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Randi Weingarten (far right) with politician Al Franken
|Born|| December 18, 1957 |
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law|
|Occupation||Trade union leader; attorney|
|Known for||President, American Federation of Teachers|
Former president, United Federation of Teachers
|The neutrality of this article is disputed. (July 2014)|
Randi Weingarten (far right) with politician Al Franken
|Born|| December 18, 1957 |
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law|
|Occupation||Trade union leader; attorney|
|Known for||President, American Federation of Teachers|
Former president, United Federation of Teachers
Randi Weingarten (born December 18, 1957) is an American labor leader, attorney, and educator, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a member of the AFL-CIO, and former president of the United Federation of Teachers. New York magazine called her one of the most influential people in education in New York state and Crain's New York Business, an influential business publication, called her one of the 25 most powerful women in New York City business. In an editorial on July 3, 2009, titled "Head of the class: Outgoing UFT chief Randi Weingarten did right by her members", the New York Daily News said, "Randi Weingarten will be remembered as one of New York's most formidable union leaders—one with toughness, savvy and smarts to spare".
Weingarten was born in 1957 in New York City to Gabriel and Edith (Appelbaum) Weingarten. Her father was an electrical engineer and her mother a teacher. Weingarten grew up in Rockland County, New York, and attended Clarkstown High School North in New City, New York. A congregant of Beth Simchat Torah synagogue, she considers herself a deeply religious Jew.
Weingarten cites two events from her childhood which helped define her lifelong interest in trade unions and political advocacy. The first was the time her mother's union went on strike when Weingarten was in the eleventh grade. The strike lasted roughly seven weeks. Under New York state's Taylor Law, which provides for the resolution of disputes involving public employees through mediation and binding arbitration rather than work stoppages, her mother could have been fired taking part in a strike. Instead, she was fined two days' pay for every day she was on strike. Weingarten's father was out of work at the time, and the family suffered financial difficulties. The second incident occurred later that same year. The school board cut $2 million from the budget, which (among other things) would have led to the dismissal of the drivers' education instructor. Weingarten and several other students convinced the school board to let them conduct a survey regarding the impact of the cuts. The survey led several school board members to change their minds, and rescind the cuts.
From 1979 to 1980, Weingarten was a legislative assistant for the Labor Committee of the New York State Senate. She received a Bachelor of Science in labor relations from the ILR School at Cornell University in 1980 and a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law in 1983.
Weingarten then worked as a lawyer for the firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan from 1983 to 1986, where she handled several acrimonious arbitration cases on behalf of the UFT. She was appointed an adjunct instructor at the Cardozo School of Law in 1986. She also worked as an attorney in the real estate department of Wien Malkin and Bettex.
On October 11, 2007, Weingarten publicly announced she is a lesbian. Weingarten introduced Liz Margolies, 54, a psychotherapist and health care activist, as her partner while accepting the Empire State Pride Agenda's 2007 Community Service Award from Christine Quinn. As of December, 2012, she was in a relationship with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah.
In 1986, Weingarten became counsel to Sandra Feldman, then-president of the UFT. Weingarten handled high-level grievances for the union. She was also lead counsel for the union in a number of lawsuits against New York City and the state of New York over school funding and school safety. By the early 1990s, she was the union's primary negotiator in UFT contract negotiations. Her negotiating positions became more aggressive throughout the 1990s.
From 1991 until 1997 she taught at Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The classes she taught included Law, Ethical Issues in Medicine, AP Political Science, and US History and Government. Her Political Science students competed in the We the People civics competition and won that city championship every year. In 1993-94 and 1994–95, her students won the state championships; in 1994-95, they placed fourth in the national championship. Weingarten's former colleagues and students have discussed her time as a teacher. In 1995, Weingarten was elected Assistant Secretary of the UFT. She continued teaching per diem from 1995 to 1997.
Elected the union's Treasurer in 1997, she succeeded Feldman as President of the UFT a year later when Feldman was elected president of the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Weingarten was elected a Vice President of the AFT the same year, and continues to serve on the national union's Executive Council.
Weingarten has won re-election by consistently wide margins since her appointment in 1998. The local union's constitution required her to run for the UFT presidency within a year of her appointment. She received 74 percent of the vote against two opponents in 1999, and served the final two years of Feldman's term. She ran in 2001 for a full term and was re-elected. She won her third full three-year term with more than 88 percent of the vote, despite having two opposition candidates. On March 30, 2007, Weingarten won re-election to a fourth term as UFT President, garnering 87 percent of the vote.
On June 24, 2009, Weingarten announced she would step down from her post as president of the United Federation of Teachers effective July 31, 2009. The New York Post reported on January 16, 2011, that Weingarten had received a $194,188 “golden parachute” from the UFT, representing unused vacation days and sick time, which “brought her total 2010 compensation to a whopping $600,000....Not many companies allow employees to cash out unused vacation days; even fewer pay out unused sick time on top of that,” the Post noted, and asked “how UFT rank-and-filers feel about the boodle coming from their dues.” Weingarten, the Post complained, “is essentially gouging her union in much the same way that the union has taken advantage of New York’s fisc over the years.”
Weingarten began negotiating her first contract as UFT president in 2000. Talks with the Giuliani administration began in early September 2000, but the contract expired on November 15, 2000, without a new agreement. By March 2001, the talks deadlocked and a state mediator was called in. When AFSCME District Council 37, which represents non-school city workers, settled a contract with a small wage increase, it put pressure on Weingarten to do likewise, but she held firm. Talks collapsed on June 5, and Weingarten asked for state arbitration.
To pressure Giuliani, Weingarten endorsed Alan Hevesi in the Democratic primary. In the run-off between Green and Ferrer, Weingarten endorsed Ferrer, who lost to Green. Bloomberg defeated Green in the November 2001 election. Weingarten demanded a 22 percent wage hike; Giuliani offered 8 percent . Talks collapsed on March 9, and Weingarten began preparing the UFT for its first strike since the early 1970s. In the state arbitration panel's mid-April report, it advocated a major salary boost and a longer work week. A new collective bargaining agreement raising wages 16 to 22 percent and lengthening the work week by 100 minutes was agreed to on June 10, and ratified by the union on June 25.
The UFT's contract expired on May 31, 2003.Once again, negotiations proved contentious. In January 2004, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein proposed a merit-pay deal; in February, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed replacing the union's 200-page contract with an 8-page set of guidelines. Weingarten rejected these proposals, and asked for state mediation in late March 2004. In May, Weingarten agreed to discuss merit payIn October, talks collapsed again, and  The union began a public-relations campaign featuring subway and TV ads demanding a contract and held protests and marches.. On June 1, 2005, nearly 20,000 teachers—about a quarter of the UFT membership—packed Madison Square Garden for a rally at which Weingarten denounced Bloomberg and Klein, asked for a strike vote, and requested state arbitration. Contract talks resumed in August and September. A tentative contract was reached on October 3, 2005. The union won a wage increase of 14.25 percent over 52 months, retroactive to June 1, 2003. In return, it accepted a slightly longer workday (with the extra time devoted to tutoring) and agreed to eliminate union control over some staffing decisions. The contract, ratified on November 3, 2005, passed with just 63 percent of UFT members in favor.
Weingarten concluded her third collective bargaining agreement on November 6, 2006, when the union and city reached a tentative deal to increase pay by 7.1 percent over two years. She spearheaded a citiwide coalition for bargaining in June and based upon that, several unions concluded talks quickly. The agreement raised base pay for senior teachers above $100,000 a year, bringing city salaries in line with those in New York City's suburbs for the first time. The city did not seek any increases in the work day or work load or any other concessions, as it had with other unions. Negotiations over health benefits were to be conducted separately in talks with the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group for municipal unions which Weingarten chairs.
Observers said Bloomberg sought an early contract in order to win UFT support in his struggle with Governor Eliot Spitzer over school funding. In October 2007, Weingarten agreed to two agreements whereby the city and the UFT would jointly seek legislative approval for a new pension deal allowing teachers with 25 years of service to retire at age 55 and providing bonuses to all teachers in schools that showed a certain level of improvement in student achievement. In June 2009, Weingarten negotiated some pension modifications for new teachers in exchange for maintaining the age 55 pension and for allowing teachers to return to their traditional post-Labor Day start date.
In 2003, Weingarten sold the UFT's headquarters at 260 Park Avenue South and two other buildings at 48 and 49 East 21st Street for $63.6 million and moved the union's offices to Lower Manhattan, purchasing a building at 50 Broadway for $53.75 million and leasing the building next to it, 52 Broadway, for 32 years. The UFT also financed a $40 million renovation of both buildings.
The UFT represents all teachers, paraprofessional school employees, and professionals (such as school nurses, school psychologists, and others) in the New York City schools. The UFT saw some membership growth under Weingarten among these workers, as the union has pushed for additional staffing.
The UFT also has a registered nurse division which represents roughly 2,800 registered nurses at Lutheran Medical Center, Staten Island University Hospital-South, Jewish Home and Hospital Home Health Agency, and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. The UFT saw more growth in this division, as the Visiting Nurse Service expanded and the union organized non-RN units at the non-profit company.
Weingarten's largest organizing victory came when the UFT organized child care providers in New York City. The campaign began in 2005, and concluded in 2007. The organizing drive—the largest successful unionization campaign in the city since 1960, when the United Federation of Teachers itself was formed—added 28,000 workers to the union's 113,000 active and 56,000 retired members.
On February 12, 2008, AFT President Edward J. McElroy announced he would retire at the union's regularly scheduled biennial convention in July. On July 14, Weingarten was elected to succeed him. She is now the first openly gay individual to be elected president of a national American labor union. In her first year, she fought for resources to keep schools and other public institutions afloat during the ongoing fiscal crises, and has started an AFT Innovation Fund to promote and disseminate innovative educational reform by teachers and their union.
Weingarten and the UFT endorsed George Pataki for re-election as Governor of New York in 2002. Weingarten has been described as a "kingmaker" in New York City mayoral politics due to her union leadership position. Julia Levy reported in the New York Sun on February 1, 2005, that candidates for mayor of New York were meeting with Weingarten, and “political experts” were saying that “Weingarten has become something of a kingmaker.” The UFT's endorsement, wrote Levy, meant “votes, campaign volunteers, and information.”
A lifelong Democrat, Weingarten is a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). She was an early and critically important supporter of Howard Dean as Chairman of the DNC. She is a superdelegate who was pledged to Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary. In January 2009, she was mentioned as a possible candidate in the appointment process to replace Clinton's U.S. Senate seat.
Weingarten has been on the following boards as of the year's indicated.
For many years, Weingarten and the UFT struggled openly against City Hall and the Board of Education for control of the schools. While often presenting herself as a supporter of reform who only wished to ensure that reforms did not shred teachers' rights, Weingarten was in fact an uncompromising opponent of efforts by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg to reform the city's schools on many fronts. In Spring 1998, Sol Stern dismissed Weingarten's claim to support school reform as “pure union propaganda.”
Carl Campanile reported in the New York Post on January 21, 2004, that Weingarten had called for union members to send 50,000 e-mails to schools chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg during January “about the micromanagement and mismanagement issues that make your job more difficult this year.”
John Stossel wrote on February 23, 2006, about a rally held by Weingarten at Madison Square Garden at which teachers demanded “a new contract and more money.” Stossel noted that the teachers unions “can pay for expensive rallies at 'the world's most famous arena' because every teacher in a unionized district like New York must give up some of his salary to the union. Even teachers who don't like the union, teachers who believe in school choice, and teachers who could make more on the open market must fork over their money to support the unions that fight against school choice and merit pay.” Calling the present situation in New York schools a nightmare, Stossel wrote that “the unions fight to protect the nightmare” and mocked Weingarten's promise that the UFT would “police our own profession,” saying “I'd like to police my own job, too. And I'll bet some students would just love to police their own homework!” He accused Weingarten of “protect[ing] incompetents” and “reward[ing] mediocrity.” He said that he had “confronted Weingarten,” telling her that “Unionized monopolies like yours fail. In this case, it is the children who - who you are failing.” She replied by rejecting the label “unionized monopoly” and by saying that her critics “don't really care about kids.”
The editors of the New York Post wrote on February 28, 2007, about a planned gathering of opponents of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public-school reform efforts, describing some of the participants as “a bought-and-paid-for chorus of false reformers” who “dance to the tunes of Randi Weingarten...who has been trying to derail real reform since Mayor Mike wrested control of the schools from the educrats some five years ago.” Calling the UFT “one of the richest special interests in America, the Post maintained that Weingarten does not care "about New York’s schoolchildren” but rather, is loyal “to her members.”
Andrew Wolf wrote in the New York Sun on April 20, 2007, that Mayor Bloomberg had called the UFT the “number one” obstacle to education reform, but that he had now reached a compromise with a coalition including the UFT, ACORN, and the Working Families Party. Wolf also noted that Weingarten, speaking to parent groups in a conference call, had called Department of Education officials “absolute and complete assholes” who “can't be trusted.”
In later years, Weingarten and city authorities developed a better working relationship, with Sol Stern writing in the City Journal on September 30, 2009, that “The UFT and the Bloomberg administration have increasingly developed a cartel-like working relationship, with New York taxpayers paying the price.”
The New York Post noted on June 2, 2009, that Weingarten, “who’d previously vowed to gut City Hall’s control over the schools,” had now “delivered a nearly full-throated endorsement of it,” reflecting her recognition of the “sweeping, and undeniable” progress in test scores of elementary-school pupils,
Reacting on July 7, 2009, to Weingarten's statement, on taking control of the AFT, that New York City is “the best laboratory in the world for trying new things,” the editors of the Wall Street Journal said this could be true “if it weren't for Ms. Weingarten's union,” which under her direction had done everything possible “to block significant reforms to New York's public schools.”
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was quoted in 2009 as saying that “The three principles that govern our system are lockstep compensation, seniority, and tenure. All three are not right for our children.” Brill noted that by the time Bloomberg had become mayor, “many education reformers believed that the U.F.T. and its political allies had gained so much clout that it had become impossible for the city’s Board of Education, which already shared a lot of power with local boards, to maintain effective school oversight.”
Weingarten was arrested in March 2013 for blocking the entrance to a room in which the Philadelphia School Reform Commission was meeting.
During her tenure as UFT president, Weingarten has pushed for higher salaries and improved training for teachers, often agreeing to longer work days and more tutoring time in order to win better pay. Between 2002 and 2007, salaries for New York City teachers rose 42 percent. Weingarten has also endorsed merit pay for city teachers, and in 2007 negotiated a controversial contract which paid teachers bonuses if their students' test scores rose.
Weingarten has been frequently accused of holding the position that the main solution to problems with education is higher salaries for teachers. Bob McManus noted in a June 14, 1999, article that “67 percent of New York City’s fourth-graders” had “turned up functionally illiterate in state tests in May” and that the response from the UFT was to call for “more 'classroom resources' (i.e., Big League raises).” McManus argued that “There’s more to this crisis than money – or the lack of it” and called on Weingarten to “get out of the way of folks who believe they can get the job done for less.”
Weingarten was for many years a strong opponent of merit pay for teacher. Nicole Gelinas wrote in City Journal on June 16, 2005, that if New York wanted to attract the best teachers, the answer was merit pay, which Schools Chancellor Joel Klein supported, but Weingarten opposed. “Striking a Marxoid note a little while back, Weingarten declared that merit-pay plans 'pit teachers against each other instead of encouraging a collaborative school culture.' What Weingarten and the union do not see...is that competition is healthy....Until Weingarten budges, though, virtue will have to be its own reward for New York’s teachers.”
After years of fighting merit pay for city teachers, Weingarten negotiated a contract in 2007 which was hailed as a triumph for supporters of merit pay. However, Andrew Wolf, in an October 19, 2007, article in the New York Sun entitled “Socialism for Schools,” wrote that despite some observers' perception that “Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have just won a victory over the teachers' union by gaining approval of a merit pay scheme,” the real winner was Weingarten, who had gained power for the UFT. The new plan, Wolf pointed out, did not reward individual performance but treated each school as a collective, with union committees dividing bonuses among all union members, including school secretaries and others.
In October 2012, however, after what the New York Times called “months of intense and late-night negotiations,” Weingarten and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reached a “landmark compromise,” agreeing on a new contract for teachers in the Newark school system. Although, as the Times noted, Weingarten “had criticized what she calls 'merit pay schemes,'” she “agreed to embrace the concept in exchange for a promise that teachers would have a rare role in evaluating performance.” After this agreement was reached, supporters of merit pay for New York City public-school teachers expressed hope that the UFT, which had “always opposed individual merit pay initiatives,” would now follow Weingarten's example.
For many years, Weingarten defended teacher tenure against critics. When Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said in 2009 that she had been prevented by a hip injury from introducing a measure to form a commission to study teacher-tenure reform, to which the UFT had agreed as a compromise measure, the New York Post editorialized that this inaction “has the United Federation of Teachers chief’s fingerprints all over it.” The Post noted that Nolan had managed to pass “77 other education bills...while she was out for surgery,” making it likely that Weingarten had “yanked her puppet strings...to have Nolan quietly kill the commission.” In a February 2011 interview, however, Weingarten acknowledged that “tenure needs to be reformed,” noting that the AFT had just adopted recommentations for tenure reform. Observing that the issue of teacher tenure had “erupted recently, with many districts anticipating layoffs because of slashed budgets” and with mayors such as Michael R. Bloomberg in New York City and Cory A. Booker in Newark “attack[ing] seniority laws,” the New York Times repoorted that Weingarten had agreed to support some kind of tenure reform “lest the issue be used against unions to strip their influence over work life in schools.”
Weingarten has strongly supported defined benefit pension plans for teachers. Sol Stern wrote in City Journal on June 25, 2009, that a pension agreement reached between Weingarten and the Bloomberg administration on teacher pensions would “probably wind up harming Gotham’s students.” Under the agreement, teachers would “make no sacrifices to help ease the city’s economic and fiscal crisis” and would even get “a shorter work year,” with a ten and a half week summer vacation.
Weingarten organized an action in April 2013 to confront Dan Loeb, a New York investment manager and board member of the New York chapter of StudentsFirst, over his supposed opposition to defined benefit pension plans for public employees. In the same month, The Wall Steeet Journal described Weingarten as “trying to strong-arm pension trustees not to invest in hedge funds or private-equity funds that support education reform.” Weingarten had, according to the Journal, “tried to sandbag hedge fund investor Dan Loeb at a conference sponsored by the Council of Institutional Investors,” because she was troubled by the fact “that Mr. Loeb puts his own money behind school reform and charter schools.”
Weingarten had demanded a meeting with Loeb at the conference, but he had “wisely declined the honor of showing up for this political mugging.” This “attempted ambush,” noted the Journal, “coincides with a new report that her union sent to pension trustees this week called 'Ranking Asset Managers,'” with the rankings based not on “return on investment” but on such matters “as a manager’s position on collective bargaining, privatization [read: vouchers] or proposals to discontinue providing benefits through defined benefit plans.” The Journal suggested that “the real source of Ms. Weingarten’s union fury” is that “She knows unions are losing the moral and political debate over reform, as more Americans conclude that her policies are consigning millions of children to a life of diminished opportunity.” Hence, her “bullying pension trustees to bully hedge funds to cut off funding for poor kids in Harlem. Every time we wonder if we’re too cynical about unions, they remind us that we’re not nearly cynical enough.”
Weingarten is a vigorous opponent of standardized testing. Frankie Edozien of the New York Post reported on May 20, 2004, that Weingarten had “joined a lawsuit to toss out the high-stakes third-grade English test” because “some kids got an advance peek at some questions before the original test, and...there was conflicting information on last week’s makeup exam.” While “Weingarten argued that the mistakes make the results invalid and unreliable,” Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's office replied that “only a small number of students” were affected by the problems.
Sol Stern, writing in the City Journal in 1999, compared “Milwaukee's healthy approach to school choice” to Weingarten's promise to “fight with every resource at our disposal any attempt by the mayor to create a voucher system” in New York. Given the UFT's “impressive” resources, Stern argued, Mayor Giuliani was courageous to take on “what promises to be a long fight for the beleaguered parents of New York's schoolchildren.”
Reporting on a 1999 "teach-in" by the Emergency Coalition Against Vouchers, featuring Weingarten, Stern commented that “calling the rally...a teach-in was almost Orwellian. Despite the nostalgic references to the sixties, this event was the antithesis of insurgency,” with Weingarten making it clear that whatever the wishes of parents and the public, she “had the political clout to block even a tiny experimental voucher plan.”
Thomas W. Carroll of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability maintained in a February 6, 2007, article that Weingarten was seeking to unionize charter schools against the will of the teachers at those schools. To this end she was trying to institute a unionization process involving the collection of pro-union teachers' instead of the current system under which teachers vote on unionization by secret ballot. He said Weingarten had claimed that teachers had been fired from charter schools for wanting a union, but had never been able to prove “these wild allegations.”
The New York Post noted on April 10, 2009, that UFT activist had “sought to push City Council members into grilling Department of Education officials during a hearing on charter schools...while taking it easy on union officials.” When this “puppeteering” went public, Weingarten told Fox 5 that she would “make some changes at the union to make sure that that never happens again” and claimed that former City Council Education Committee Chairwoman Eva Moskowitz, who had criticized the UFT's actions, “used to ask us all the time, when she was education chair, for questions to prep the City Council about what’s really going on in schools.” Moskowitz, head of a network of four charter schools in Harlem, called Weingarten’s charge “utterly false” and “defamatory.”
The editors of the New York Post wrote on August 6, 2011, about an AFT lobbyist's PowerPoint presentation that “underscore[d] the sharp disparity between the union’s public posture and its actual policies.” The presentation had “detailed how the union successfully rebuffed efforts” by parents and education reformers in Connecticut to pass a law enabling parents to “reconstitute a consistently failing school into a charter school” and thus made clear, in the Post's eyes, that the AFT's concerns are not with parents or students but with union jobs. After the presentation was made public, the AFT posted an announcement stating that the presentation did “not represent AFT’s position.” Gwen Samuel of the Connecticut Parent Union told the Hartford Courant: “I’m concerned that they were so bold. This screams, ‘I’m untouchable.’ ”
The editors of the New York Post noted on October 8, 2012, that the new film “Won’t Back Down,” about a teacher and parent who help transform a failing school into a charter school, had “drawn the acid-laced enmity” of Weingarten, who had accused the film of employing “the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen” and of placing blame for failing schools “on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.” Several days earlier, AFT members had held a protest outside the film premiere of the new pro-charter schools movie “Won’t Back Down.” Rich Lowry commented: “As well they should have. Just as tobacco executives should have protested at the opening of 'The Insider.' And corporate polluters should have chanted taunts outside every theater showing 'Erin Brockovich.' And CEOs of nuclear-power companies should have formed a human chain to block the red carpet at the premiere of 'The China Syndrome.'” Lowry opined that Weingarten objected to the film not because its characters were stereotypes, as she charged, but because “they are revelations.”
In a 2013 debate in New Haven, Weingarten argued “that charters suck money out of regular school districts” and “offered Chile as a public educator’s nightmare of school choice gone wrong.” Her debate opponent “said he did not want to talk about Chile when there are successful examples of charter schools in the U.S. that have improved results for low-income kids.”
Weingarten has been frequently criticized over the years for resisting attempts to address the problem of teacher incompetence. When New York schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced a new peer-review process in 2007 to identify bad teachers, Weingarten called the plan “a stake in the heart of every teacher.”
The editors of the New York Sun noted on September 17, 2007, that Weingarten, when asked on a talk show about teacher accountability, she replied: “When people say to me, you know, well, why shouldn't teachers be, you know, judged on the test scores of their kids? I say to them…would you want your oncologist, or your mom or dad's oncologist to be graded on the survival rates of his or her patients?" The Sun's editors noted that doctors are, in fact, “held accountable for performance....Would that teachers were held to such standards as exist in the oncology ward.”
The New York Post noted in January 22, 2008, that “Weingarten promised a full-arsenal fight if the Department of Education attempts to judge individual teachers based on their students’ test scores.”
About a new pilot program to determine teacher effectiveness, Weingarten commented in 2008: “There are so many educational and technical flaws in this concept that I find it shocking that the school system is even considering it.”
Editorializing about Weingarten's acceptance speech at the 2008 AFT convention, the New York Post commented that she had “laid out her vision for 'community schools' that do everything but, well, teach.” The Post described her as envisioning a “one-stop nanny state...owned and operated by Randi Weingarten & Co.” and suggested that her “push for all-purpose schools” was a way of “dodg[ing] teacher accountability in the one area schools are built for – teaching kids how to read, write and do numbers.”
Writing in the New Yorker on August 31, 2009, Steven Brill quoted a school principal as saying that Weingarten “would protect a dead body in the classroom.” He quoted a teacher who had been suspended for incompetence, and who still earned over a hundred thousand dollars a year, as complaining that “Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence.”
US Education Secretary Arne Duncan was scheduled to hold a press conference at PS 65 in Brooklyn on May 18, 2010, but after Weingarten made a call to Duncan complaining about the schools principal, Daysi Garcia, Duncan changed the press-conference venue. The New York Post editorialized that it was “no surprise that Garcia is the sort of principal Weingarten can’t abide,” given that Garcia “makes her teachers work — and she demands results.” The Post cited a New Yorker article which had reported that Garcia had dared to identify and remove incompetent teachers, and consequently turned the school around, improving reading and math scores dramatically. The Post suggested that the lessons here were that “It’s not just charter schools that get the union’s goat — it’s any school that gives kids a decent education by holding teachers accountable” and that “The union will fight to the very end.”
Writing on May 30, 2013, about efforts to get “New York state's teachers unions to accept personal accountability as a bedrock principle of public-education reform,” Bob McManus of the New York Post commented that Weingarten “once seemed to have a conscience on such matters — but no more,” decorating her rhetoric “with filigrees of reform,” while adhering to the principle that “No tenured teacher, under any circumstances, is to be held to account for any failing of any sort — forever and ever, amen.”
New York City schools chancellor Dennis M. Walcott wrote on September 6, 2013, that the Board of Education had managed, despite fierce resistance by the UFT, to establish “an accountability system that included qualitative reviews and Progress Reports,” to end “the absurd practice of promoting students to higher grades if they lacked the skills to succeed,” and to institute “the first genuine teacher-evaluation system in the history of the school system.”
Weingarten has been a severe critic of proposals to allow parents to use tax credits to help pay to send their children to private school. Citing Weingarten's statement that allowing parents to apply tax credits to private-school tuition was "like saying government should reimburse people who drink bottled water instead of tap water — or those who park in a garage even when there is space on the street,” the editors of the New York Sun argued on November 21, 2006, that “bottled water and garage parking are luxuries, more expensive than tap water or street parking,” while educating a child in a New York Catholic school, for example, costs one-quarter as much as educating a public-school student.
Smaller class sizes have also been a major initiative of the UFT under Weingarten. She attempted to tie smaller class sizes to salaries in each of the three collective bargaining agreements she has negotiated, and linked class size to school repair and rebuilding issues. In 2003, Weingarten and the UFT pushed for a change to the New York City Charter which would force the city to reduce class sizes. The charter revision became caught in lawsuits and was eventually dropped, although Weingarten continued to advocate for smaller class sizes.
A New York Sun editorial on May 20, 2003, questioned Weingarten's focus on this issue and challenged her argument that class size is a critical factor in learning, noting that “America has been reducing class sizes steadily for the last half century, with little to show in results.”
Weingarten has been a staunch supporter of the LIFO policy (“last in, first out”), otherwise known as teacher seniority. When Education Secretary Arne Duncan changed a February 2011 speech at the last minute to remove a negative reference to the LIFO policy, under which the last teacher to be hired must be the first one fired, the New York Post editorialized that the action “has the fingerprints of Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers all over it.” Asked in a 2011 Wall Street Journal interview about LIFO, Weingarten defended it, saying: “It's not the perfect mechanism but it's the best mechanism we have. You have cronyism and corruption and discrimination issues. We're saying let's do things the right way. We don't want to see people getting laid off based on who they know instead of what they know. We don't want to see people get laid off based on how much they cost.”
In an October 5, 2007, New York Sun article, Eliot Brown wrote that a new Bronx apartment complex would be open only to UFT members. “Our members have said we want to live in the city and raise our families in the city, but we can't afford it, so this is something we've been looking at for a while,” Weingarten said.
In December 2007, Weingarten cancelled the subsidized-housing deal after discovering that the developer would not be using unionized construction workers. Unions, she said, “should be standing up for each other.” The New York Post commented that “it clearly doesn’t occur to Weingarten that using non-union labor is a major reason developers can build 'affordable' apartments” and that “she is imperiling a project that is beneficial to her teacher constituency for the 'greater good' of the broader labor movement.” The Post noted that Weingarten, in addition to running the UFT, “also chairs the Municipal Labor Committee – an umbrella group of more than 100 city unions.” Observing that because of her solidarity, “200 or so teachers may lose out on inexpensive apartments and – if the project falls through – several jobs won’t be created at all,” the Post said that Weingarten had proven the truth of the “biblical adage...that a man can’t serve two masters.”
Sol Stern wrote in the Summer 1998 issue of City Journal about Weingarten's opposition to a proposed dress code for teachers, calling it “a diversion from the real job at hand.”
The New York Post criticized Weingarten in a February 6, 2013, editorial for signing on to a report by a coalition of unions and other groups calling for a range of new regulation to govern foreign workers. “We’re not surprised the AFT is on board,” the Post commented. “If you think of our public schools primarily as a jobs program, it makes perfect sense.”
A speech that Weingarten gave in 2011 turned out to have been plagiarized from a NY 1 series on a flawed Board of Education computer system. “When a journalist, politician or student uses someone else's words without attribution in a speech or a paper, it's called plagiarism – and it's often enough to get a journalist fired, a politician embarrassed or a student kicked out of school,” commented NY1.
In 2010, the AFT and Weingarten specifically were charged with interfering in the local elections of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU). The elections had been scheduled for May but postponed because of a dispute over procedural questions. In August of that year, Weingarten imposed a deadline on WTU President George Parker to comply with an order "to hold a mid-September election for new officers and delegates, or the contest will be taken out of his hands and conducted by the national parent organization." Parker objected that Weingarten had no authority to interfere in this manner. Weingarten ultimately took over the election.
In December 2014, as the U.S. was grappling with the fallout from article in Rolling Stone that inaccurately detailed an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia and was eventually retracted, Weingarten wrote in Jezebel to promote continued effort to address the issue of sexual assault and the kind of culture that tolerates it. She shared that she herself had almost been raped as a college student.
Steven Brill's book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools (2011) described the success of charter schools, using the Success Academy Charter Schools (then known as Harlem Success Academy) as an example, and profiled teacher Jessica Reid as a model of what could be done without union restrictions. He described how unions, particularly the United Federation of Teachers and Weingarten in New York City, protected incompetent teachers, and were opposed to pay-for-performance, and obstructed necessary reforms, a system he previously exposed in The New Yorker.
But by the time Brill was writing the end of the book, Reid had quit. The long hours and stress of her job, with nightly calls to parents, and constant prodding of students, were affecting her marriage. Brill changed his position on charter schools and unions. He said that after two years of researching school reform, he understood the complexities. He reversed his view of Weingarten, and proposed that Bloomberg appoint her chancellor of the school system.
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Edward J. McElroy
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