AFT Resolution

ATTACK ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

Our democracy is at a historic crossroads. We face deepening economic disparities that have resulted in a disastrous redistribution of political power. Money in political campaigns has amplified the voices of the rich. Anger and frustration among the rest of us, many of whom feel economically and politically disenfranchised, has alienated us from reasoned political solutions and led some down the path of cynicism and despair. We must take this anger and ensure that we translate it into aspiration and, ultimately, actions that address inequality. 

The work our members do is being imperiled by these forces. Public education in too many states has been decimated by budget cuts and privatization. State and local governments are similarly struggling to serve a population that has greater needs now than before the recession. Higher education has become unaffordable for too many at the same time that continued disinvestment has threatened quality. In healthcare, deregulation and consolidation are every day moving the system away from one that prioritizes patients over profits.

At the same time, our labor movement faces an organized and well-funded opposition that is intent on using the openings created by this political and economic inequality to attack our movement at every level. Unions promote fair wages and benefits, improve safety on the job and give working people a voice in national debate. And it is for these very reasons unions are under siege in ways we have never experienced before.

In a few short months, an election will determine the next president, the composition of a new Congress, the leadership of state governments and, sooner or later, the makeup of the Supreme Court. In this political cycle, the economic injustices that now afflict our democratic system have fostered a bigotry and ugliness in our political discourse that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

While some have undoubtedly become cynical and dispirited, this is exactly the time for us to revive faith in political participation and to reclaim the promise of America. We believe now is the time our movement must lead, and we are determined to do everything we can to give renewed voice and power to all Americans.

Extreme Inequality

WHEREAS, 29 percent of the political contributions in 2014 that were publicly reported came from just one-tenth of 1 percent of the population, and those donors doubtless contributed even more “dark money” that is not publicly reported; and

WHEREAS, the richest 10 percent of Americans now earn half of the income generated in the United States, and the richest 1 percent earn 21 percent of that income; and

WHEREAS, the total compensation for the top 25 hedge fund managers exceeds the total compensation for all the kindergarten teachers in the United States; and

Racial and Gender Biases Drive Workplace Inequality

WHEREAS, the economy can never be remotely fair when systemic racism and sexism exist, as evidenced in employment rates and income; and

WHEREAS, disparities in employment rates are so pronounced that the very best unemployment rates for African-Americans are essentially equal to the white unemployment rate during the height of the Great Recession; and

WHEREAS, women earn less than men who have the same level of educational attainment, and, in many cases, the median income for women with higher educational attainment is even lower than men with less educational attainment; and

WHEREAS, Hispanics have far higher unemployment rates and lower median wages than their non-Hispanic counterparts; and

WHEREAS, in today’s labor market, white high school graduates have unemployment rates equal to African-American college graduates; and

Inequality Corrupts Our Political System and Devastates Workers’ Lives

WHEREAS, the greatest threat to our way of life comes from the creation of this entirely new playing field where the superrich control more of our economy’s resources than is remotely fair or earned; and 

WHEREAS, the forces of privilege arrayed against us have used the Citizens United ruling and laws like those requiring voter identification to tilt the political playing field in their favor to an alarming extent in the last few years alone; and

WHEREAS, our foes are powerfully arrayed against low- and middle-income earners, unions, civil rights organizations, religious institutions, the poor and unemployed, and others that represent the interests of these groups; and

The American Federation of Teachers Can—and Must—Play a More Strategic Role in This Struggle 

WHEREAS, other AFT policy resolutions address critical measures in the fight against inequality, including job creation; retirement security; the safety net; investment in and support for public education and other public services; rebuilding our infrastructure; better trade policy; fair and properly incentivized tax policies; affordable and universally available early childhood education; teacher voice, transparency and accountability in charter schools; civic education; career and technical education; affordable college; a healthcare system that puts patients ahead of profit and values the work and views of health workers; and Wall Street reform; and

WHEREAS, rebuilding a fair economy and a thriving democracy is impossible to achieve if economic inequality persists; and 

WHEREAS, the AFT’s advocacy on these issues has had some successes, but there remains so much to do; and

WHEREAS, a comprehensive approach and sustained effort will ensure that the AFT’s various policies to address inequality will create a better opportunity for us to succeed in this area; and

WHEREAS, the AFT’s ability to move this agenda is dependent on our ability to educate and engage members, on our deep relationships with the communities we live in and serve, on our ability to move the general public, and on the political and legislative environment; and 

WHEREAS, the urgency surrounding economic inequality is greater than ever, the seriousness has never been more clear, and the AFT’s unique role as a driver of labor and progressive causes is well-established:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will create a comprehensive program to ensure that our union and its members are fully engaged at the ballot box and the bargaining table in the fight to have all Americans share fully in the wealth and productivity gains of their labor; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will redouble our work to defend and expand workers’ rights to join a union; strengthen labor laws in the United States at the federal, state and local levels; ensure that all workers have the right to collectively bargain; and use every resource we have to reclaim the promise of the American labor movement; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will tap the knowledge and skills of our members and leaders to create a powerful movement that gives this program the best chance to be enacted and implemented; and

RESOLVED, that we will immediately work to teach our members about these issues and organize to get them to the polls; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will embrace a head-on challenge to those forces that benefit from economic inequality, including supporting efforts to: 

  • Raise the minimum wage and achieve pay equity; 
  • Invest in efforts to shore up workers’ compensation, raise unemployment insurance and combat wage theft; 
  • Expand Medicaid in states that have not done so, and provide a public option in Medicare;
  • Ensure retirement security for all and preserve both public and private pensions;
  • Leverage public dollars and workers’ savings to create jobs and invest in infrastructure, including rebuilding roads, bridges, public transportation and energy;
  • Expand investment in needed public services;
  • Close tax loopholes (corporate tax expenditures) and clamp down on overseas tax evasion; 
  • Make Wall Street institutions pay their fair share of taxes by putting in place a federal Wall Street speculation tax on sales of derivatives, stocks, bonds and other Wall Street financial products;
  • Make banks smaller, simpler and safer;
  • Defend the Affordable Care Act from efforts to make it a vehicle to shift costs to patients and responsibility away from providers and insurers;
  • Shore up our public health system and ensure that the healthcare delivery system has adequate staffing; 
  • Provide nurses, doctors and other frontline healthcare workers with the ability to use their voices to make patients more important than the bottom line;
  • Make high-quality early childhood education, including Head Start, prekindergarten and all-day kindergarten, available; 
  • Provide comprehensive jobs training and economic development and job placement programs in our cities, especially targeting poor and minority youth;
  • Enact comprehensive immigration reform with a path to legal employment; and 
  • Expand public support for higher education so as to reverse the impact of state disinvestment, create debt-free college and provide high standards for teaching and student support; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will hold member meetings and community forums to elicit diverse views about the effects of economic inequality and the best ways at the local and state levels to achieve greater equality; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will develop a training program for AFT activists on the economic agenda; and 

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue the work of our economic equity task force: meeting with, hearing from and assisting affiliates to listen and develop more concrete methods of member, affiliate and community engagement around economic fairness; and that these conversations will—in compliance with this and other resolutions on the economy and allied issues—become the guiding force for our work together in making the economy work for all of us; and

RESOLVED, that the economic equity task force will incorporate the work of our racial equity task force and will develop the living agenda of our union as we engage our members in the coming years; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT’s agenda to combat economic inequality will be front and center as we engage members and support candidates through the 2016 election and beyond; and

RESOLVED, that we will hold ourselves accountable, knowing that we have succeeded when our locals and members are engaged in the battle for their own economic destiny and we are making progress, with racial disparities lessening, wages rising and income inequality diminishing. 

(2016)

Please note that a newer resolution, or portion of a resolution, may have superseded an earlier resolution on the same subject. As a result, with the exception of resolutions adopted at our most recent AFT convention, resolutions do not necessarily reflect current AFT policies.