Randi and Lily, For the Good of Our Unions, Please Step Down. You Are a Distraction


Dear Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia:

Unions are facing hard times.

We are under attack by the new fascist wing of the Republican party.

So-called “right to work” laws are being drafted at the national level to strip us of our rights and transform us into the factory slaves of The Gilded Age. New court challenges at the state and federal level could make it next to impossible to collect dues without allowing countless free riders. And in the mass media criticism of teacher tenure is mounting despite widespread ignorance of what it even means.

More than ever we need to be united in our efforts to fight the forces of regression and tyranny. We need each other to protect our public schools and our students from those who would do them harm. But the biggest obstacle to doing that isn’t Donald Trump. Nor is it Mike Pence, Steve Bannon or even Betsy DeVos.

It is you. Both of you.

Frankly, as Presidents of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), you have become a distraction.

When DeVos was blocked by protesters from entering a Washington, D.C., school this week, Randi actually took her side. She tweeted:


“Just heard a protester blocked & almost knocked Secy @BetsyDeVos down at Jefferson.We don’t condone such acts.We want her to go to pub schls.”

How dare you dictate to protesters what “we” want!?

This action may not have been something you, personally, condone. But DeVos just got away with purchasing her position as U.S. Secretary of Education. She and her billionaire family paid off mostly Republican lawmakers to the tune of $200 million allowing her to become the titular head of our nation’s public schools. This despite having never attended a public school, refusing to protect special education students, refusing to hold charter and voucher schools to the same standards, even refusing to keep guns out of our children’s classrooms! Well, Betsy, your money may buy you the title, but it buys you zero respect!

Randi, your statement just goes to show how tone deaf you and Lily are to the spirit of the rank and file.

We are not somewhat distressed at what is happening to our schools and our profession. We are enraged! We are taking to the streets! We are occupying our lawmakers offices and marching through community thoroughfares! And we aren’t throwing shade on other protesters behind the safety of Twitter.

For many of us, you both represent everything wrong with unionism. We are a people powered movement. We get our strength from the grassroots up, but you both try to rule from the top down.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the early endorsements by both unions of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Neither one of you made an honest effort to gauge member opinions on these endorsements before going ahead. You thought you knew better. You pushed through these endorsements despite a strong vein of support for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sanders was much more in-line with our needs and values. And he had much more support among progressives and independents. He had a much better chance of winning! Meanwhile, Clinton was just another neoliberal in a long line of neoliberals like President Barack Obama who would offer us only the back of their hands.

You wanted a seat at the table, and you didn’t mind how much it would cost the rest of us.

Lily, when you took the reins of the NEA in 2014, you famously said “We are what Democracy looks like.” I was never more proud of my union than at that moment. But that pride has turned to ashes in my mouth.

Many of us will never forgive either of you for the results of this election. We blame you for Trump.

Had you not dictated to us that we must support Clinton, had you supported a candidate with a real chance of wining, there is little doubt that we could have defeated the clown currently in the Oval Office. Moreover, under a President Sanders we would have had a real chance at a progressive future that benefits everyone – $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, sanctuary cities, justice reforms, fair trade, free college tuition.

Trump did not win alone. Unwittingly, you were his biggest supporters. It was your hubris – along with that of corporate Democrats deaf to the voices of their base – that gave us these next four years. And none of you have learned your lesson.

Lily, your three-year term is up this year. Randi, your two-year term is up in summer 2018.

We can wait you out if we must. But do what’s best for the people you claim to represent. Step down now.

Otherwise, you can look for opposition in our Representative Assemblies.

Let me be clear. I don’t think either of you have broken any by-laws. I don’t think there is evidence for impeachment (if our by-laws even allow it). But members could easily make a motion from the floor for a vote of no confidence.

Support may already be mounting for such positions at the Region level. It could go to the State House of Delegates as a New Business Item and get a majority vote from the floor. Or perhaps at our next Representative Assembly, someone will just make a motion.

I don’t know if it would pass. But I know that this division among us is holding us back from being the force we can be. I know that it has stopped many of us from talking about how we fight external forces, because we are instead focused on enemies from within.

We want to transform our unions. We no longer want to focus solely on collective bargaining. We want to focus on social justice and the needs of our students and communities. To be sure, our labor rights are essential to this fight, but they cannot be everything nor can we be willing to give up on the needs of our students if the powers that be will only leave our salaries and benefits intact.

We want a union that is more at home in the streets than in the boardroom. We want leaders who mobilize us to fight not tell us what to think. We need leaders that listen to us – not the other way around.

As a classroom teacher and education activist, I make this request in no official capacity for any of the various groups to which I belong. I ask as merely another member of the NEA. I have no affiliation with the AFT.

Moreover, I have nothing personal against either of you. We met briefly at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago two years ago. You were both congenial and inspiring. It may not seem like it now, but I hold tremendous respect for both of you. I think in your own ways you have accomplished much that benefits our members.

But the time has come to step down. You believe in accountability. Hold yourselves accountable.

Put the strength of our unions first. Let it no longer be about you. Let it be about us.

Here’s hoping you’ll do the right thing.


Steven Singer

NEA and PSEA member

P.S. – If any NEA or AFT member reads this open letter and agrees with the sentiments expressed here, please add your name and union affiliation in a comment on my blog.

43 thoughts on “Randi and Lily, For the Good of Our Unions, Please Step Down. You Are a Distraction

  1. I was not pleased with her tweet. And, was DeVos almost “knocked down”? I think there is a visceral raging reaction against her. Our unions seem to be trying to please someone other than the teachers. And now we are waking up to this fact. I liked Diane Ravitch’s ideas on how schools should and should not engage her. It allows for a protection of students, teachers, and schools. I hope that the union leaders listen to what resistance and respect look like. Randi’s tweet was dismissive.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Exactly, Steven, exactly.

    I watched the video. She wasn’t almost knocked down. She turned tail pretty quick in those high heels, though. Perhaps she was left off balance because of such proximity to a PUBLIC school.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly. They backed her very early and very strongly, without listening to their union members, without taking a vote.
      And now they whine because Trump and DeVos want to destroy public schools and teachers’ unions?
      Unfortunately, they won’t personally reap what they have sown, they’ll be fine. But it’s sure screwing every public school and every public school teacher in this country.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s clear why the largest teacher unions backed Hillary so early. Their presidents were buddies with Hilldawg. They were “with her.” Who cares what the members thought? Most didn’t even know about Bernie Sanders by the time AFT endorsed. That was largely on purpose.

        What’s also upsetting is that Diane Ravitch and NPE failed to endorse in the primary. But at least they didn’t jump on the establishment wagon over Bernie — until it looked pretty clear that Bernie wasn’t going to win the nomination.

        Then Randi wrote to establishment shill John Podesta that “we” (her union??) will “go after NNU (national nurses union) and there [sic] high and mighty sanctimonious conduct…

        Randi, you are a disgrace and an embarrassment to teachers everywhere. You subvert democracy and are part of the political corruption. Then you had to reinforce the meme that teachers’ intelligence is second rate, since apparently we do not know the difference between “there” and “their.” Thanks a million.

        Just like the CEOs who eventually get a hundred million dollar golden parachute for screwing up, Randi’s terrible decision making will not affect her quality of life, but it will affect ours.

        Just like the business “reformers,” what will most help teachers and students is if you quit your job.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Well stated, Steven. Add my name. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and was disheartened by NEA s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. I am president of a local in rural Northwest Ohio. Paulding Education Association. I would guess that 30% in my local voted orange.


  4. I agree completely. Weingarten has been a disaster for Newark teachers. I personally received two phone calls from the national office urging me to vote in favor of a horrible contract. I had the same reaction to her DeVos protest tweet. I was delighted that DeVos was met with protesters on her first official visit to a public school. Weingarten never misses a chance to endorse the corporate agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is time for a radical change in our unions because the seat at the table is not cutting it anymore. I agree with your posting and will be posting it on FB, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. While I’m with the protesting, I don’t think that blocking DeVos from entering a public building was necessarily the way to protest. That said, I don’t agree with Randi tweeting against it. I also agree wholeheartedly with your post. I’m an NJEA/NEA member. Our state leadership has also become way too cozy with the political/corporate class.


  7. This UTLA, CTA, CFT, NEA, AFT member has been saying this for years, just not as eloquently. Thanks Steve.


  8. Also, let’s not forget how Randi sold out NY teachers by sending Robo calls for Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul, to keep favor with Cuomo who is and has been underfunding public schools and attacking teachers for a very long time. All while he continues to support and side with for profit charters like Success Academy.
    Randi has lost her way.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Loretta, ESP, Member of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59.
    My hope is that we get leadership that will encourage us to fight whatever attacks come our way. We need real leaders, not someone who coddles to the 1%.


  10. NEA member here! Totally agree. I was at NEA headquarters for an event the summer right before she took over, and I had such a positive outlook. I felt like she would be the breath of fresh air we needed. Now I’m so disappointed.


  11. Absolutely right. Until Randi/Lily and their crony cliques are ousted from leadership of the AFT/NEA the 3 million rank-and-file teachers will not be able to rescue and revive public schools. Randi/Lily have suffocated dissent and failed to organize teachers to use the power of their numbers to force changes in privatization, testing, and voucher campaigns led by billionaires Gates, Zuckerberg, Walton, Koch, Lorene Jobs, Ely Broad, and the billionaire hedge funders on Democrats for Education Reform. Randi/Lily both forced premature endorsements of Hillary onto their unions. Their insider leadership has helped bogus “reformers” loot district education budgets and drive public schools to the edge of disaster. Removing them has been urgent for years; best way is to build dissident rank-and-file caucuses in each district, like the MORE group in NYC.


  12. I am a PSEA member and I cannnot agree more in sharing the sentiment of wanting “a union that is more at home in the streets than in the boardroom. We want leaders who mobilize us to fight not tell us what to think. We need leaders that listen to us – not the other way around.”

    I also think the political endorsements PSEA and NEA make should be a more inclusive process. The process as it is disenfranchises way too many members who are just as politically active and informed as the leadership. I do consider the potential for institutional change within the NEA and PSEA may be in order so as to eschew institutional neo-liberal Democrat candidates and begin to throw our support behind leaders who are steadfast in their support for social, economic, and labor justice.

    Now is the time for more social engagement and action fighting for all types of social justice issues.


    • I agree. I feel betrayed. We was not elected queen. We’re getting sold out. I’d like ti explore the ramifications of withholding NEA dues and just give it all to my state and local associations.


  13. Reblogged this on horseofmanycolors and commented:
    It is a new day. Children are at risk. It is no longer about pay raises, it is about protecting children. Teachers are the First 1st Responders. The KRYPTONITE against destruction of the Public School system and slide into class and race wars is to see a MAJOR shift in how TEACHERS see themselves in relation to children – A TEACHERS OATH that is every bit as solemn and serious as is the Hippocratic Doctor’s Oath is needed. Now.


  14. Former CTA, NEA member here (left teaching after 20 years in 2013 — couldn’t take it anymore). While I think ALL of us are partly to blame for the Trump victory (and see nothing productive in the finger pointing that some of us are engaging in now), I agree with the basic criticism of our union leaders here. I think Alicia Garza described the problem best (talking about some other “leaders” of other “social justice” organizations) — they confuse “proximity” with “power.” The real power of any union is in its members — solidarity and numbers. Not in “a seat at the table” with those who don’t have our interests at heart.


  15. I’m retired from post secondary teaching — not a member or either union but blog and do social media for adjuncts, many of whom are — and not happy with them them either. I’m sharing this widely. Everyone I’ve sent it to privately is cheering.


  16. I totally agree with you! I supported Bernie from the start and absolutely can’t believe we have the yahoo who is in there now. Don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos. I’m a member of the NEA.


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