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Randi Weingarten – Who is she?

June 26, 2011

Randi Weingarten is an interesting figure and I must admit to not knowing much about her.  I knew her name, and I knew that she was the head of a teacher’s union, but which union.  I thought it might be the National Education Association (NEA), but I was wrong.  It turns out that Ms. Weingarten is the head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

The reason I started to think about Randi is because the only national voice that I hear advocating for teachers on a consistent basis is the one emanating from Diane Ravitch.  This led me to wonder: “where are the top union voices on the challenging attacks that teachers are facing in today’s environment?”

I started to wonder why I had not seen anyone who might be advocating for teachers on any of the major talk shows.  Nor have I seen them quoted in newspapers, or even on liberal web-sites like DailyKos.  So, I have just begun to look into who Randi Weingarten is, what she stands for, what she has done to help and protect teacher’s rights.  The first article that I found is not all that promising.  It comes from the World Socialist Web-Site, so I realize that it is going to have a certain fringe slant to it but it says some interesting things about Ms. Weingarten which may serve to elucidate why I haven’t heard her speaking up for teachers, for example:

Like Johnson, Weingarten is a thoroughly discredited figure. She has collaborated with the Obama administration’s attack on public education on a national scale and overseen the destruction of the gains won by educators over decades of struggle. She has cultivated the closest of ties with the bitterest opponents of public education.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who addressed the 2010 AFT national convention, has given the union millions of dollars. In return, the AFT has helped implement joint labor-management “teacher effectiveness” projects across the country, which include performance-based “merit” pay and other tools to further victimize teachers.

If true, it disturbs me that the head of the American Federation of Teachers cannot see who is out to harm public education as we know it.  Bill Gates’s foundation has been in the past, and continues to be today, a harmful institution for working teachers everywhere.

Weingarten expresses fear of the growing radicalization of teachers and other sections of the working class. She is aware of what is being said by teachers and workers–the disappointment and anger over Obama and his complete support for Wall Street. The words “capitalism,” “revolution,” even “socialism” are increasingly heard.

Weingarten gets an incredible salary (see below), and if this article is correct, she wants to keep it that way by not rocking the boat too much.  I have long understood that people operate for their own self-interest first, when they feel alright with how they have set themselves up, then they look to help others.  Randi looks to be helping herself, and this following section is disturbing:

Like other officials within the AFL-CIO hierarchy, Weingarten is part of an increasingly wealthy upper-middle class stratum whose incomes are out of the reach of ordinary teachers. According to the Wall Street Journal, Weingarten received total compensation of more than $600,000 for 2010, including $194,188 accrued from New York City’s United Federation of Teachers before she left to become president of the AFT. Her counterpart in the National Education Association, Dennis Van Roekel, received $397,721 in salary and benefits.

These sums were amassed while the unions signed contracts robbing underpaid teachers of thousands of dollars each year and sanctioned the destruction of their jobs. At the same time, the union officials sit on corporate and political boards where they aid and abet corporate interests and the Obama administration in the destruction of public education.

During the course of the Detroit meeting, one building representative asked Weingarten why the AFT accepted $6.3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, under the name of school “reform,” was spearheading the attack on teachers and the spread of charter schools.

Weingarten’s answer should be posted above every under-served and overcrowded classroom in the Detroit Public Schools: “I am proud of getting money from Gates,” she said. “The more money we get from Gates, the less we take from union members. I refuse to be demonized by billionaires. If they want to give us money–fine.”

I think it is time that the teachers who pay the immense salaries for the heads of the AFT and the NEA got something in return, such as a LOUD voice which can be heard everywhere speaking out for and advocating for our profession.

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