AFT joins historic convening of Latino trade unionists

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The AFT’s deep commitment to the empowerment of the Latino community kicked into high gear during the recent Labor Council for Latin American Advancement convention in Puerto Rico Aug. 8-11. As Latin American workers continue to lag behind their white colleagues, and as appalling immigration policies plague the country, AFT leaders joined more than 400 delegates from a cross section of the labor movement at the convention, working to forge a better future and addressing crucial issues such as equitable education, protections for immigrant workers, the economic impact of anti-union attacks on the island and across the country, and the power of the Latino vote.

AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke about the union’s work fighting for justice in Puerto Rico, where the island’s education secretary has been closing public schools and ushering in a new era of privatization. And she was on a panel describing the impact of the Janus v. AFSCME decision.

LCLAA rally

“We know that Latino workers are among the hardest hit by the end of fair share,” she said, referring to the measure in the Janus decision that eliminates the requirement that workers pay minimal dues to the unions that protect them. It is generally understood that the measure is designed to weaken public sector unions.Weingarten described how unions have been responsible for making public sector jobs attractive, with good salaries, benefits and working conditions. And she reminded convention participants that Latin American workers have used public sector jobs as a way to integrate themselves into the workforce and carve a pathway to the middle class.

But Janus is not the end of good public jobs, she said. Instead of weakening since the decision this summer, AFT membership has increased. “Something amazing is happening,” said Weingarten. “In the five weeks since Janus, in state after state, our members are sticking with the union. And the more the right wing tries to get our members to drop their union, the more they are sticking with us.”

Weingarten also noted the union’s partnership with LCLAA on immigration policy. “We have stood shoulder to shoulder with LCLAA in calling out the administration’s xenophobic and racist policies that separate families and deport aspiring Americans,” she said. She described the organizations’ joint work advising and protecting undocumented immigrants. She also announced the AFT’s new report linking the immigrant detention centers, where children are housed in cage-like structures, with investment funds that support the private prison industry.

LCLAA rally

The convention concluded with the historic election of the first Latina, Yanira Merino, to head the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Other AFT leaders also played key roles at the convention: Evelyn DeJesus, vice president for education at the United Federation of Teachers and an AFT vice president, and Kathy Chavez, executive vice president of AFT New Mexico and an AFT vice president, organized the women’s luncheon and resolutions. Both were re-elected to the LCLAA National Executive Board, along with Aida Díaz, president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico and an AFT vice president. The UFT’s Jose Vargas was re-elected as LCLAA’s national secretary treasurer.

AFT members also participated in service projects around the island, marched in the Workers’ Rally for Unity and Resilience, and took in presentations and workshops about the Latino vote, civic engagement, deportation policies, the economic impact of immigration policy and the influence of Latinas in the workforce.

[Virginia Myers]