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Divisive, political Randi Weingarten

Attention-seeking American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten is one of the most divisive figures in American politics. Her crusade to keep parents out of their children’s education is backfiring, and not just on Weingarten, but on teachers as well—many of whom want nothing to do with her rhetoric.

It should come as no surprise that the union Weingarten runs is deeply engaged in partisan progressive politics. AFT spends over a quarter of the dues it collects from members on politics, with the donations going to a host of  partisan political organizations, including groups whose primary purpose is to target Republicans and moderate Democrats with negative ads.

Weingarten is close friends with many prominent Democrats, including President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, who is herself a member of a teachers union. As president of AFT, Weingarten has curried favor with Democrats by using members’ dues to fund a variety of left-leaning candidates and causes, including donating millions of dollars to elect Democrats to majorities in the House and Senate.

Among other recipients of AFT’s political donations were Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that supported Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, an advocacy organization that is part of the Arabella network, which creates pop-up progressive organizations to attack figures like Elon Musk and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett

In addition to her union’s political machinations, Weingarten likes to get involved directly in the political arena. She regularly attacks Republicans and conservatives on Twitter and through the news media, blaming conservatives for the country’s toxic political environment. A review of Weingarten’s public statements shows just how willing she is to pick fights—and not just with conservatives, but with parents as well.

For example:

  • On a recent radio show Weingarten said the country faces an “existential threat” from “right-wing extremists” who are “demagogues.” “This is the way in which wars start,” she said. 
  • Weingarten called parents attending school board meetings “racists” and said their behavior is “un-American” in a tweet she later deleted. 
  • Parents are apparently no longer welcome in classrooms, according to Weingarten, who said parents don’t have the right to “shape their kids’ school curriculum.”
  • In February 2022 Weingarten said kids should have to keep masks on until there was zero covid transmission in schools.

By picking fights with elected Republicans and prominent conservatives and by targeting parents with her ire, Weingarten has made life more difficult for millions of public-school teachers. As teachers union leaders like Weingarten have spoken out against parents, they’ve politicized the teaching profession in a way that is not good for teachers. In several states, parents have asked for curriculum transparency bills, displaying an erosion of trust in what is going on in the classroom. This is likely to continue as Weingarten continues to pick fights, especially since the news media uses her and the union as a stand-in for teachers—as though everything Weingarten says is endorsed by the entire profession. As political divisiveness spills over into board of education meetings, schools, and even the classroom, teachers will have to continue to manage the fall-out that comes from being associated with union leaders like Weingarten.

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.