Public Employee Advocate
Nearly 3,000 AFT members from across the country gathered in Detroit, July 27-30 for the 82nd AFT national convention. The convention featured speeches from AFT president Randi Weingarten, Vice President Joe Biden and United Auto Workers president Bob King, among others. In addition, convention delegates adopted several major AFT policy resolutions.
AFT president Randi Weingarten kicked off the convention by advocating "solution-driven unionism," a new vision of unionism that advances solutions focused on uniting union members, the people we serve and the communities in which we live.
In her keynote speech, Weingarten said that America's workers face a new normal—with severe budget cuts jeopardizing public education, healthcare and other critical services; families losing more than 30 percent of their wealth during the economic crisis; and more than 100 bills introduced in state legislatures to demonize and attack public employees and undermine public services.
Across the country, the AFT is working with community, business and other partners on solutions that address economic and educational equality. Weingarten used her speech to highlight some of those efforts, including uniting communities around ballot measures, such as in California, that raise revenue and stop budget cuts by raising income taxes on the state's highest earners, and investing the pension funds of educators in projects to rebuild America's infrastructure and retrofit out-of-date buildings to make them more energy efficient and create jobs.
"I look at it this way: We're rebuilding the middle class on multiple fronts," she said. "Every day, in schools, universities, healthcare facilities and other work sites, AFT members are helping children and their families achieve a better future."
Despite the economic crisis, Weingarten announced that the AFT's 1.5 million membership number has held steady, with the union organizing 79 new units in 18 states since the last convention.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
"WE SEE YOU AS THE SOLUTION"
In a lively speech punctuated by chants of "four more years," Vice President Joe Biden drew a strong contrast for AFT convention delegates between the Obama administration's vision for the country and that of Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
The fundamental debate between their administration and Romney, Biden said in a Sunday afternoon session dedicated to politics, is about how important it is to rebuild the middle class.
"We think you build and rebuild this country from the middle out. They honestly believe that the best way to make us more competitive in the world is from the top down." That translates into contrasting economic policies, with the administration supporting middle-class tax cuts, and the Republicans fighting to maintain—and even expand—tax cuts for those making more than $1 million annually.
Biden chastised the Republicans for being opposed to a .5 percent tax increase on income over $1 million, money he said would put firefighters, cops, educators and other essential public employees back to work.
Polling shows that close to 70 percent of the people in America who said they were millionaires support the tax increase, Biden pointed out. "It's not that wealthy people aren't prepared to do their share."
STRENGTH IN SOLIDARITY
There's a silver lining to these challenging times for unions and workers, United Auto Workers president Bob King said. And it's this: "There's greater solidarity in the labor movement than I've seen in my lifetime."
King, who praised the AFT for focusing on member mobilization and activism, said he and the UAW stand with our union in the fight to ensure that workers have a voice on the job. "If we want better education, better hospitals or better government, we need the voice of workers in solving problems."
"A vibrant and strong labor movement is essential to a strong democracy and society." Labor and our allies must take the lead in restoring an America based on democratic values and jobs with wages that lift everyone's quality of life—union and nonunion, King asserted. "We have to be committed to rebuilding a social and economic justice movement."
King praised President Obama for supporting the bailout of the auto industry when many elected officials, especially Republicans, opposed it and polls showed it wasn't a popular decision. "If the auto industry had been liquidated," he pointed out, "over a million good-paying, mostly union jobs would have been lost."