other candidate ― and, as of the end of January, the donations of more educators than any other candidate.

Weingarten has praised Warren in the past, calling the Massachusetts senator’s education plan “a game changer for our public schools and the 90 percent of America’s students who attend them.”

Warren has promised to name a former public school teacher as education secretary, and to increase K-12 education funding by $800 billion over the next decade using revenue from her proposed wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million. Warren also shares the AFT’s skepticism of charter schools and high-stakes testing.

The AFT, which also represents community college instructors, school nurses and teachers aides, is one of the two largest teachers unions in the country. The 3 million-member National Education Association is yet to endorse a candidate.

A major reason that most national unions have stayed out of the primary race thus far is a desire to move past the rancor of the 2016 Democratic contest between Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During that primary, many major unions, including the AFT, endorsed Clinton early on in the race, eliciting a backlash from some rank-and-file members and locals who were more supportive of Sanders.

Whether Weingarten’s decision to endorse in a personal capacity, while still keeping the union formally out of the race, spares the union a similar backlash remains to be seen. Already there have been tensions inside the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s New York City affiliate and the largest teachers union local in the country, over whether and how to endorse a candidate. A group of UFT members largely sympathetic to Sanders has unsuccessfully sought, against the wishes of union leadership, to put an endorsement up for a membershipwide vote.

Here at the City University of New York, the Executive Council of our union, the Professional Staff Congress, is leaning to endorsing both Sanders and Warren.


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