AFT’s Weingarten lays out new models for unions

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WASHINGTON - American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten today laid out a framework for a renewed American labor movement. She was joined by U.S. labor secretary Thomas Perez and others at an Albert Shanker Institute conference called "The American Labor Movement at a Crossroads."

The labor movement is at a crossroads, Weingarten said, because of globalization, technological changes, diminished union density, and aggressive, well-funded legislative and judicial challenges by anti-union forces who understand the potential power of American labor.

"We can no longer operate as if we're in a factory. The knowledge era has arrived. As circumstances change, our nation changes, the world changes and we too must change," Weingarten said. "And make no mistake: This is on us. It's our responsibility."

Secretary Perez reminded the audience that the growth of the middle class was linked to a strong labor movement. "President Obama understands that the labor movement and prosperity go hand in hand," he said.

Weingarten highlighted four areas of work that the AFT has rethought in significant ways:

  • engagement with community;
  • focus on the quality of the public services its members provide;
  • "internal" organizing and member mobilization; and
  • "external" organizing of the unorganized.

"We know that the enduring values of the American labor movement provide a strong foundation for a renewed American unionism that will give collective voice to working people in a 21st-century global knowledge economy," Weingarten concluded.

Photo: Randi Weingarten.   |   Damian Dovarganes/AP