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Solution-Driven Unionism

Remarks for AFT President Randi Weingarten
AFT 2012 Convention
Detroit, Michigan
July 27, 2012

Brothers and sisters. I know that some of you are thinking that the big opening today is not in Detroit but in London. But don’t ever forget that behind every sprinter, marathoner, gymnast or swimmer is a teacher. And I’m really glad to be here with you today.

When we last gathered two years ago, we were reeling from the effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression. I said then that we were facing a perfect storm. First, was an economic crisis in which a reckless, unregulated Wall Street created a bubble that, when it burst, destroyed family savings and decimated state budgets, which in turn threatened the public services Americans depend on.  

Second, at the very moment funding and staffing were being cut and we were being told to make do with less, we were asked to do much more:more people needing the public services we provide; more children in our classrooms, with more stresses at home, and sometimes no home at all. 

We see the innocent casualties of this crisis in our schools and offices and hospitals every day. Even though economists have declared that the recession has ended, you and I know this crisis is far from over.  

We didn’t throw up our hands in the face of these challenges. We dug deep and did everything in our power to maintain the quality of our work. That’s who we are. I am so proud of our members and the work they do.

As tough as things were when we last met, we didn’t realize that even more dangerous winds were brewing. What hit us next was more than a storm that had to be weathered. It was an onslaught that threatened—and still threatens—our very existence as a union, and the existence of public education and public services. It threatens our right to come together and speak with one voice about the issues that affect our profession, our lives, the people we serve, the children we teach—and the middle class to which so many aspire, and out of whichso many are falling.

As the economic downturn goes on longer, the pain gets worse, insecurity builds up, and more people have started to resent—rather than aspire to—the middle-class life we have fought for and earned not just for ourselves, but for so many others.

In the midst of this, a wave of anti-union, anti-public education and anti-public service initiatives surfaced across the country, and ideologues exploited this angst ––forcing us to go on the defensive over and over again.

These rampant cuts have hurt our members in their pockets—through layoffs, furloughs, pay freezes—and they’ve made it impossible to maintain the same level of quality we have always tried to provide.

What a bitter irony: The same politicians who make these cuts blame us for the resulting harm to the quality of services.

Rather than a race to the top, we now have a race to the bottom.

OUR NEW NORMAL—AND OUR NEW RESPONSE

Unlike most storms, this is not one we can wait out. Not when there are more than 100 bills out there in the states, attacking unions, capping revenues and cutting services, and the only way for their proponents to pass them is to demonize us and trash public services.

Sure, we can blame ALEC, or the Koch Brothers, or Eli Broad, or the Walton Foundation, or Mitt Romney—and we’d be right to do so. But recognize that the change that has taken place may have been financed and promoted by them, but it is no longer limited to them.    

What we are seeing right now, here and throughout the world, is our new normal. Between 1973 and 2007, union membership in the private sector dropped from 37 percent to 8 percent, and in that same period, wage inequality increased by more than 40 percent. So, we’ve seen what economic changes and our ideological adversaries have done to the private sector union movement. And what the decimation of the private sector union movement has done to wages, pensions and the middle class.

Now our opponents have turned their sights on us. They want us out of the equation.

Their means to that end is to undercut the very things that define us: our voice, our retirement security, and the universal public education we provide.

Our voice? Look at what’s happening to our brothers and sisters in Detroit.

Our retirement security? Today, 80 percent of public sector workers have pensions. Twenty percent of private sector workers do. We believe a lifetime of work should earn a retirement with dignity—for everyone. Our opponents see it as an unnecessary cost, and a big, fat target.

A high-quality, universal public education? The fixation on testing, the attacks on teachers and their unions—they’re all proxies for attacks on public education. That’s what this comes down to: whether people believe that kids have the right to good public schools close to where they live (and despite what anyone says, parents are with us on that), or whether our public education system should be privatized, bled dry or abandoned altogether.

A study by the Federal Reserve found that the average American family has lost approximately $50,000 since the start of the recession—nearly 30 percent of their wealth. That figure is 53 percent for the average African-American family and 66 percent for the average Latino family. Yet our opponents want to abandon our best long-term strategy for broad-based prosperity: a world-class system of public education.

What’s more, budget cuts and increased costs have put higher education—and the pathway to the middle class it provides—out of reach for far too many.

What two things have done more than anything else to build the greatest middle class in the world? The union movement and public education. Yet our adversaries want to knock out these two pillars on which the middle class is built, at the very moment the middle class is teetering on the edge.  

IT FALLS UPON US

So it falls upon us, all of us, to be the foot soldiers for equality and opportunity, voice and democracy. Just as previous generations were soldiers for freedom and for civil rights, we now must band together as soldiers in a struggle not just for ourselves, not even just for the children in our classrooms, but for a different and better America.  

High-quality public education, access to college and to early learning, healthcare services, public services: This is how we serve. These are the things we provide. 

But there are also things that are not—strictly speaking—our jobs, but that reflect our ideals: economic opportunity, strengthening communities, fairness, democracy. If these sound like our values and our principles, it’s because they are part of our DNA. And tomorrow, we will vote on a new mission statement for our union that affirms our commitment to these ideals. Let’s make it crystal clear who we are, what we believe and what we will fight for.

We alone cannot accomplish all this. More than ever, we need to unite those we represent and those we serve. We must take on the very things that we cannot do alone, but that will not be done without us. 

This new reality—this new normal—demands an entirely new approach to unionism: an approach that is relevant and appropriate to the 21st century; an approach that is creative and visionary, and unifies the people we represent and those we serve—our students, our patients, our families and our communities. Solution-driven unionism.

For me, solution-driven unionism took root when I saw our members in the ABC Unified School District in Southern California commit to a unionism that focuses on solving problems, not on winning arguments. It unites those we represent and those we serve, and in so doing, it ensures that we don’t merely survive, but we succeed.

Solution-driven unionism doesn’t mean letting our traditional strengths atrophy. Demonstrating for our goals and beliefs, speaking truth to power, organizing, lobbying, being heard at the bargaining table—these are the things we’ve always done, and always will do. But what I’m talking about is not an “either/or”; it’s a “both/and.” 

Just look at what happened in Ohio last year. The day after John Kasich was elected governor, he said that curbing the rights of union members was his top priority. And that’s exactly what he attempted to do. But we wouldn’t let him, and neither would the community that joined with us. We did our work. We got 1 million Ohioans to sign the petition to repeal that cynical legislation; we made calls at phone banks and went door-to-door. And on that November day, the community stood with us, voting to reject Gov. Kasich’s anti-worker S.B. 5!

We won because we were part of our communities and partners in making our communities stronger. And that means something. Just one year later, that same governor called the president of the Cleveland Teachers Union to thank him for his work to transform education in the district.

Maybe some of these officials are learning something: Threatening our rights doesn’t curb the hunger for a voice in the workplace. Quite the opposite. Take Wisconsin, where despite Gov. Scott Walker’s actions, professors and staff at six University of Wisconsin campuses voted overwhelmingly for collective bargaining—and for AFT representation.

Look at Chicago—where last month, after incredible school-by-school organizing—98 percent of the 92 percent of members who voted in a strike authorization vote stood together for dignity and professionalism for teachers, and for high-quality education for students. Just this week, the Chicago Teachers Union secured a deal that changed the mayor’s proposal for a longer school day by making it a better school day, providing more art and music and physical education for the kids in Chicago. Or look at the AFT’s organizing victories—79 new units in 18 states since our last convention. We’ve organized new members in every constituency—college and university faculty and staff, graduate assistants, PSRPs, healthcare professionals, early childhood educators, state and local government workers, and teachers in public school systems and in charter schools.

Despite the fact that it has been open season on the democratic right of voice in the workplace; despite effort after effort to put us out of business; despite the brutal economy, the vicious attacks, the deep cuts in services—our membership numbers have held steady. In these times, that is no small achievement.

And it’s a promise: We will never give up on our fundamental commitment to a voice in the workplace. We will always fight for what is right and against what is wrong.  

But 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.

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. That’s solution-driven unionism.

SOLUTION-DRIVEN UNIONISM: EDUCATION

And that’s the choice we’re making: A choice not simply to call out what doesn’t work, but to build on what does. A choice not simply to advocate, but to activate. A choice not simply to survive, but to succeed.  

We are a union of professionals. Solution-driven unionism drives that point home, showing that we have the know-how and the determination to solve problems.

Thinking about this concept brought me back to the students I taught at Clara Barton High School. They used to say to me, “Ms. Weingarten, you can’t just talk the talk. You’ve got to walk the walk.” And that is exactly what we are doing.

But not everyone is walking the walk.

A lot of so-called reformers try to dictate top-down, standardized test-driven strategies that are heavy on competition and short on evidence and resources. They don’t work.

What does work is to rely on the professional judgment of millions of educators who have devoted their lives to educating America’s children in our public schools. That should always carry more weight than the musings of millionaires who wouldn’t survive 10 minutes in front of a classroom.

But they’re walking the walk in places like New Haven. The leaders and members of the New Haven Federation of Teachers are partnering with their district to overhaul teacher development and evaluation and to turn around low-performing schools. 

Together, they reached a new agreement that uses multiple measures to assess teacher performance and focuses on helping all teachers improve throughout their careers. It’s a far cry from the shaming and sanctioning of teachers based on a single test score or a drive-by observation, which do nothing to improve teaching and learning.

I’ll never forget the meeting we had at a school in New Haven two years after this plan had been implemented. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro brought together the AFT, Mayor John DeStefano, local president Dave Cicarella, state federation president Sharon Palmer, district officials and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. 

There was lots of firepower in that room, but the people who carried the day were the teachers and the principal in that school. The teachers talked about the voice they have, the empowerment they feel, and their passion to help children.

Together, they sought solutions to their challenges and came up with a transformation plan for struggling schools that ironically didn’t fit any of the options dictated by the Obama administration. Yet their approach, and the strength of their collaboration, have come to be viewed, as the secretary said that day, as a model.

And their approach was used as a template for statewide reform recently enacted in Connecticut. Do we like everything in that bill? No. But it is true to our values. It ensures that kids’ needs for things like early childhood education and community schools are met, and it values collective bargaining.

This work strengthened our credibility with Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. And when the more than 400 nurses at Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn., fought against a vicious union-busting campaign, Gov. Malloy stepped up and helped us secure that first contract.

And Connecticut isn’t alone. In New York state, our union fought an effort by Mayor Bloomberg to impose on the entire state what he did in New York City—the public release of teachers’ “effectiveness ratings.” NYSUT found a solution—one that ensures that evaluations are opportunities for continued growth and improvement and enables parents to gain knowledge about their own child’s teachers, while protecting teachers’ privacy and shielding them from the kind of shameless sensationalizing by the media that we first saw in Los Angeles and then in New York City.

This sort of solution-driven unionism is evident across the country, in AFT locals both large and small. We’re seeing it in Poway, Calif., and Plattsburgh, N.Y.; in Berea, Ohio, and Baltimore, Md.; in St. Francis, Minn., and Helena, Mont. And in so many other AFT locals where we find like-minded employers who are willing to share rather than shift responsibility and to work collaboratively rather than blame and demonize.

This shows what we can accomplish when we are solution-driven, when we are persistent, when we are creative. It shows what can be accomplished when we embrace a unionism that speaks to the needs not only of those we represent, but also of those we serve.    

SHARE MY LESSON

Starting this fall, teachers all across the country will be challenged to start teaching to the Common Core State Standards. These standards are aligned with the knowledge and skills students need to be prepared for college or the world of work they will enter.

Whatever you feel about the Common Core standards, success or failure will depend on how they are implemented. Given that education budgets have been squeezed and teachers across the country are being asked to do more with less, there’s a justified fear that states and school systems will skimp on implementation. Without the right support, we know that this effort—like so many standards movements before—could devolve into yet another testing scheme.

We are both advocating for and building these supports. Leaders throughout this room—from Albuquerque, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland—are working through the AFT Innovation Fund to create the supports that will help teachers master the significant instructional shifts required by these new standards.

Teachers don’t have nearly enough time or opportunity to share their ideas, confront their challenges or support each other. The AFT is also trying to change that.

Tomorrow morning, we are going to officially launch the most exciting educational program that I’ve seen in my time at the AFT, and a clear example of solution-driven unionism. It’s a Web-based resource for teachers called Share My Lesson—kind of like a digital filing cabinet full of educators’ best ideas, much of it aligned to the Common Core.

You will see and hear more about Share My Lesson tomorrow. But as our colleagues in the Texas AFT and the Norfolk Federation of Teachers, who previewed this last month, excitedly told  us, the strength of Share My Lesson is that it is teachers helping teachers—matching teachers’ needs with teachers’ expertise. It is by teachers, for teachers, and for free.

We’re creating Share My Lesson with a company in the United Kingdom called TES Connect, which has already built a site in the U.K. that has more than 2 million members from 197 countries. I’m incredibly excited about what we can do here and how we can build on it for other divisions. 

Sign up at the Share My Lesson exhibit outside, and be here tomorrow morning to learn more about the launch.

RECONNECTING MCDOWELL AND FIRST BOOK

Even with the best teachers, sharing the best teaching tools, we can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it all. Out-of-school factors really matter.  

Like poverty. As a society, we have an obligation to address the suffering and lack of opportunity that afflict too many in our country. Yet some prefer to act as if poverty doesn’t exist, or as if it doesn’t affect our students.

I am particularly offended by “reformers” who tell us that we are “making excuses” when we try to deal with the increasing poverty our market economy helped create. In New York, we call that chutzpah.

Poverty does matter; it can be mitigated, and Cincinnati is a good example of how to do that. For more than a decade, our union in Cincinnati has worked with many partners to create Community Learning Centers in every public school in the district. Students and their families have access to wraparound services including health and mental health services, tutoring, counseling and after-school programs.

Since 2005, fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in Cincinnati have risen consistently—at a faster pace than statewide gains. Cincinnati is the first and only urban district in Ohio to receive an “effective” rating—ranking 13th out of Ohio’s 609 districts on a state academic index. Student mobility, which can be so disruptive to a child’s education, is down. And discipline referrals have dropped sharply—keeping students in school, keeping them learning.

I am proud that my hometown local, the UFT in NYC, is building a similar initiative. 

Efforts like these demonstrate that when you strengthen a school with wraparound services (as opposed to closing it), learning improves, the school improves, families come to community schools with new confidence and communities are renewed.

That’s solution-driven unionism, and that’swhat we’re doing in McDowell County, W.Va. 

McDowell is the eighth-poorest county in the United States. More than half of the students in the public school system live in households without gainful employment. McDowell consistently ranks at or near the bottom of West Virginia counties in measures of health, income and education. This is a place where it’s easy to think that geography is destiny. But at the AFT, we have never accepted that geography, or demography, is destiny. 

Gayle Manchin, the former first lady of West Virginia, has been grappling with the situation in McDowell for more than a decade, as have AFT West Virginia president Judy Hale and our McDowell affiliates. Gayle’s husband, former Gov. Joe Manchin, unlike those governors in Ohio and Wisconsin, asked us to help revitalize McDowell. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who succeeded Gov. Manchin, has championed this effort. Now, together, we have assembled a partnership we call “Reconnecting McDowell.”

The area’s educational challenges are inseparable from many other problems affecting the county. So our focus is not just on schools, but on jobs, transportation, recreation, housing, healthcare and social services. And then there is our intangible, but perhaps most important goal—that Reconnecting McDowell will bring back the light of hope. Just ask McDowell student Trey Lockhart, who will join us on Sunday. 

Is what we’re doing in McDowell our job? Technically, no. But as a labor union with most of our members working in education, the AFT stands at the intersection of two important social movements—creating educational opportunity, and advancing economic dignity.

Our partnerships can be multifaceted, as in McDowell, or highly focused, like our work with an organization called First Book. We are working with First Book to ensure that children have access to an essential building block to literacy—their very own books.

AFT locals around the country, like those in Alabama, Florida, Minnesota and just last week here in Detroit, have ensured that thousands of children have books at home they otherwise would not have had. It’s another way we are connecting the people we represent to the people we serve—linking arms with community building bridges and tackling challenges. That’s solution-driven unionism. 

REVENUES AND INFRASTRUCTURE

Let’s talk about resources. They matter. A lot. Yet, in city after city, district after district, budgets are being stretched to the limit.  And a disturbing trend is emerging—local governments declaring bankruptcy. This drastic move allows officials to void contracts, slash the pay and benefits of public workers, and eliminate or privatize services.

Unfortunately, we’ve become schooled in bankruptcy. Remember Central Falls, R.I., where in 2010 we fought to get our teachers back in the classroom?   This year, we were back in Central Falls, fighting to keep the city from using its bankruptcy to impose an unfair contract on teachers. We won that fight in court. 

But court actions are not enough. And drastic cuts to essential services will only set our country back. Our affiliates are taking other actions, this time going directly to the voters.  

In Oregon, the AFT provided Solidarity funds, as we have in so many other fights, to AFT-Oregon and OSEA to protect progressive income tax measures that raised $472 million to prevent devastating cuts to education, healthcare, public safety and other services.

And in California, we are supporting a robust effort by the California Federation of Teachers to prevent deeper cuts to the state’s schools on top of those that have already been made. The CFT’s progressive approach, which has Gov. Jerry Brown’s support, would slightly raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners and temporarily increase the sales tax by one-quarter of 1 percent. These steps would put $8.5 billion into a special fund in next year’s budget, sparing California’s schoolchildren from further crippling education cuts. This solution goes before voters in November.

Another way to think about resources is to focus on job creation. Good jobs. And one way we are doing that is through the use of our pension funds.

You’ve heard a lot of bashing of public pensions as being overly generous or underfunded as a pretext for getting rid of them.We are trying to change that conversation to be about things our country sorely needs: retirement security, infrastructure and jobs. So we ask: “How can we leverage these funds not only to secure our retirements, but to help the country? How can they help our brothers and sisters looking for work, and an economy desperately in need of investment?”

This is how. By working with pension trustees and encouraging allocations of some of our pension money—in a responsible and sound manner—to support projects to rebuild our infrastructure, and retrofit out-of-date buildings to make them more energy efficient, we’re creating win-win-win situations.

Doing this puts our brothers and sisters in the building trades—one-quarter of whom are looking for work—back on the job. And it stabilizes communities. Retrofitting (which we will also be doing at AFT headquarters) reduces energy usage and saves money. Infrastructure work shores up vitally needed roads, bridges, ports and tunnels.  That’s solution-driven unionism.

One of our partners, the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust, or HIT, which is funded largely by building trades’ pension funds but also by educators’ pension funds, has helped create affordable housing for teachers. Through its subsidiary, Building America, HIT is moving forward on plans to invest in the new teachers’ village in Newark, N.J. 

HIT has also invested more than $450 million in retrofits of multifamily housing.   This has resulted in more than 3,300 energy-efficient affordable housing units—and more than 1,000 construction jobs.

And, by the way, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, whom we have worked with extensively on infrastructure, was a real champion when the University of Oregon was pulling out all the stops to block faculty from organizing a union. He helped create a dialogue with university administration, which paved the way for more than 1,800 faculty to secure collective bargaining.

The revenue resolution you’ll be considering during this convention proposes these and many other actions that all of us can take.

I look at it this way:  We’re rebuilding the middle class on multiple fronts. Every day, in schools, universities, healthcare facilities and other work sites, AFT members are helping children and their families achieve a better future.  And, while you’re at work building futures, some of your pension dollars will be at work—putting other union members to work building the middle class of today… as they build the infrastructure of tomorrow.

OUR CHOICE FORCES A CHOICE

Our choice to pursue solution-driven unionism forces other choices.

When we show people that we’re using our pensions to create jobs, it forces them to think harder about cutting them.

When people see what we’re doing in California and Oregon—finding ways to solve budget crises—they realize that if we’re focused on getting to “yes,” they should be, too. 

When we push business folks and ask them, “Will you stop scapegoating us and work with us?”   It forces them to make a choice.  Are they going to criticize us from on high, or work with us on the ground?

Solution-driven unionism isn’t just about getting people to show their true colors, it’s about finding our true allies—the people who—like us, are looking for real solutions.

But being solution-driven doesn’t mean shying away from necessary fights. And fight we have: in Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, Oregon, Illinois, New Hampshire, Louisiana, New York, New Mexico, Texas—and right here in Michigan. 

Let’s talk about Detroit. From the auto worker on the assembly line to the teacher in the classroom, day in and day out, Detroiters are trying to bring the city back. By bringing our convention here, the AFT is doing the same.

Providing every child in this city with a great education is key to its comeback. Yet the recent actions of the emergency manager, Roy Roberts, have made this impossible. He has complete control of Detroit’s schools. And he has used that power to gut school funding, pink-slip every teacher, and slash teacher pay. He has refused to negotiate with us to solve the deep challenges that Detroit schools face. 

By walking away from the table, Mr. Roberts walked away from our kids and the community. That’s not the way to bring Detroit back. That’s not walking the walk.

I sent Mr. Roberts a letter yesterday, demanding that he meet with the leaders of our Detroit locals and with me. Within hours of receiving this letter, Mr. Roberts agreed. This happened not just because of our letter, but because we made it known that we were prepared to turn out, in force, demanding that our brothers and sisters in Detroit be heard. This is the kind of collective action that makes a difference.

Immediately after this session, I’m going to have that meeting with Mr. Roberts. And I’m going to demand that he bargain with us. For those of you planning to rally outside in solidarity, you will reinforce the message that only by working with educators, parents and the community will we be able to rebuild a strong Detroit for our children.

The right to bargain collectively is under attack in the entire state of Michigan. Anti-worker extremists want to turn the clock back in this cradle of labor. But we are fighting back. AFT Michigan and our allies submitted more than 680,000 signatures—more than double the required number—for a ballot measure amending the Michigan Constitution to make collective bargaining a guaranteed right for all Michigan workers, private and public alike.

Following Saturday’s afternoon session, AFT delegates will have the opportunity to join our Michigan brothers and sisters and their community allies in walking door-to-door to educate voters to support this constitutional amendment. I hope that you will join us in that solidarity action, as well.

So we’re seeing lots of activism in our union. But one thing you won’t see in this coming year is a dues increase. We recognize that every day, each of you is being asked to do more with less. And at the AFT, we must do the same. That is why—even as we expand our work—we are proposing no dues increase this year. 

And the other thing you’re not going to see in our union is any tolerance of malfeasance.

We are fiduciaries for our union. Failure to fulfill that responsibility impugns the integrity of our brothers and sisters who dedicate their lives to the service of others.

Some of you may know that in Broward County, Florida, our local is in AFT trusteeship because of serious improprieties authorized by the former president of the Broward Teachers Union, who was also a member of the AFT executive council.

I am disgusted by these transgressions. But I am proud of what the AFT and our members and leaders in Broward and the FEA have done, and are doing, to make things right. I want to thank them, as well as John Tarka, the trustee we appointed who has helped the BTU get back on track. If Wall Street had done 1/100th of what we did to take responsibility and set things straight, we’d all be in better shape.

POLITICS

So those are the choices we’ve made—and will continue to make.

But we will have no chance to make these choices if we do not help our country choose the right leaders.  

The candidates we are endorsing in many cases aren’t perfect. But they do have one thing in common. They have felt the same winds of change that we have, and are attempting to deal with them in a way that honors and respects America’s working families.

They recognize that it’s one thing to bargain hard; it's quite another to undercut bargaining entirely.

So I see this presidential election not as a referendum on President Obama, but as a day of judgment for a way of life, for our values, for democracy, for opportunity, for fairness and for the future of our country.

The two candidates for president couldn’t be more different. Rather than support workers at home or investments in public schools, Mitt Romney supports the Bush-era tax cuts for the very wealthy. His idea of education reform is vouchers, which study after study has shown do not improve achievement. He supports a plan that would turn Medicare into a voucher system and would double out-of-pocket costs for seniors. He supports a budget plan that would take away Pell Grants. He would repeal the Affordable Care Act—how in the world did he end up on the wrong side of that issue?

Mitt Romney says he would preserve the Department of Education only so he’d have a club to beat back unions. You heard correctly—he would use a federal agency to strip workers of a constitutionally-protected right. He supported attempts to end collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio and New Hampshire, and he tried in his own state of Massachusetts. Make no mistake: Mitt Romney wants to wipe us off the map.

He shelters his fortune in Swiss bank accounts, and shields his tax returns from public scrutiny. I don’t begrudge him his wealth, but he’s got some audacity to say “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”

Should Mitt Romney be our next president?

We must do everything in our power to ensure that Barack Obama is re-elected.

Earlier this year, the AFT executive council voted unanimously to endorse President Obama as the only candidate for president who will fight for economic opportunity for all Americans.

Do we believe that this administration has put too much of a focus on testing and competition?  Yes. And we will continue to push back, as we have with our campaign to end the fixation on standardized testing—a campaign we hope you will endorse in this convention and that more than 22,000 Americans have signed on to in the last month alone.

But we must recognize that President Obama’s stimulus efforts in 2009 were a lifeline for public education and public services. And they kept 300,000 of us on the job. The jobs act he proposed—which is currently being held up in Congress—would support tens of thousands more. Contrast this with Governor Romney, who would fire teachers and raise class size. 

President Obama is working to make college more affordable, and to crack down on for-profit colleges and their deceptive practices, which are more likely to hand students a pile of debt than an actual degree. And, while Romney advocates for “self-deportation,” the president says that, if we want to restore the American Dream, we must stop the wanton deportation of the “dreamers.”

President Obama, against unrelenting opposition, passed the Affordable Care Act. The constitutional Affordable Care Act. This law has remedied some of the most grievous failings of our healthcare system. It covers millions of uninsured, it includes basic preventative healthcare, and it prohibits discrimination based on preexisting conditions. And while House Republicans have voted 33 times to repeal the healthcare law, every one of our healthcare workers knows how important this law is.

On a personal note, in this past year, in dealing with my own father’s illness, I’ve experienced how amazing our healthcare workers are. The care, the skill, the compassion you bring to the job is literally life-extending. I can’t thank you enough.

The choice in this presidential election is too clear, the stakes too high, to sit this one out.  So we need to be out there for President Obama. We need to be out there for Vice President Biden.

We need to be out there in those 435 House races, those 33 Senate races, those 12 gubernatorial elections—and in all the places where ballot initiatives try to deprive us of our rights and our country’s future. 

CONCLUSION

Brothers and sisters, this is our charge. To connect with community in new ways. To support each other in new and not-so-new ways. To stand up and stand strong for those we represent and those we serve. To engage in solution-driven unionism.   

You teach, you heal, you serve. You protect our children and our communities. It’s through this work that you affirm our values and our desire to improve not only our lives—but the lives of our students, our patients and everyone in our nation.

In this challenging and changed world, those values are more important than ever, as are the public services people depend on, access to college, the dignity of work and broadly shared opportunity. These are vital to achieving our national potential.

So the challenge for us is to apply those values to our new reality. 

Can we control our own destiny one hundred percent? No.

Will there be people who will vilify us? Yes.

But can we answer every agenda that won’t work, with ideas that will? 

We’re doing just that, and working with new partners – whoever and wherever they may be:  a minister in West Virginia or a governor in Oregon … a pension fund manager in California, or a voter in Ohio. 

We are the front guard of the kind of unionism called for today—solution-driven unionism.

And we know the solutions aren’t just coming from union headquarters in Washington, as I saw in the ABC school district. Everyone in this room has the potential to devise solutions. And yet we know how tight your budgets are.

So this fall, working with our own AFT Innovation Fund and the Albert Shanker Institute, we will be finding resources so you, too, can support and devise creative solutions that help those we represent and those we serve. We want you to have the means not only to call out what’s wrong, and to propose what’s right… but to help make what is right—a reality. And to do so in a sustainable, scalable way.

Members like you will come up with solutions, taking the lead and working with partners, and the AFT will support you.

In closing, I am confident that when we gather again in two years, we will be able to look back on this time and say: 

We took a time of existential threat… and turned it into a time of renewed respect.

We took a time in which an unholy alliance of certain corporate interests and politicians plotted to eliminate our voice, restrict democracy, abandon public education, and marginalize working families … and we turned it into an opportunity to define our future. A time in which we reconnected with community. Reached for solutions. Reasserted our rights. And regained our strength.

A time in which we put the brakes on this rampant race to the bottom.

And restored the two essential building blocks of our democracy, the middle class and the American dream—the union movement and public education.

And it began here. It began with you.

Thank you.