AFT delegates pass a raft of bold, progressive resolutions

On the third and final day of the AFT convention, delegates overwhelmingly passed a raft of ambitious resolutions taking on the health, economic and racial justice crises our country faces, and envisioning a better America now and as we build back after COVID-19.

Special order of business: Continuing the fight to protect DACA

Since it was established in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has allowed recipients to attend college, start careers and put down roots in the only country they’ve ever known, free from fear of deportation. The AFT was an original plaintiff with the NAACP challenging the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA. On June 20, the Supreme Court ordered the Trump administration to restore DACA—a victory for the immigrant rights movement and the nearly 800,000 people—including many AFT members—who moved to the United States as children, many as babies.

DACA rally

Flouting the court’s ruling, the Trump administration recently declared that it will not accept new DACA applications and will only grant one-year extensions to current beneficiaries “on a case-by-case basis.” As the convention’s special order of business describes it, “Trump’s policy is nothing less than brazen defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling.” The special order demands the full restoration of DACA now, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and condemns Donald Trump’s authoritarian contempt for the Supreme Court’s ruling that reinstated DACA.

Supporting transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming workers

Despite a landmark Supreme Court victory in June forbidding employers to fire transgender, nonbinary or gender-nonconforming workers, these workers contend with discriminatory legislation in many states and often face discrimination in the workplace. Nearly half (46 percent) of LGBTQ workers are closeted in the workplace. While more than two-thirds of those who are out to their co-workers report being supported, “that would be considered a D in my gradebook,” said a delegate from Duval Teachers United in Jacksonville, Fla.; with support from the AFT, our society could achieve an A-plus.

All-gender restrooms sign
Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus/JannHuizenga

The resolution commits the AFT to work with transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming communities to compile a list of best practices that locals have implemented in defense of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming workers. It also requires the AFT to compile a list of existing protections in the workplace, housing and everyday life. The AFT will disseminate these lists as part of its efforts to engage locals in guiding and advocating for the rights of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming workers.

The “Enough” resolution opposes police brutality and demands police accountability

A four-year analysis by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that Black Americans are, on average, more than three times as likely as white people to be killed during a police encounter. “The numbers don’t lie,” said delegate Antonio White, first vice president of the United Teachers of Dade in Miami.

The resolution names George Floyd and dozens of other victims of police brutality and violence over decades. “George Floyd deserves to be remembered,” said a Baltimore Teachers Union delegate who worries about her 13-year-old son “every day when he leaves.” Under this resolution, the AFT and its affiliates will advocate for federal, state and local legislation that imposes strict police accountability, including: ending policing of minor offenses; banning the use of chokeholds; requiring a de-escalation policy and mandatory reporting; eliminating racial profiling; requiring all police officers to wear operating body cameras; and ensuring proper screening, education and training of all officers. The resolution also calls for removing police officers from schools; expanding first responders to include public health officials, social workers, mental health professionals and related experts; and requiring independent community oversight boards and human rights commissions.

“There is a desperate need for a legal framework in this country” around the use of force by police, said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter. “All police who murder or engage in acts of lethal force should be arrested, charged, convicted and jailed.”

The resolution also commits the AFT and its affiliates to mentor members of color and other traditionally underrepresented groups for leadership; make anti-racist and anti-oppression training for all members a principal goal of the unions; and call on all unions, particularly law enforcement unions, to do the same.

Giving contingent faculty a voice in higher education governance

Roughly 73 percent of all faculty positions are off the tenure track, according to a 2018 analysis of federal data by the American Association of University Professors: “For the most part, these are insecure, unsupported positions with little job security and few protections for academic freedom.” Contingent faculty are more likely to be women and people of color, and are more likely to mentor students, said delegate Mia McIver, president of University Council-AFT, which represents non-senate faculty and librarians of the University of California. Alongside organizing and bargaining, participation in shared governance would give these faculty a voice on vital issues such as reopening and the safety of students, faculty and their families. The resolution commits the AFT to support legislation for contingent faculty to be included, enfranchised and compensated in shared governance work—without regard to their part-time status.

Adjunct faculty rally

A healthcare system that works for all by 2025

This resolution tackles the systemic failures and wide-reaching inequities in the U.S. healthcare system that have been laid bare by COVID-19. The United States remains the only industrialized country without a universal healthcare system. Despite spending the most on healthcare among developed nations, we lag behind our peers in health outcomes, including life expectancy. Problems with healthcare access and inequitable health outcomes are severe for communities of color and other vulnerable populations, people in rural areas and LGBTQ people. The for-profit model of healthcare in our country has also left many institutions vulnerable to acquisition by large publicly traded companies or private equity funds that put profits above patients.

This resolution envisions the current moment as an opportunity to transition to a model of healthcare centered on universal access, sustainable cost, improving patient outcomes, and choice. Coming out of the pandemic, the resolution notes, we have an opportunity to “break the pattern of continued support of the existing system that is fiscally unsustainable and leaves tens of millions of Americans behind.”

The resolution commits the AFT to work to achieve universal coverage by the year 2025, whether through a single-payer system or private insurance with a public option. It also commits the AFT to an ambitious agenda, including fighting for massive investment in our public health infrastructure—robust investment in areas such as prevention, maintenance and disease surveillance, as well as investments in addressing health disparities and unacceptable healthcare outcomes among Black Americans, other communities of color, LGBTQ people and other vulnerable populations (such as people in rural areas threatened by hospital closures).

To fight the pandemic, the resolution embraces mass testing as the only way to track where and how quickly the virus is spreading. It calls for a national policy of mass testing and contact tracing with healthcare workers guaranteed access to free, regular testing. And to fulfill our promise as a union of professionals, it pledges that the AFT will fight for a voice for healthcare members in developing new and creative ways to deliver patient care that improve patient outcomes and maintain the standards that our union has bargained to establish.

Infectious disease emergency preparedness so we’re ready for next time

Despite years of warnings from infectious disease specialists and the emergence of SARS, MERS, H1N1 influenza, Zika and Ebola, past and present U.S. presidential administrations failed to address the lack of domestic production of personal protective equipment, particularly N95 respirators. States and hospitals are not required to maintain their own stockpiles. At the outset of the pandemic, the stockpile contained 12 million N95s, but 3.5 billion were needed. Yet Trump has refused to deploy the Defense Production Act to require U.S. manufacturers to produce badly needed respirators

Hospital isolation area

Worsening America’s preparedness crisis, the Trump administration gutted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s programs and staff and wasted valuable time when COVID-19 emerged; it continues to muzzle public health experts and promote false cures. Without a functioning public health infrastructure to combat large-scale infectious disease outbreaks, America faced a perfect storm of unpreparedness when it became clear that COVID-19 would not, as the president continues to promise, “just disappear.”

Meanwhile, the CDC provided weak guidance to healthcare employers, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to require employers to protect healthcare workers. As a result, an estimated 69,761 healthcare workers are known to have been infected and at least 368 have died (likely a gross undercounting). Convention delegate and Health Professionals and Allied Employees President Debbie White described the ensuing chaos: “COVID hit New Jersey in March, and our system was overwhelmed and overrun. It became a free-for-all. The rules at every hospital were different.”

This resolution aims to shore up our nation’s emergency preparedness and lifesaving protections for healthcare workers. It pledges the AFT to advocate for a temporary OSHA infectious disease standard immediately and a permanent infectious disease standard within 24 months. It also resolves that the AFT will advocate for states to strengthen emergency preparedness planning, including stockpiling and maintaining adequate PPE and beefing up capacity to develop temporary airborne infection isolation rooms and better ventilation. It commits the AFT to advocate for rigorous state and federal systems for illness prevention and re-establishing global infectious disease prevention. Finally, the resolution asserts, “Because one healthcare worker death from COVID-19 is too many, the AFT will work through collective bargaining to ensure healthcare employers are prepared to protect healthcare workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 and any other infectious disease outbreak.”

Elevating public schools beyond the legacy of COVID-19

Years of disinvestment in public education have led to overcrowded classrooms, deteriorating school buildings and outdated books, materials and technology. COVID-19 has not only heightened the challenges many students already face in their daily lives, such as food scarcity and unsafe housing, but also increased the inequities of the digital divide.

High school student
Photo credit: Getty Images/E+/SDI Productions

This resolution envisions an opportunity to “move toward reopening school buildings and continuing American public education—not as it is today or as it was in the past but as it can be.” The resolution commits the AFT and our affiliates to advocate for the safe reopening of America’s public schools and to provide schools where families want to send their children. It urges AFT affiliates to mobilize members and unite with their communities to win more equitable state and local distribution of education funds and to be more proactive in planning for returning to school buildings by collaborating on programming, space, operations, staff deployment and scheduling.

The resolution sets a goal for the strategic establishment of 25,000 community schools across the country, so students and families can access health and social services in one place. It commits the AFT to work to address the digital divide by collaborating with internet/cable providers. It pledges the AFT to advocate for greater investment in technology (including hardware, software and internet access) in under-resourced school districts and rural areas, and also for equitable access to learning opportunities for students who are unable to connect to online learning.

The resolution pushes for innovation in distance learning and for teacher professional development on technology. It recommends that districts develop new expectations for hybrid instruction and retool teacher evaluation systems. Finally, it advocates for mental health supports at no cost for educators and students.

Opposition to active shooter drills

This resolution examines the adverse effects of “active shooter” drills in schools, which can seem real to young children and be traumatic for all. These drills may be announced or unannounced, and the experiences of AFT members across the country show that they can have long-lasting effects on those who endure them. There is no evidence to support the idea that active shooter drills will save lives, and such drills destroy the school environment as a safe haven. In this resolution, the AFT opposes the practice of any form of active shooter drill that includes firing blank ammunition, using fake blood, simulating death or any other potentially traumatizing actions.

Gun violence
Photo credit: Getty Images/E+/SDI Productions

Oregon: Expansion of participation in retirement benefits

Current eligibility for public workers to quality for the Public Employees Retirement System in Oregon specifically excludes Oregon public university graduate employees and employees below 0.50 full-time equivalent. This resolution commits the AFT to advocate for expansion in public retirement eligibility for graduate employees and employees below 0.50 FTE at the national level. Said AFT-Oregon President Jaime Rodriguez, “It’s shameful that we have members who work 10, 15, 20 years” and yet are not eligible to participate in their public employee retirement system.