Incumbent Holds Off Opposition in Philadelphia Union Election

On the heels of this story about a long-time incumbent union president being challenged by some members of his rank-and-file comes the election for officers of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Jerry Jordan has been president of PFT since 2007, but he faced strongly organized opposition from Kathleen Melville and her Caucus of Working Educators (WE).

WE wants to reverse PFT’s decline. It claims that membership has shrunk by 40%, from 21,000 to 13,000.

Turnout was high for a union election, with more than half of eligible members casting ballots. The final results have not yet been certified, but Jordan emerged as the clear winner, with somewhere between 60-66% of the vote.

The outcome was bittersweet for WE, which more than doubled its vote totals from four years ago and emerged as a force to be reckoned with. However, even as the caucus improved turnout, it couldn’t cobble together something closer to a majority.

WE is similar to other opposition caucuses throughout American Federation of Teachers affiliates in that it wants a more muscular approach to collective bargaining and a social justice focus. The caucus has received credit for demanding open contract negotiations, instead of the closed-door bargaining between district and union officers that is standard practice throughout the U.S.

But a closer look reveals that WE’s call for openness extends only to more members of the PFT. The caucus wants one member from each school to be present at the table, not the public.

The trend within teacher unions for more militant action bodes well for WE and caucuses like it. But in Philadelphia at least, it’s delayed by four years.