American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten delivers 24th Annual Philip Murray Lecture
Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), AFL-CIO, delivered LER’s 24th Annual Philip Murray Lecture in April, offering her view on the future of American public education, collective bargaining, unions, and students’ roles in shaping the future of the new economy.
As part of Weingarten’s advice for students, she offered, “As you enter the workforce, remember: Power never yields willingly, but it cedes to the power of working people joining together and speaking out.”
Weingarten also spoke to the increasing power of education in determining long-term career success. “Our economy is different from the old economy,” she said. “Then, 1 in 3 workers was a union member. Now, 1 in 3 workers is a freelancer. Then, you didn’t need a college education to get a middle-class job. Now, college grads earn about $1.2 million more than someone with a high school diploma.”
She noted that as industries shift with changing technologies, and more careers are built by small businesses and emerging enterprises, the power of partnerships increases.
“For collective bargaining to work in the 21st century, it can’t be based on a 20th-century model,” said Weingarten. “We can no longer focus exclusively on the workplace or rely on union density to set market standards, raise wages or improve working conditions. As our economy changes, as work changes, how we bargain and what gets bargained must also change.
“Community is our new density. And we need a new approach that builds power through partnership with community and leverages that power at the bargaining table to advance community needs. Some call this bargaining for the common good, bargaining that addresses both the needs of the company and the needs of the community.”
Before the lecture, LER Director Paul Clark said, “We are honored to welcome Ms. Weingarten to Penn State to speak about the critical issues facing public education in our country today. She is a very high profile figure in this important field and her talk should be of great interest to the University and regional communities.”
The AFT represents teachers; paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; higher education faculty and staff; nurses and other healthcare professionals; local, state and federal government employees; and early childhood educators. Its mission is to promote fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for students, their families and communities. Prior to her election as AFT president in 2008, Weingarten served for 12 years as president of the United Federation of Teachers, representing approximately 200,000 educators in the New York City public school system. In 2013, the New York Observer named Weingarten one of the most influential New Yorkers of the past 25 years. Washington Life magazine included Weingarten on its 2013 Power 100 list of influential leaders.