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AFT’s Weingarten Calls for ‘Solution-Driven Unionism’

America’s unions need to focus on “solution-driven unionism,” that advances solutions centered on uniting union members, the people they serve and the communities in which they live, AFT President Randi Weingarten told delegates at AFT’s convention in Detroit today.

America’s workers, she said in her keynote speech, are facing a “new normal” of severe budget cuts that jeopardize public education, health care and other critical services. Families have lost more than 30 percent of their wealth during the economic crisis and more than 100 bills introduced in state legislatures demonize and attack public employees and undermine public services.

This new reality—this new normal—demands an entirely new approach to unionism. An approach that is relevant and appropriate to the 21st century. More than ever, we need to act in innovative, creative and new ways—simultaneously refuting our critics, advancing our values, connecting with community and proposing solutions. That’s solution-driven unionism.

Some examples of “solution-driven unionism” that AFT has undertaken include:

  • Partnering with school districts in places such as New Haven to overhaul teacher development and evaluation and turn around low-performing schools;
  • Mitigating the impact that poverty and other out-of-school factors have on students in places like Cincinnati by offering wraparound services, including health and mental health services, tutoring, counseling and after-school programs;
  • Forming a diverse partnership in McDowell County, W.Va., the eighth-poorest county in the United States, focused not just on improving schools, but also on creating jobs, expanding infrastructure and affordable housing and improving transportation, recreation, housing;
  • Working with First Book in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and elsewhere to ensure that children have access to an essential building block to literacy—their very own books

She also noted that AFT is investing the pensions funds of educators in projects to rebuild America’s infrastructure and retrofit out-of-date buildings to make them more energy efficient and create jobs

“We’re rebuilding the middle class on multiple fronts,” said Weingarten.

Every day, in schools, universities, health care facilities and other worksites, AFT members are helping children and their families achieve a better future. And, while you’re at work building futures, some of your pension dollars will be at work—putting other union members to work building the middle class of today, as they build the infrastructure of tomorrow.

She also told delegates that AFT’s 1.5 million membership number has held steady despite the economic crisis.

On the political front, Weingarten emphasized what’s at stake in the 2012 election.

I see this presidential election not as a referendum on President Obama but as a day of judgment for a way of life, for our values, for democracy, for opportunity, for fairness and for the future of our country.

She contrasted Romney’s proposals to fire teachers and raise class sizes with Obama’s efforts to make college more affordable and invest in public education and public services.

The convention runs through Monday. Click here for the full keynote address and here for the latest updates from AFT.

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