TEACHERS RALLY FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION, MORE SCHOOL FUNDING, HIGHER PAY
Fed up after years of budget cuts, teachers across the country have staged massive walkouts this spring to draw attention to their low wages and poor working conditions and to demand greater funding for public education. Their calls for legislative changes started in West Virginia and spread to several other states, including Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina. “Teachers are standing up for their students and themselves against largely red states with weak labor laws and where governors and legislators have opted for tax cuts for the wealthy instead of investments for children,” wrote AFT President Randi Weingarten in an April USA Today column. Weingarten has joined protesting teachers on the picket line and traveled to Puerto Rico for an Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico action against closing public schools there.
In places where teachers have protested, they have done so with public support. An NPR/Ipsos poll released this spring shows that only one in four people believes teachers are fairly paid, and that two-thirds approve of national teachers unions.
TAKING ACTION AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE
In April, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, more than 2,500 walkouts took place across the country for the National Day of Action Against Gun Violence in Schools. AFT President Randi Weingarten participated in a rally in New York City, and AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker attended an event in Parkland, Florida. Other steps the AFT has taken to help prevent gun violence in schools include cutting ties with Wells Fargo bank, which has a close relationship with the National Rifle Association, and releasing a watch list of investment managers that invest in companies that make assault weapons.
FIGHTING DEVOS—AND ABUSIVE STUDENT LOAN SERVICERS
A new “notice of interpretation” from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos aims to make it even harder to pay off student debt—and easier to get overcharged and abused in the process. DeVos has already chipped away at regulations designed to protect borrowers, allowing student loan servicers like Navient and Nelnet to engage in deceptive practices and defraud borrowers, leading them deeper and deeper into debt. The notice the Department of Education published in the Federal Register, asserting that federal laws regarding student debt collection preempt state laws, takes DeVos’s campaign a step further by preventing states from regulating lenders when she refuses to do so. Education advocates say that’s not good for college access or the nation’s economy.
REPORT TAKES ON ASSET MANAGERS WHO ATTACK PENSIONS
A new edition of an influential report published by the AFT exposes Wall Street asset managers who earn millions in fees from investing workers’ defined-benefit pensions while simultaneously taking actions that can undermine their very existence. “Asset managers can’t have it both ways,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Trustees have a fiduciary duty to ensure workers’ capital is invested in a fiscally prudent manner. These managers, who make a living as defined-benefit plan investors, cannot, in the next breath, attack those same plans.”
HONORING THE PAST AND INSPIRING TODAY’S CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
It was an emotional journey to Memphis for the thousands who gathered there in April to commemorate the historic sanitation workers’ strike of 1968 and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. But it wasn’t all memories and reverence: AFT leaders, including President Randi Weingarten, Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, and Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker, and dozens of AFT members joined other labor activists and community organizers to not only honor civil rights heroes but also carry their fight forward, with activist trainings, workshops, rallies, and inspirational speeches.
NURSES ON A MISSION
This spring, more than two dozen nurses and health professionals from the AFT were in the U.S. Virgin Islands performing vision and hearing screenings for more than 10,000 public school students. The effort was part of the comprehensive recovery assistance the AFT has been providing since hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the islands last September. The volunteers are back home now, but the mission left a lasting impression on them. Read what two professionals learned here and here.