In a wide-ranging speech, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she deplored attacks on unions, while also acknowledging that the overall decline in union membership demands a new approach to her affiliates' work.
"As we have seen, fighting in traditional ways alone isn't always enough. Getting 1 million signatures to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker without winning 5 million hearts and minds, I'm sad to say, wasn't enough," Weingarten said. "More than ever, we need to act in innovative, creative, and new ways—simultaneously refuting our critics, advancing our values, connecting with community, and proposing solutions."
To an extent, this idea of "solution-driven unionism" appears to be a further gloss on the idea of labor-management collaboration. Weingarten pointed to the New Haven, Conn. affiliate's new contract and teacher evaluation system, and the ABC school district's partnership in California—examples she has discussed in other forums.
But in an interview with Weingarten about a month ago, she outlined even broader efforts to improve conditions for teaching and learning. These include collaborating with the building trades to build teacher-housing villages in Newark, N.J., and the new "Reconnecting McDowell" effort to work with community groups to improve education and social services in a beleaguered West Virginia county.
Hmm, "new unionism" 2.0?
• The AFT president took a swipe at groups and individuals that she said have fueled attacks on unions. ALEC, the Koch brothers, and the Walton Foundation were among them. So was Eli Broad, which is interesting considering that, at least at one point, his foundation helped support the AFT's Innovation Fund.
• Weingarten said that the union has actually added members over the past two years, unlike the National Education Association. Oddly, the speech transcript we were given beforehand said, "membership numbers have held steady." Hmmm. Let's see what the AFT press-peeps have to say about this.
• Later today, Weingarten is scheduled to lead a rally to the Detroit Public Schools headquarters in order to demand a negotiated contract. She has, apparently, already convinced the city's emergency financial manager to meet with her.