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Hot Lifeguards, Child Care, and AFT's Growing Membership

Now that I'm blogging at Education Week, can I still say that Education Week's Stephen Sawchuk is doing an awesome job covering the AFT convention? Well, I'm going to anyway, because he is.

Lots of interesting stuff on teacher evaluation, resolutions, and the like. But I found this post, on AFT's growth to 1.5 million members particularly interesting. As Sawchuk notes, AFT's added some 70,000 members in the past two years, with 85 successful organizing campaigns and 53 new local affiliates. Many of these new members are from fields outside of education: In her speech alone, AFT President Randi Weingarten name-checked maintenance workers, health techs, nurses, lifeguards, and librarians, as well as university professors. This organizing effort increases AFT's organizational clout. It also contributes to larger efforts to reverse the decline in organized labor's share of the workforce—a decline many economists believe has contributed to increasing inequality and middle-class wage stagnation. I'm a bit curious, though, how the increase in non-teacher membership impacts AFT's internal politics—not just at the national level, but locally. What happens when AFT teacher locals oppose teacher distribution or charter school policies that are good for the children of working class health techs or home-based childcare workers?

Speaking of home-based childcare workers, I'm a big fan of the work that the UFT has done in New York City organizing home-based childcare workers: Predominantly low-income women, frequently women of color and immigrants, who play a critical role in caring for the children of New York City's low-income working mothers but are often overlooked or taken for granted by our childcare policies. Organizing these child-care workers has helped to empower them in dealing with NYC's childcare bureaucracy and increased their (still very low) compensation. UFT has also undertaken efforts to help these women think of themselves as educators and improve the quality of childcare and developmental support they provide to children in their care: One of AFT's Innovation Fund grantees announced at this year's convention is a UFT initiative to help family child care providers implement a child development and early literacy curriculum using PBS's "Between the Lions." This is the kind of creative thinking about how to improve quality and child outcomes in home-based childcare that we need a lot more of; I'll be eager to see what happens.

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