July 15, 2018

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Solidarity, resolve define AFT's 2018 Convention

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The defining moment of AFT’s 2018 conference wasn’t delivered by its high-profile guests, nor was it when more than 2,000 delegates rallied for equitable public school funding on Pittsburgh’s Rachel Carson bridge, above.

It came on Day 2 of the four-day conference, when the leaders of America’s four largest public sector unions—AFT, NEA, AFSCME and SEIU—stood on stage together, surrounded by members of each union who held signs that said "In It Together."

This show of solidarity—less than three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt public sector unions nationwide a stunning blow with its June 27 ruling on Janus v. AFSCME Council 31—perfectly captured the defiance, the anger, and the resilience that unions have shown in the face of a case that anti-union forces had hoped would be the death knell for the labor movement.

“Nothing is more important than for us to be together,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders, during a fiery five-minute speech. “We have built a brick wall of solidarity that our enemies cannot break down.”

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“We are more than allies, we are family,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, above, who followed her speech by picking up an acoustic guitar and singing Woody Guthrie’s classic “Union Maid.” “There is no light between us.”

Fighting the fight

UUP, along with public sector unions across the country, have focused on organizing members to prepare for the expected outcome in Janus, which bars unions from collecting fair share fees from bargaining unit members. Hard right, anti-union, groups are counting on Janus to weaken and break labor, and they’ve launched a flurry of campaigns to get members to quit their unions.

Instead, unionists have turned Janus into a rallying cry. Union members aren’t fleeing their unions; new members are signing up in record numbers, and members are signing recommitment cards in droves because they realize the importance of being in a union.

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AFT President Randi Weingarten, above at UUP's July 15 breakfast, reported that AFT has more than 1.75 million members, its most ever. More than 580,000 members have signed cards recommitting themselves to the union.

"Where our opponents have waged their bare-knuckle opt-out campaigns, the stories of drops have been few and far between," Weingarten said during her State of the Union speech. "We have seen just the opposite: members are recommitting and new members are joining."

In many cases, that’s because unionists won’t be told how to think by the billionaire elites and corporate bosses who bankrolled the Janus case and are using it to silence the collective voice of unionized workers and their families.

"Our members are proud to be UUP, and they are not being taken in by the anti-union lies and deception," said UUP President Fred Kowal.

Making it happen

More than 4,000 people attended the AFT’s biennial conference, held July 13-16 in Pittsburgh. UUP’s delegation was over 50 members from chapters across the state. Kowal and statewide officers Tom Tucker, Jeri O’Bryan-Losee and Tom Hoey attended the event.

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The conference featured speeches from some of the nation’s top Democrats, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Conor Lamb, and Hillary Clinton, who was honored with AFT’s Women’s Rights Award.

Delegates debated three UUP resolutions: an initiative to close the FLSA loophole that allows wage discrimination against teachers; support for striking teachers; and support for the Equal Rights Amendment.

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