Person

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten at a Hillary for Obama rally in 2008. (link) by Molly Theobald, for the aflcio2008 is licensed CC BY 2.0 (link)

Randi Weingarten is a 30-year union executive who, aside from a brief one-semester stint as a full-time teacher, [1] has almost exclusively served as a union leader. Joining the New York local United Federation of Teachers (UFT) as the then-president’s legal strategist in 1986, Weingarten would rise to be appointed President of the UFT in 1998.[2] In 2008, she became president of the UFT’s national parent union, the American Federation of Teachers. [3]

Weingarten earns an annual salary and expenses of roughly $500,000 from teachers’ union dues and mandatory agency fees while overseeing a union budget that spends over $1.6 million on luxury hotels, travel, and cars for union executives.[4]

Weingarten has faced stiff criticism for her insincerity and hypocrisy on education reform. Many critics claim that Weingarten says that she is pro-reform, but her union has fought reforms that do not benefit the union.[5] Weingarten’s actions and positions have been criticized for protecting bad teachers,[6] putting teachers’ priorities over the needs of students,[7] and trying to expand her union through a process of intimidation.[8]

Under Weingarten’s leadership, AFT political spending has grown from $15 million[9] to $44 million in less than a decade.[10] With this increase in political spending, Weingarten has established herself as a Democratic Party powerhouse.[11] She is a member of the Democracy Alliance, the convening of major left-of-center donors and donor groups.[12] She is also reportedly a personal friend of Hillary Clinton, and in early 2015 was widely criticized for pushing through her union’s endorsement of the former Secretary of State’s Presidential campaign without a vote of the AFT’s membership.[13] This endorsement, along with the union’s PAC contributions and independent expenditure support, was said to have earned Weingarten cachet within the Clinton campaign apparatus as a campaign surrogate.[14]

Weingarten’s political involvement has garnered her a reputation as one of the nation’s most prominent left-of-center activists. As such she has promoted left-wing positions on issues including abortion,[15] government-controlled healthcare,[16] legal status for illegal immigrants[17] and sanctuary policies,[18] the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal,[19] and against free trade.[20][21]

Background

Rhonda “Randi” Weingarten was born in New York and raised in Rockland County.[22] Her mother was an elementary school teacher, and her father was an electrical engineer. In eleventh grade, she joined her mother on the picket line of a teachers’ union strike.[23]

Weingarten earned a degree in labor relations from Cornell University in 1980 and a law degree from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law in 1983.[24]

After law school, Weingarten worked for the law firm Stroock and Stroock and Lavan[25] until 1986, when she went to work for the United Federation of Teachers.[26]

In 2008, Weingarten was elected president of the national American Federation of Teachers, becoming the first openly gay leader of an American national labor union.[27]

Union Career

In 1986, then-United Federation of Teachers president Sandra Feldman recruited Weingarten from her law firm job to serve as her aide and as counsel to the United Federation of Teachers, taking a lead role in contract negotiations and union lawsuits.[28]

In addition to her work for the UFT,[29] Weingarten got a teaching certification and began teaching at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn for six years, from 1991 to 1997.[30] She was only “full-time for half of that period.”[31]

Weingarten was elected assistant secretary of the UFT in 1995 and then treasurer in 1997.[32] Weingarten was also elected vice president for the national American Federation of Teachers in 1997.[33]

In 1998, as departing UFT president Sandra Feldman’s hand-picked successor, Weingarten was appointed president of the union by the union’s executive board to serve the remainder of Feldman’s term. She subsequently won election to the office in 1999.[34]

Like her predecessors, Weingarten faced no serious opposition as head of the UFT. In 2007 she defeated an opponent with 86.2% of the vote.[35]

In July 2008, Weingarten was elected president of the AFT.[36]

Controversies

During her time as United Federation of Teachers leader, Weingarten faced criticism for not being a representative embodiment of her members[37]and for focusing on politics, which was “out of touch with the far more professional concerns of teachers.”[38]

Though Weingarten often takes credit for serving as a teacher at Clara Barton High School in New York, left-wing newspaper Village Voice called out Weingarten’s “walk in the shoes of teachers” rhetoric because she was only briefly a “per diem” teacher teaching one out of every four days and only taught one semester as a full-time teacher.[39]

The Village Voice also noted that Weingarten was credited with two years of full-time service even though she readily admitted that she was not a full-time teacher during those years. Credited with the required two years of full-time teaching service, Weingarten, seemingly improperly, accepted a permanent teaching certificate in September 1996, which she used to “accumulate a total of nine years of pensionable city time though she only did one semester of full-time teaching.”[40]

Compensation

In 2015, the American Federation of Teachers “paid union president Randi Weingarten, one of the nation’s most prominent  ‘progressive’ activists, a total of $497,118. The union reported only 2 percent of her time as political activity.”[41] Under Weingarten’s watch, the union “spent more than $1.3 million on luxury hotels, more than $300,000 on foreign travel and an eye-popping $59,368 on car services between 2011 and 2014.”[42]

In 2014, in response to revelations that the AFT spent over $112,000 with one limousine company, the Washington Free Beacon wrote an article quoting a union critic saying, “While [Randi Weingarten] campaigns for redistributive tax policies and ‘shared sacrifice,’ she is merrily living the life of the one percent, with a half million dollar compensation package, a house in East Hampton, and even chauffeured limo rides for her and her lieutenants—all paid for by American Federation of Teachers member dues.” [43]

UFT Golden Parachute

According to a New York Post review of United Federation of Teachers’ annual labor filings, when Weingarten left the United Federation of Teachers to take over as President of the American Federation of Teachers she took home a “golden parachute” of $194,188 by cashing in unused sick time and vacation.[44]  That payout brought her total 2010 compensation to a whopping $600,000. The New York Post wrote, “not many companies allow employees to cash out unused vacation days; even fewer pay out unused sick time on top of that.”[45]

Education Reform

Weingarten has faced numerous criticisms of hypocrisy when it comes to her education reform priorities. As author and Stanford Professor Terry Moe wrote, Weingarten’s actions speak louder than her words in that she “talks the talk of reform… but there is a giant gulf between what she says and what she does.”[46]

Moe pointed out that despite her public assertions in support of education reforms, Weingarten’s support for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary over the more pro-reform candidate Barack Obama showed that Weingarten actually opposed teacher accountability reforms.[47]

Moe concluded by arguing that while Weingarten outwardly positions herself as pro-education reform, “when the details are actually hashed out, she will only go as far as she has to-and she will ultimately weaken, limit, and dissipate reform” when it benefits the interests of her unionized teachers.[48]

In 2011, the Wall Street Journal noted Weingarten’s hypocrisy on a variety of teacher reforms saying, “Ms. Weingarten insists that teachers unions are agents of change, not defenders of the status quo. But in the next breath she shoots down suggestions for changes—vouchers, charter schools, differential teacher pay and so on—that have become important parts of the reform conversation.”[49]

This was far from the first time she has faced criticisms over her hypocritical education reform stance. In 2010, former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee blasted Weingarten for her hypocrisy on the education reform issue saying, “you cannot say you support effective teachers and then send me lawsuits when I fire teachers.”[50]

Similarly in 2007, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) labeled Weingarten’s United Federation of Teachers the “number one” impediment toward education reform. It was reported that Weingarten, during the negotiations over the Mayor’s education reform plan, called city Department of Education officials “absolute and complete a[**]holes.”[51]

Protecting Bad Teachers

Weingarten has claimed that the unions she has led favor teacher accountability. In 2004, she wrote, “This is a union that is not about just keeping people. We are about keeping qualified people.”[52]

However, over the years Weingarten has often used the veil of “due process” to support teacher tenure and teacher termination policies that made it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers. In 2007 for instance, as head of the United Federation of Teachers, Weinstein negotiated a contract that retained the use of New York’s controversial “rubber rooms” where hundreds of teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence were sent to holding rooms in which they clocked in to work but were not required to do anything while their termination arbitration proceedings worked through a seemingly endless bureaucratic process.[53]

Anthony Lombardi, the principal of a mostly minority Queens elementary school once said of Weingarten: “Randi Weingarten would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.”[54]

In 2014, as president of the American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten blasted a California judicial ruling that struck down the state’s teacher tenure laws which, the judge ruled, allow ineffective teachers to obtain and retain permanent employment in schools that predominantly serve low-income and minority students. Weingarten’s position put her opposite the Obama administration, which was more open to the ruling.[55]

Merit Pay

In March 2009, as the newly elected president of the American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten gave a major speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C where she opposed “merit pay”  for teachers based upon their students’ test scores but supported school-wide differentiated pay, salary bonuses given to every teacher when the school’s overall academic performance improves.[56]

However, according to Stanford professor and author Terry Moe, Weingarten’s support for school-wide merit pay in 2007 was “clearly a reconstruction of history.” Moe wrote that “Weingarten resisted the introduction of merit pay” and only gave way because then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was pushing hard for it and in the end Bloomberg was forced to give the union an enormous ransom in exchange for the school-wide differentiated pay proposal.[57] New York Sun commentator Andrew Wolf, labeled New York’s 2007 differentiated pay agreement “socialism for schools” that skewed power to each school and increased the power of the union.[58]

Unionized Teachers Over Student Needs

Weingarten’s unions have a long history of putting the pursuit of more union power over the needs of its students. Weingarten has been an ardent opponent of charter schools who sought to prevent New York in 1999 from adopting a state charter law in the first place. Weingarten eventually accepted the political reality that charter schools were unavoidable, and used her acquiescence to negotiate extreme restrictions on charter school growth such as a 100-school cap on the number of charters and the mandatory unionization for larger, 250-or-more student charter schools.[59]

In 2007 then-Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D-N.Y.) proposed a $7 billion education funding increase along with a host of other items on the teacher- union wish list, like full-day kindergarten and universal pre-K. Weingarten opposed Spitzer’s plan, reportedly since it called for increasing the cap on the number of charter schools and for providing a tax break for parents who sent their children to charter schools.[60]

In 2011, Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers was sharply criticized by the New York Post for an American Federation of Teachers lobbyist’s presentation that detailed “the sharp disparity between the union’s public posture and its actual policies” in that the American Federation of Teachers outwardly said they engaged in a constructive dialogue with parent trigger activists but at the same time was working behind the scenes to ensure that “parent-trigger advocates were not at the table.” In light of these revelations the NY Post Editorial proclaimed, “so much for the unions’ mantra of always putting the students’ interests first.”[61]

Union Expansion

Weingarten has taken a number of extremely left-wing positions meant to increase her union’s membership with little regard for the privacy and desires of teachers. In 2005, she organized the unionization of New York’s 28,000 childcare professionals.[62]

She also fought to unionize all of New York’s charter schools [63] even though most charter-school teachers have opted not to be represented by her union or her sister unions.[64] In 2007 she sought to implement a card check unionization selection process at all charter schools, which would do away with the secret ballot.[65]

Weingarten also publicly criticized both Wisconsin’s right to work law[66] and a U.S. House of Representatives national right to work proposal.[67]

Politics

Campaign Contributions

Under Weingarten’s watch, the American Federation of Teachers has steadily increased its political spending. In 2008, Weingarten’s first in charge of the American Federation of Teachers the union claimed to have spent $15 million to support Democrats in state and federal campaigns. By 2014, that number increased to $20 million.[68]

In 2015, the American Federation of Teachers under Weingarten reported that it spent $37 million on politics [69] then in 2016 the American Federation of Teachers disclosed that they spent over $44 million on political lobbying activities and contributions, a 29.6 percent increase over the previous year[70] and a nearly 300% increase from her first year in charge.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2016 the American Federation of Teachers gave almost $12.5 million to candidates and parties with 0.2% of those contributions going to Republicans.[71] In 2008, according to this same data set, almost 10% of the American Federation of Teachers’ $2.6 million in campaign contributions went to Republicans.[72]

Weingarten has given $3,250 personally to Democratic candidates and committees including $500 to 2004 Democratic Party presidential nominee John Kerry, $500 to EMILY’s List, and $2,250 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 presidential campaign committees.[73]

Lobbying

Randi Weingarten was a registered lobbyist for the United Federation of Teachers in New York City from 2007-2009.[74] In 2009, with Weingarten still President and a registered lobbyist for the NY union, the United Federation of Teachers and its state affiliate, the New York State United Teachers, spent “some $5 million” on lobbying and campaign contributions to the state legislature retaining some of state’s most powerful lobbyists.

“In 2013, the New York Observer named Weingarten one of the most influential New Yorkers of the past 25 years.” That same year “Washington Life Magazine included Weingarten on its 2013 Power 100 list of influential leaders.”[75]

Moreover, under her watch, the American Federation of Teachers has spent over $12 million since 2008 on lobbying expenditures,[76] in 2015 an American Federation of Teachers presentation indicated that she met with members of Congress, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to lobby on the Every Student Succeeds Act[77] and yet she was and is not a registered federal lobbyist.[78] (Federal law requires registration when certain thresholds of lobbying activities are met.)

Clinton Connections

In 2016 Politico Magazine named Randi Weingarten a Democratic Powerhouse.[79]

Weingarten was “an outspoken surrogate for Hillary Clinton”[80] during the 2016 Democratic Presidential primaries.

In July 2015, Weingarten announced American Federation of Teachers’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, saying, “She’s [Hillary’s] ready to work with us to confront the issues of children and their families today, including poverty, wage stagnation, income equality and the lack of opportunity.” Weingarten’s announcement of the endorsement set off a firestorm of outrage from American Federation of Teachers members and activists, with many claiming that the endorsement process was rigged in Clinton’s favor.[81] In These Times wrote that the endorsement was an “insult to union democracy,” “disempowered members,” and “couldn’t be more wrongheaded.”[82] Over 5,000 individuals signed a petition to have the American Federation of Teachers rescind the endorsement.[83]

In These Times wrote that “Randi’s early endorsement” of Clinton one of the first major unions to do so, along with as much as $5 million in contributions to Clinton “bought her some cachet within the Clinton camp.” Additionally, Weingarten “positioned herself as an attack dog [for Clinton] against any challenges from the left.”[84]

In 2013, Randi Weingarten was listed as a new partner in liberal donor group the Democracy Alliance.[85] In the union’s 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers reportedly gave $60,000 per year to the Democracy Alliance.[86]

Issue Positions

Randi Weingarten, has been described as one of the nation’s most prominent left-of-center activists,[87]as such she has taken leftist positions on a wide range of issues.

She is pro-abortion, calling the practice “part of life.”[88]She is a prominent supporter of using federal money to fund Planned Parenthood.[89]

In June 2015, Weingarten called for expanding Medicare into a government-controlled healthcare program for all Americans.[90] In 2017 she endorsed of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vermont) single-payer government controlled healthcare plan.[91]Additionally she has adamantly opposed recent efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.[92]

In 2017, Weingarten wrote that she was working to expand “sanctuary city” laws that forbid local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities and urged local leaders to pass “sanctuary” ordinances.[93] Similarly, Weingarten opposed President Trump’s decision to end President Obama’s DACA program which protected certain classes of illegal immigrants.[94]

After President Trump ordered an airstrike against Syria, Weingarten took the opportunity to criticize him for not seeking Congressional approval first, and then called for America to open its borders to Syrian refugees.[95] Similarly, she blasted President Trump’s travel-restricting executive orders.[96]

Weingarten supported the Obama administration’s Iran Deal[97] and blasted then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to speak to Congress in opposition to the deal.[98]

Weingarten sided with her labor allies and opposed Obama administration and Congressional Republican efforts to pass bipartisan trade bills supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.[99]

Tax Avoidance

In 2011, Randi Weingarten called for “shared sacrifice” in the form of higher tax payments from rich individuals.[100] She has also consistently opposed Republican tax reform efforts to lower tax rates.[101]

However, in 2011, Weingarten decided to leave New York City and move to the Hamptons, a decision that allowed her to legally save an estimated $30,000 in annual tax payments.[102]

References

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  18. Weingarten, Randi and Teresa Kumar, Maria “Op-Ed: America is a country of immigrants.” The Hill. February 28, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/321602-america-is-still-a-country-of-immigrants ^
  19. Bass, Janet. “AFT’s Weingarten Supports Iran Deal.” AFT Press Release. September 9, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-supports-iran-deal ^
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  67. Crook, Andrew. “AFT’s Weingarten on National ‘Right-to-Work’ Proposal.” AFT Press Release. February 1, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-national-right-work-proposal ^
  68. Terkel, Amanda. “American Federation Of Teachers Set To Spend More In 2014 Than Any Other Election Cycle (UPDATE).” HuffPost. September 30, 2014. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/29/american-federation-of-teachers-2014_n_5903666.html ^
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  82. Weiner, Lois. “The AFT’s Endorsement of Hillary Clinton Is an Insult to Union Democracy.” In These Times Blog. July 13, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/18184/AFT_endorsement_clinton ^
  83. Mcgrath, Sean. “Withdraw your endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential Nomination!” Change.org. Undated. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.change.org/p/american-federation-of-teachers-withdraw-your-endorsement-of-hillary-clinton-for-the-democratic-presidential-nomination?recruiter=7336678&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink ^
  84. Uetricht, Micah. “Think Democrats Take Labor’s Money and Loyalty for Granted? Here’s Proof.” In These Times. October 28, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/19581/think_democrats_take_labors_money_and_loyalty_for_granted_heres_proof ^
  85. Markay, Lachlan. “Read the Confidential Document Left Behind at the Democracy Alliance Meeting.” The Washington Free Beacon. May 5, 2014. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://freebeacon.com/politics/jonathan-soros-left-a-confidential-document-at-his-donor-conference/ ^
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  89. Payton, Bre. “Union Boss’ Tweet Shows How Absurd Planned Parenthood Is.” The Federalist. August 6, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://thefederalist.com/2015/08/06/union-bosss-tweet-shows-how-absurd-planned-parenthood-is/ ^
  90. Weingarten Randi. Twitter Post. Twitter.com. June 21, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://twitter.com/rweingarten/status/612696715892813824 ^
  91. Heenan, Michael. “AFT’s Weingarten on Medicare for All.” AFT Press Release. September 13, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-medicare-all ^
  92. Wolf, Connor. “McCain Praised by Unions for Killing Obamacare Repeal.” Inside Sources. July 28, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://www.insidesources.com/unions-applaud-opposition-killing-obamacare-repeal/ ^
  93. Weingarten, Randi and Teresa Kumar, Maria “Op-Ed: America is a country of immigrants.” The Hill. February 28, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/321602-america-is-still-a-country-of-immigrants ^
  94. Heenan, Michael. “AFT’s Weingarten Responds to DACA Repeal.” AFT Press Release. September 5, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-responds-daca-repeal ^
  95. Bass, Janet. “AFT President Weingarten on U.S. Airstrikes on Syria.” AFT Press Release. April 7, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/aft-president-weingarten-us-airstrikes-syria ^
  96. AFT Media Affairs. “AFT’s Weingarten on New Travel Restrictions from the Trump Administration.” AFT Press Release. September 25, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-new-travel-restrictions-trump-administration ^
  97. Bass, Janet. “AFT’s Weingarten Supports Iran Deal.” AFT Press Release. September 9, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-supports-iran-deal ^
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  100. Weingarten, Randi. “The Taxing Issue of Shared Responsibility.” HuffPost. June 17, 2011. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/randi-weingarten/the-taxing-issue-of-share_b_849906.html ^
  101. Crook, Andrew. “AFT’s Weingarten on Trump’s Cruel and Callous Tax Plan.” AFT Press Release. September 27, 2017. Accessed November 27, 2017. https://www.aft.org/press-release/afts-weingarten-trumps-cruel-and-callous-tax-plan ^
  102. Stoll, Ira. “Top New York Labor Leader Moves To Long Island, Saves $30,000 in City Income Taxes.” The New York Sun. March 19, 2012. Accessed November 27, 2017. http://www.nysun.com/new-york/to-new-york-labor-leader-moves-to-long-island/87748/ ^
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