Delegates speak with one voice on labor, economy

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In unanimous votes across the top three resolutions submitted by the Labor and Economy Committee, AFT delegates have decided to invest in our future and fight austerity measures, launch a national campaign to highlight the debt crisis in America, and support the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.

“How do you have kids freezing in school because of lack of heat?” AFT President Randi Weingarten asked in exasperation, bringing the crowd to its feet in applause as she introduced a new AFT report, “A Decade of Neglect: Public Education Funding in the Aftermath of the Great Recession,” aimed at helping our affiliates advocate for public education funding.

Resolution 38: For investment, against austerity

A combination of tax breaks for the rich and deep cuts to basic public services nationwide has propelled our members to restate the necessity of well-funded public services as the foundation of vibrant communities for all. The Trump tax cuts, as well as those in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia, have resulted in teachers and other public employees having to take on additional jobs to make ends meet. This systematic disinvestment in public services also has harmed our healthcare system, contributing to nurse shortages and a rise in the number of uninsured Americans.

AFT delegates resolved to double down on our fight against austerity by investigating solutions to increase investment in public services; to channel our activism into electing more pro-public education, pro-worker candidates; and to educate our members on these issues. The AFT will create an annual report card providing data, analysis and policy frameworks to support our affiliates in their advocacy. The AFT and our affiliates will pursue partnerships to boost public investments. And our union will work to educate our members on the dire state of local and national infrastructure and the need for funding to bring back our infrastructure to a world-class level.

Rising to support the anti-austerity resolution, Christine Campbell, president of AFT-West Virginia and an AFT vice president, pointed to her state’s nine-day walkout this spring as an example of what happens when basic public services are starved of funds. “Our members have been pushed to the brink of poverty,” she said. “We need to support the betterment of public education and the children we serve.”

Resolution 37: Highlighting the debt crisis

Delegates also voted to launch a national campaign to highlight the debt crisis in America. With U.S. household debt having climbed to its highest level ever, to a record $13 trillion, the AFT will expand its efforts to expose the role of Wall Street in fueling this crisis and profiting from it at the expense of working people, retirees, pension funds and the nation’s economy. The AFT pension trustee council condemns the predatory actions of loan servicers and consumer lenders whose actions put the nation at risk, and it will work within its role to determine the risks posed to our pension funds, raising concerns when appropriate. The AFT also will partner with our state and local affiliates to develop a suite of tools, including student and medical debt clinics, to educate members.

Some members are being threatened with loss of licensure for their debts, which amounts to a “modern debtors’ prison,” said Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro, also an AFT vice president. “What is happening in our country? When we set up debt clinics, we are overridden with members who need help.”

“Debt isn’t somebody else’s problem. It is our members’ problem,” added Stephanie Ly, president of AFT New Mexico. “The problem is getting larger, not smaller, and we have to fight. We have to look out for our members and our communities. This resolution helps us do that.”

Resolution 39: Rebuilding Puerto Rico

Last but certainly not least, delegates unanimously passed a resolution in support of rebuilding Puerto Rico. The island, home to 3.5 million U.S. citizens, still has thousands of people sheltering under blue tarps, while the Trump administration’s reaction has been to punish these citizens by firing 45,000 public employees, cutting retiree pensions and draining more than $400 million from cash-strapped public schools to push charter schools and vouchers.

“The federal government’s response to this disaster has been disgraceful: 4,600 people are dead and we’ve been treating our fellow citizens as though they were not Americans,” said the United Federation of Teachers’ Evelyn DeJesus, also an AFT vice president. “This resolution puts us on the side of the people.”

Delegates voted to stand in solidarity with fellow unionists in Puerto Rico, to push Congress for the resources needed to restore the island’s society and economy, and to help lead the fight, side by side with the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico-Local Sindical, against privatization, school closings, vouchers and the government’s “cruel and unworkable austerity” that is slowing Puerto Rico’s recovery.

[Annette Licitra]