1) How Much Attention Should We Pay
to AFT? The American Federation of Teachers is
often treated as an also-ran when it comes to national school labor issues,
even on these pages. Its professed membership of
1.4 million leaves it less than half the size of NEA, but even those
numbers tell less than half the story.
The legacy of Al Shanker and some
reform-minded statements by current AFT President Randi Weingarten have lent
the smaller union a reputation for being less hidebound than NEA. Whether
that is actually the case I'll leave for others to debate, but AFT's message
benefits from having almost all of its major locals in large cities and
media centers: New York City, Chicago, DC, Philadelphia, Houston, Boston,
Miami, Detroit, Dallas, Baltimore, and a share of Los Angeles and San
Francisco with NEA. In all those places, when AFT speaks, the press listens.
What isn't widely known is the union is virtually non-existent outside of
those cities - except in New York State.
The U.S. Department of Labor disclosure
reports for AFT and its affiliate, the New York State United Teachers,
reveal some surprising figures. The national union lists seven different
membership categories that total only 889,347 members. Since even this
number includes non-voting members, where the other 500,000 claimed members
come from is anyone's guess.
NYSUT's report lists four different
membership categories that total 587,297 (including almost 173,000
retirees). So if these figures have any meaning at all, they indicate that
two-thirds of AFT members reside in a single state - New York.
With such a situation, it was inevitable
that in places other than New York AFT's structure would place most power in
the hands of its locals. It also means national AFT has a lot less power,
relative to NEA, to influence events and policies in its locals. For better
or worse, the ideas Weingarten espouses as AFT president have fewer
practical implications than when she espoused them as president of New York
City's United Federation of Teachers.
There is an exception. When AFT's locals
have financial or other internal problems, the national union has the means
to exert its authority. The Detroit Federation of Teachers, for example,
is a mess, and owes AFT $681,000 in back dues that are more than six
months overdue. But
there is little evidence that AFT has the stomach for advancing a
national agenda (whatever it might be) through internal pressure on its
The lesson of Miami is instructive. It
is now almost seven years since the
FBI raided the offices of the United Teachers of Dade, leading to the
ouster of Pat Tornillo, the establishment of an AFT administratorship and
the eventual election of a new slate of local officers. The gross corruption
ended, but the petty infighting continued. UTD still owes its state
affiliate and AFT more than $6 million in back dues and loans stemming from
Tornillo's days. And no one is accusing UTD of being
After such a scandal, AFT had
unprecedented power and authority to create any kind of local it wanted in
Miami - and it created one virtually indistinguishable from the rest.
Well, you might say, maybe that's the
kind of local the Miami members wanted. Exactly. So why does it matter what
2) Last Week's Intercepts.
Intercepts, covered these topics from February 16-22:
Market Speaks! See how it works?
Civil War Within Detroit Federation of Teachers. With lots of
Teamsters to Gain Michigan NEA Local? Solidarity.
Randi Weingarten Statement on Arrest of Guam Federation of Teachers
President. If he hadn't broken the law, he wouldn't have been arrested.
Cynics and Skeptics Rejoice. Rick Hess is here for the kids.
Quote of the Week.
"The intimate entanglement of interests between elected officials and the
union is all about swapping favors, including some rather large ones that
have put county taxpayers on the hook for many millions of dollars. Most
officeholders, frightened of provoking the (Montgomery County Education
Association)'s wrath, are loath to question any provision of the generous,
and now unaffordable, contracts that the union has negotiated on behalf of
teachers. In effect, local officeholders are so beholden to the union that
they have forfeited their obligation to exercise independent oversight over
contract negotiations." - from the Washington Post editorial board.