Thank you for your work, your dedication and your commitment to the children and people you serve.
Labor Day means many things to many people—back to school, the end of summer, a needed respite from the daily grind. For us, as working people and union members, Labor Day stands for something special and profound.
It’s a day to honor the deep commitment each of us has to serve the children we teach, the families we heal and the communities we love. It’s a day to reflect on the values we hold dear—that every American should have access to a good job that can support a family, with access to affordable healthcare; that every child should be able to attend a high-quality public school in their neighborhood; that college should not be a luxury for the few but should be affordable for all; and that we should be able to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work, without worrying that we’ll be a burden to our loved ones.
Working people built this country—we did it together—brick by brick, school by school, town by town. Through these collective efforts, we built the middle class, each generation did a little better than the one before, we advanced the ideals of equality and justice, and we expanded opportunity for all.
The work you do builds on this foundation. Your work has value. It should be respected and honored, not just on Labor Day but every day.
Too many of us feel that the American dream we built is slipping further and further away. And with just 7 percent of our private sector colleagues in unions, we have seen growing wealth and wage inequality, and as a result, growing frustration and angst. At the same time, too many politicians and elites demean and disrespect our work while budget cuts and calls for austerity make it harder to provide high-quality services.
And no wonder. An unholy alliance of corporate interests and politicians—intent on slashing budgets and then blaming us for the harmful results, while at the same time finding ways to finance tax cuts for wealthy donors—continue to double down on efforts to polarize and divide us: parent against teacher, union member against nonunion member. Because if we stand divided, they stand to profit.
This is our new normal.
And our union is meeting this moment with a new vision of unionism: solution-driven unionism. It’s an approach that is relevant and appropriate to the 21st century. An approach that is creative and visionary. An approach that advances solutions that unite the people we represent and those we serve—our students, our families and our communities.
We must bring people together around agendas that serve all kids, all workers and all communities—to restore the middle class, strengthen our public schools, and invest in, not destabilize, communities.
We must counter polarization and anger with ideas and innovation. It’s what AFT members and leaders are focused on across the nation.
- It’s why we’re advancing a Quality Education Agenda that offers specific proposals to create a first-class public education system for all children in America. And why we are attacking the fixation on testing in this country with a grass-roots campaign to get back to teaching and learning.
- It’s why we worked with an innovative corporation to develop a digital filing cabinet of lesson plans and ideas for teachers called Share My Lesson. It’s a commonsense solution to help teachers who are being asked to do so much more with diminishing resources and without the supports they need.
- It’s why we are mitigating the impact that poverty and other out-of-school factors have on students in places like Cincinnati, by partnering with the community to offer health and mental health services, meal programs, tutoring, counseling, after-school programs and other wraparound services.
- It’s why in one of America’s very poorest regions, we are leading a coalition of businesses, community groups and educators to completely transform the educational and economic opportunities available to children and families in McDowell County, W.Va.
- It’s what we were able to accomplish this past year in Ohio—linking with the community to stop Gov. John Kasich’s efforts to strip working people of their voice.
Because when we—the dedicated members of the American Federation of Teachers and other union members—propose solutions, it’s harder to demonize us, harder to cut vital services, and harder to divide us from the people we serve.
The best solutions come from you. It is your ideas that will strengthen our schools, hospitals and communities. Just as with the generations before us, it is your work and commitment that will propel economic and educational opportunity and social justice. Visit http://go.aft.org/solutions to share your solutions and ideas.
Our ability to advance these solutions depends on electing leaders who believe in public education as a pathway to our future; who believe that public employees and healthcare professionals provide essential services and must be treated fairly; and who believe that working people and their families are entitled to a voice in their destiny and a pathway to fairness, dignity and respect. The November elections will determine the future of our nation; this is a defining moment to stand up for our values and our vision for America.
I know that, together, we can turn a time of frustration and uncertainty into a time of action and promise.
I thank you for the work you do each and every day—through good times and bad—to serve your communities and imagine a better future for our nation. That is solution-driven unionism. And together we can turn our values into reality.
Have a safe and happy Labor Day.
P.S. Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/rweingarten!