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AFT Election: The Caucuses Make Their Cases

This morning, two political bodies within the American Federation of Teachers presented their platforms for today's elections of AFT executive officers and council.

That's right, I said two. Apparently, this is the first time since the 1970s that there has been a full slate of candidates opposing the incumbents. Keep reading.

Current AFT Executive Vice President Lorretta Johnson spoke on the behalf of the incumbents, which include herself, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and Secretary-Treasurer Antonia Cortese. She underscored Weingarten's "vision" for moving the union forward, as well as her ability to fight back, and even call out allies:

"I saw Randi Weingarten bust the vice president of the U.S.," Johnson said, referring to Weingarten's confrontation of Joe Biden over the Central Falls, R.I., teacher-dismissal situation. "He got the message. All those teachers came back."

Then, a bunch of folks from a new political caucus formed just this year, called the BAMN Caucus, presented their point of view.

A bit more about BAMN Caucus: It's essentially a loosely coordinated group of teachers, some of whom belong to the separate, left-leaning BAMN group, and some of whom have challenged or will challenge incumbents in AFT locals. Several have had some success in winning spots on those local unions' governing bodies. Others are hoping to in the future: Among the BAMN slate is Candi Peterson, a trustee of the Washington Teachers Union, in D.C., and a staunch supporter of Nathan Saunders, who is running against incumbent WTU President George Parker.

This group thinks that Weingarten and many of the local affiliate leaders haven't pushed back hard enough on things like charter schools, the Education Department's policy priorities, and school turnarounds and closures. And they oppose her efforts to re-examine things like due process and teacher evaluation.

Speaking this morning, Heather Miller of Detroit, one of the candidates on the BAMN slate, had this to say about the activism in Detroit: "Our members opposed the policy of cynicism and cooperation with those who would destroy us."

Of course, it's hard to say at this early stage what BAMN's bid means in the grand scheme of the AFT. The political activities took place this morning before formal AFT business started, and the room was probably only about half full. We'll learn more when the election results are out.

It's also worth noting that BAMN candidates seem to be coming out of cities like Detroit, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C., that have had some remarkable challenges, like enrollment declines, school closures, and rancorous union-management relationships.

The wildcard to watch in all of this is Karen Lewis, the newly elected president of the Chicago Teachers' Union. As I reported yesterday, she recently joined the Progressive Caucus—Weingarten's coalition—but appears to differ with some of its objectives.

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