With the recession taking its toll on the middle class, and some of our opponents looking to scapegoat workers and silence their voices, it's more important than ever that the faith and labor communities stand together, "as we have stood together throughout the nation's history," AFT president Randi Weingarten told those attending the eighth annual labor-religion breakfast hosted by the Central Oklahoma Community Forum.
Addressing nearly 200 labor, community and faith leaders, Weingarten said unions and the faith community have a moral obligation to come together to lift up people and the institutions they depend upon, such as public schools: "We want our kids to inherit a more caring and compassionate world than we live in today."
Pointing to Ohio where citizens overwhelming voted in November to repeal a law gutting collective bargaining for public employees, Weingarten said she's encouraged by the turnaround she's seen in support of workers and core American values. "I have seen parents, clergy, labor and businesses working hand in hand, fighting for equality, fighting for the middle class."
Weingarten shared with the group background on the AFT-led initiative Reconnecting McDowell, in McDowell County, W.Va., where the union is working with the faith community, social services organizations, state and local government agencies, and others to improve education and address the underlying problems caused by severe and chronic poverty and economic decline. This is "the kind of partnership that is vital to save America's future," she asserted.
The AFT president was invited to speak to the breakfast gathering by Oklahoma City Federation of Classified Employees president and AFT vice president David Gray, who founded the coalition that hosted the event. Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City AFT, and Cliff Ogle, president of AFT-Oklahoma, were among those in attendance.
LaSheena Wilson, a paraprofessional and secretary-treasurer of Oklahoma City's classified unit, said Weingarten's visit "lets us know she's behind us in our fight for better schools and a living wage."
Following the breakfast, Weingarten and the local leaders visited the Northeast Academy for Health Sciences and Engineering (pictured at left), and the classroom of member Mary Tran. A math teacher at the grade 6-12 academy, Tran is a national trainer for the AFT. Weingarten and Tran's pre-algebra students discussed the importance of math, and the various careers that require a background in the subject.
The next stop was North Highland Elementary School, a school adopted by the Oklahoma City Federation of Classified Employees. In addition to the support it receives from the AFT affiliate, North Highland has an aggressive parent-outreach initiative that utilizes the AFT's parent involvement materials, as well as a tutoring program staffed by volunteers from an Oklahoma City energy company.
During a late afternoon meeting with members and leaders of the city's teacher and classified units, Weingarten urged those in attendance to join with our members and the community to fight for public education and for "the tools, conditions and voice we need to do our job." [Roger Glass/Photos by Ann Sherman]
January 24, 2012