The AFT's 100th anniversary serves as a reminder to its retirees that much of their activism helped build the union into what is today. The hundreds of retirees in attendance at the AFT Retiree Leaders Conference on July 17 were acknowledged for the commitment they have shown to their union and to public service.
"Retirees are an indispensable resource of our history," said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. Retirees who share their stories of union building can energize new members, she said. "Your stories reflect our values, and that's why we value you so much. Please help me in telling your stories and remind everyone about how valuable you are to our future."
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), a former high school teacher, applauded the retirees' continued commitment to public education. "I believe in the power of public education," she told the attendees. "Your service has been essential. Thank you for your voice and your activism."
McCollum took a moment to encourage the retirees to lend their support to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. "There is a solution to Trump, and that is to elect Hillary Clinton. We need an experienced, compassionate and prepared candidate."
AFT president Randi Weingarten also spoke of the 2016 presidential election and of the anger that many people are feeling in America. "People are really angry in America—it's an anger that our members have felt for a long time on the issue of education," said Weingarten. "But when you started your union, you knew that the union was the vehicle to empower our aspirations and it gave you collective strength."
Weingarten called on the retirees to use what they have learned over the years as union builders and organizers to lead their friends and neighbors in the right direction. "It is the-one-on one engagement that will turn people around. I need you to be the soldiers in this fight."
The two-day retiree conference continued July 18 with workshops on anti-union attacks, Election 2016, building stronger retiree chapters, and health and wellness.