The American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution over the weekend advocating for endorsed candidates to support AFT issues such as universal health care and free college tuition.
The resolution was unanimously accepted by delegates at the AFT national convention in Pittsburgh. AFT representatives called on AFT-endorsed candidates to support its agenda of cost-free child care, free tuition at public colleges and universities, universal health care, and more school funding for low-income school districts. They also passed a requirement for questionnaires to be handed out to endorsement-seeking candidates to measure their level of support on AFT's priorities.
"I was deeply disappointed when our national AFT leadership preemptively endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016," delegate Jessica Buchsbaum said during the convention's floor debate. "Many of us passionately supported Bernie. He gets it right on every issue, and he doesn't belong to corporate America. This resolution will say we endorse on the issues."
The decision to endorse Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary race was met with much criticism from AFT members who favored Sanders, who was seen by some to be more open to union negotiations than Clinton.
Republicans pushed back against the resolution, saying it doesn't represent the educational values of families and students. "It's no surprise that a convention featuring Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren ended with union bosses celebrating a far-left agenda that would raise taxes on hardworking families and send states like West Virginia back to the days of financial ruin," West Virginia senate president Mitch Carmichael told the Washington Free Beacon. "After 83 years of being shortchanged by Democrats, the [West Virginia] Republican majority worked with teachers to pass the largest pay increase in history without raising taxes."
Carmichael has been outspoken against the resolution, sending a series of tweets Tuesday criticizing the AFT for its decision to push its agenda on endorsed candidates.
"In response to the AFT's vote this past weekend to demand that all endorsed candidates support universal healthcare, free tuition, universal child-care & higher taxes to fund it all, I am challenging @wvdemocrats to reject the union's Obama styled socialist agenda," Carmichael said in one tweet.
AFT delegates said at the convention they would not endorse a candidate who does not support their values. The resolution stated the AFT would support candidates who back values such as "taxation of the rich" and free public college tuition primarily centered on "addressing student debt for all who are now being crushed with it."
But some AFT members actually qualify as being part of the "rich" they vehemently want to tax. Financial analysts at DQYDJ.com determined that individuals in the top 1 percent made $300,800 or more in 2016. Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency, reported in January that the NEA and AFT presidents both cleared the 1-percent threshold, and he also noted that more than 100 other NEA employees were in the top 5 percent of U.S. wage earners for 2016.
All told, NEA's 2016 payroll averaged out to $123,613 per worker, making the top 8 percent of all wage earners that year. By contrast, the average teacher's salary for 2016 was $58,353.
AFT president Randi Weingarten, who made $472,197 in 2016, has championed higher taxes on the wealthy as part of her union's decision to partner with the Poor People's Campaign. Weingarten wrote a New York Times column in April denouncing the GOP tax plan, saying Republican tax cuts for the wealthy are hurting American schools.
"These irresponsible tax cuts have made it impossible to, in Justice Holmes's words, ‘pay for a civilized society,'" Weingarten wrote.
The Center for Union Facts said AFT's embrace of radical politics could further alienate members. Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, said the adherence to liberalism may not be sustainable after the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector workers could no longer be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The case is expected to cost teachers' unions tens of millions of dollars as workers cut off their payments.
"The AFT lockstep support reserved for candidates who in turn are locked into a socialist ‘free lunch' agenda, reminds their members who took Economics 101, that the Janus escape clause from union membership has real value," Berman said.