07/29/2020

Delegates vote overwhelmingly to endorse Biden for president and to reimagine society

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Delegates to the AFT convention officially endorsed Joe Biden for president, voting overwhelmingly on the second day of the union’s biennial meeting for a resolution pledging AFT backing and committing members to support Biden in his campaign to defeat President Trump in November.

Joe Biden

“The future of our country and the future of democracy are on the line,” AFT Michigan President David Hecker said. “Joe Biden shares our values,” added Hecker, who is also an AFT vice president.

Pointing to the nation’s COVID-19, economic and racial justice crises, the resolution notes that all Americans have sharpened their focus on the “need for compassionate, competent federal government with the experience and willingness to act swiftly to keep Americans safe.”

Stop climate change

The resolution highlights Biden’s agenda, saying it illustrates his understanding that this election year is a moment in history when Americans and their leaders can reimagine what government can do. “Biden has spent his career championing the values of strong public schools and higher education; understanding that healthcare and college are rights, not privileges; and that a strong labor and civil rights movement are essential” to opportunity, freedom and justice, the resolution says.

“This election is about what kind of country we want to be,” delegates declared in the resolution. “A better future is possible, but only if we first defeat President Trump.”

In rejecting Trump, the resolution points out that he is focused on himself, not the American people, that he traffics in hate and division, and thwarts the rule of law; and he has repeatedly rewarded the rich and comfortable at the expense of the rest of America’s families.

Funding rally

“We all know that four more years of Donald Trump is an unmitigated disaster,” said Shari Obrenski, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union. “We have to stand up and stand behind the very best candidate in this race: Joe Biden.”

The Biden resolution culminated the most extensive presidential endorsement process in the AFT’s history. Over many months in 2019 and into this spring, more than 300,000 members participated in AFT-sponsored town hall meetings with the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, as well as local events and teleconferences on issues and engagement in the 2020 elections. In March, the AFT executive council voted to endorse Biden. The convention resolution puts the full membership behind his effort to defeat Trump.

In a lengthy afternoon of convention business on July 29, delegates also passed several other resolutions.

Sexual harassment

Among them was action recognizing that the confluence of this election year and multiple national crises presents Americans with a unique opportunity “to reimagine our society and rewrite the rules so everyone in America has access to opportunity and justice.”

In endorsing a lengthy list of essential principles that should guide the effort to create a “more just and vibrant society,” the resolution says that the foundation of “a well-functioning democracy and society is a people secured by the freedom to live safely and securely, and the opportunity to attain a better life.”

The resolution, said Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram, who is also an AFT vice president, “helps the AFT meet this moment.”

Before passing the resolution, delegates voted to add an amendment renewing the AFT’s commitment to affirmative action and desegregation.

Acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has “exacerbated the economic and health disparities and pain long felt by Americans, particularly communities of color, and has brought a new unprecedented urgency to address the imbalance in our economy and society,” the resolution commits the AFT to “do everything in our power to meet this moment and restore hope that another future is possible through the work of our members, through collective action, and at the ballot box.”

Also on Wednesday, delegates addressed environmental issues, adopting a resolution backing the Green New Deal proposal to counter climate change. Saying that the labor movement must be at the center of shaping climate policies, “including tax-base support for impacted communities, wage replacement and parity for affected workers”—along with retirement protections, and job and training guarantees—the resolution declares that the AFT will work to “ensure that no worker is left behind.”

School building in disrepair

David Hughes, a member of AAUP-AFT Rutgers, helped draft the resolution. “Our government has got to respect science and protect us,” he said, adding that adoption of the resolution allows the AFT to give Biden a push in the right direction on environmental policy.

The resolution backs funding for Green New Deal programs through progressive taxes on the rich, including a Billionaire Net Worth tax, and reductions in Defense Department spending that is not related to veterans.

During the floor debate, delegates adopted an amendment endorsing a “national green schools campaign” calling for retrofitting and installation of solar panels at public schools across the nation.

In other action, convention delegates also:

  • Voted nearly unanimously for a resolution to expand support within the AFT for early-career and young worker members. Delegates voted to create new pipelines to leadership such as an Emerging Leaders Academy to bring more young workers into leading roles in the union. Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said, “The future of our labor movement goes hand in hand with the future of our young workers movement.” And Natalia Cuadra-Saez, a BTU member who wrote the resolution, said the goal should be that every new member has a positive union experience. “Early experiences lead you to become involved in your union,” she said.
  • Adopted a resolution reaffirming the AFT’s ongoing commitment to combat sexual harassment, discrimination and violence in the workplace. Citing all workers’ right “to safe and respectful working conditions,” the resolution proclaims the AFT’s “refusal to tolerate sexual harassment, discrimination and violence.”
  • Passed a resolution endorsing public spending to support the economy and rebuild crumbling infrastructure across the nation. Samantha Rosado-Ciriello, president of the Yonkers (N.Y.) Federation of Teachers, said the country’s infrastructure drastically needs repair and upgrading. The Trump administration, she said, “has been tweeting rather than working on policy to accomplish anything.”

[Tom Lansworth]