New resolutions address return to work, child care, private prisons and the life of a beloved ‘shero’

On their first day of business, delegates to the AFT convention passed four resolutions covering a wide range of issues and adjusted the AFT constitution to further engage retirees.

Two resolutions relate directly to the coronavirus pandemic that has rocked every aspect of work and home life. The “Reopening High-Quality Child Care and Early Childhood Education for All Post-Pandemic” resolution underscores the key role early childhood education plays in child development, calling high-quality programs “absolutely essential” to national recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Families with young children must have high-quality, safe, affordable child care options in order to return to work. Because those options require significant investment, delegates voted in favor of pressing the federal government for resources that will enable child care providers and early education programs to reopen safely post-pandemic and that will ensure high-quality child care is affordable for all families—costing no more than 7 percent of a family’s income.

Early childhood classroom
Photo: Leah Nash

“We need safe, reliable and high-quality child care,” said Kathy Chavez, president of the Albuquerque Educational Assistants Association, executive vice president of AFT New Mexico and an AFT vice president. “We need to champion this and to fight to see our country provide the funding that is needed to open child care safely.”

Regarding the safe return to work for public sector employees in state, federal and local governments, the delegates voted for the “COVID-19 Return to Work Site” resolution to continue to advocate for principles and legislation that will keep workers and the public they serve safe. Noting how AFT workers have already risked their lives to do necessary work in their communities, the delegates agreed that governments at all levels must offer protections at work sites, such as safe ventilation and potable water systems, access to viral and antibody testing, strict protocols and safety training, adequate personal protective equipment, isolation procedures, self-quarantining policies and other detailed safety measures.

“We need a say in how we go back to work and how we reopen our buildings,” said Andrew Spar, vice president of the Florida Education Association. “These are challenging times; everyone wants to get back to their workplaces, but we have to do it safely, and we have to be part of this conversation.”

Photo: iStock/Getty Images Plus/SPmemory

Delegates also voted to continue the fight against mass incarceration and immigrant detention, particularly as these are influenced by private prisons and private equity firms. The “Fighting the Influence of Private Prisons and Private Equity Firms on Mass Incarceration and Immigrant Detention” resolution notes that the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and that mass incarceration disproportionately impacts communities of color, who make up 30 percent of the U.S. population but 60 percent of the people who are incarcerated. Private prisons have incentives to cut costs in order to maximize profits, and some achieve this by lowering wages for workers, skimping on training and providing as few services as possible to incarcerated people, putting workers and incarcerated people at risk. The pandemic has magnified these problems.

The AFT resolves to oppose the privatization of public services, including prisons, and will work to ban private prisons and immigrant detention centers at the state and federal levels.

Honoring an AFT and civil rights leader, delegates offered accolades and congratulations to AFT Secretary Treasurer Lorretta Johnson upon her retirement. With a resolution honoring her 54 years of service to the AFT,  Johnson was named secretary-treasurer emeritus; and the delegates resolved that she be given the AFT’s Human Rights Award for her years of fighting for human rights at home and abroad.

Lorretta Johnson

“For 54 years, Lorretta has been a voice for working people,” said Lisa Gourley, of the Oregon School Employees Association. “She has been a fearless light that has been part of the movement to raise the standard of living for thousands of workers.” For more on Johnson’s long career as a unionist, see our story about her retirement and the Bayard Rustin award she received earlier in the day. “She’s always dedicated her life to improving the lives around her,” said Chavez. “She’s my shero.”

In addition to the resolutions, delegates changed the AFT constitution to establish a program and policy council for AFT retirees and allow them to hold office; and the delegates voted to forgo any dues increase until 2021, when dues will go up by 40 cents per member per month, an amount that will go directly to the militancy/defense fund.

[Virginia Myers]