News in Brief


The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in September to hear Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31. This case threatens to upend more than 40 years of precedent affirming the legality of having workers pay their fair share of costs tied to collective bargaining, contract administration, and union work on matters affecting wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. The court deadlocked on a case in 2016 involving the same issue, leaving intact a lower court’s decision to uphold fair-share fees. Now, with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the court will revisit a standard that has stood since the high court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. This fall, the AFL-CIO adopted a resolution urging the court to reaffirm its long-standing position rather than imposing a national “right to work” landscape that is “designed to silence worker voices by making it harder to organize, harder to build solidarity, and harder to assert our rights, thereby aggravating the imbalance in our economy.” A ruling is expected by mid-2018. For more on Janus, visit SCOTUSblog.


Water filters in Puerto Rico
Volunteers unload water filtration systems to prepare for distribution.

Responding to the water crisis following summer hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the AFT has taken a leading role in Operation Agua, a partnership to crowdsource contributions and to provide safe drinking water across the island. One month after the storms, more than 1 million people still lacked running water, with many resorting to using contaminated streams. Operation Agua’s initial goal is to purchase and distribute 100,000 individual water filtration systems for households and classrooms, along with 50 large-capacity clean-water devices needed by nonprofit organizations, union offices, schools, and other community-based groups. Learn more and donate here.


A survey of nearly 5,000 educators, released this fall by the AFT and the Badass Teachers Association, shows that nearly two-thirds of educators usually feel stressed out, twice the level felt by workers in the general population. Most educators surveyed also feel demoralized and disrespected by state and federal officials, especially by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. A similar survey was conducted two years ago, and the biggest difference between 2015 and 2017 is a jump in the number of educators reporting that their mental health was not good for seven or more days in the month leading up to the survey: from 34 percent to 58 percent. The study purposefully oversampled members of the Solvay (New York) Teachers Association and the North Syracuse (New York) Education Association—educators who work in strong collaborative labor-management environments—and it finds that educators in those systems report less stress and are less likely to leave the profession. The survey is available here.


The AFT has joined a landmark lawsuit against the Trump administration’s move to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which permits undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to work and live free from the threat of deportation. The suit argues that the termination of DACA violates the Constitution; it also calls for an immediate halt to the program’s rescission and requests an order prohibiting the government from using information to identify, detain, or deport DACA recipients. There are 20,000 bilingual educators in the United States who would be affected by the termination. The amended complaint is available here.


AFT leaders defended crucial protections for college students at a fall U.S. Department of Education hearing. The union argued against temporary guidelines, issued by Secretary Betsy DeVos, that undercut regulations to help deter sexual assault on campus and to hold for-profit colleges accountable for fraud and exploitation. Some of the most charged testimony involved Title IX elements that protect sexual assault survivors. AFT President Randi Weingarten urged the department to preserve those safeguards and expressed dismay over moves to set back progress on campus safety. The department is seeking public comment before issuing permanent regulations.

American Educator, Winter 2017-2018