Educators And Politicians Gather In Pittsburgh For Union Convention And Rally This Weekend

Jul 13, 2018

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis told a crowd of educators from across the country Friday that Pittsburgh teachers are committing to the union in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The court’s decision two weeks ago means that public sector employees don’t have to pay what is often called an agency fee, or in Pennsylvania, a fair share fee. The Janus ruling was seen as a blow to unions as many predict membership will decline.

“Today our PFT members are sticking with their union in the face of chaos,” Esposito-Visgitis told the delegates of the PFT’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers.

The AFT is holding its biennial convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center this weekend. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will also join the educators at the downtown venue.

The theme of the convention is engagement. Speakers will call on union members to vote and lobby legislators to increase education funding. 

The Pittsburgh union represents 3,000 teachers, para-professionals and technical-clerical workers. This year it barely avoided a teachers' strike in February. The back and forth with the Pittsburgh school district was one example of a wave of teachers action, including strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma where teachers called for better ways to fund education.

While Pittsburgh’s issue was more about governance structure and teacher input for evaluations, the PFT does regularly demand more education funding.

The AFT delegates plan to rally downtown Saturday to draw attention to the issue of equitable education funding nationally, and in Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a budget into law last month that increased state education spending by $312 million dollars more than last year.

But, AFT President Randi Weingarten said that the state is lagging when it comes to overall investment. The state funds less than 40 percent of what it takes to run public schools. The rest of the money comes from local property taxes.

“The governor--whose heart is in the right place--was able to navigate what has been a very hostile legislature,” Weingarten said. “So it’s very good that there’s movement but we’re starting from a very deep, deep, deep hole.”

The rally will also draw attention to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s plan to cut federal education spending.