During the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Federation of Teachers regularly pushed to keep schools closed. The Detroit chapter — the Detroit Federation of Teachers — even approved a strike to stop the district from reopening classrooms.
The union has changed its tone since, but it was a strange position to argue that in-person teaching, the core job of its membership, wasn’t all that important.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, David Hecker, is retiring after leading the union for 22 years. He has an op-ed listing his thoughts about “what the future of labor must be.” The following is a list of what he believes the union should focus on:
“Bring about fundamental progressive change”
“Proactively act on emerging issues like AI and climate change”
“Address societal problems like systemic racism, misogyny, attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, the greed-induced dissolution of a livable climate and the subversion of voting rights”
“Never just focusing on the next round of bargaining or just be about advocating for a higher raise”
The article does not discuss how the union should better represent its members or make a compelling case for its value. Instead, Hecker urges the union to engage in politics that are controversial and disconnected from education.
We are in a “period of labor resurgence,” Hecker writes, though in fact, union membership is at a historic low. Since Michigan passed a right-to-work law in 2012, allowing union members to withdraw their support, AFT-Michigan has shed one-third of its members. That decline has come despite a large increase in the teaching population. The union had more than 25,000 members in 2012, and it has fewer than 17,000 today.
Union leaders are often more interested in politics than promoting the interest of their members. In an environment where workers are free to opt out, members are showing their displeasure.
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