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Shanker Bashes Bush, Spearheads AFT Endorsement of Clinton

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PITTSBURGH--Delegates to the American Federation of Teachers' meeting here last month had more on their minds than internal reorganization.

Albert Shanker, the union's president, told the delegates that the effect of the economic recession on their profession was just one of several reasons to back Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in his quest for the White House. Mr. Shanker easily persuaded members of the historically Democratic union to pass a resolution endorsing that party's standard-bearer.

Mr. Shanker also bashed President Bush for his support of private school vouchers and his threat to veto any legislation that would outlaw the permanent replacement of striking workers.

Mr. Clinton stopped by the meeting to get in a few jabs of his own, accusing Mr. Bush of overstating how much the nation spends on elementary and secondary education and of misspending federal education funds.

The President, Mr. Clinton said, "has some pretty good people working in the Department of Education, but their whole deal in life is to tell the rest of us what we ought to be doing and to minimize their own responsibility.''

A poll of the union's members conducted in late July found that 68 percent favored Mr. Clinton, while 19 percent backed Mr. Bush. About 11 percent were undecided and 2 percent would not say whom they supported.

Mr. Shanker declined at a press conference to say whom he would like to see Mr. Clinton, if elected, appoint as Secretary of Education.

"If he were President of the United States today, I would not give him any names,'' Mr. Shanker said. He added, however, "I would hope that I would be consulted.''

As part of an effort to rally its members behind Mr. Clinton in his race for the White House, the union will begin mailing them pro-Clinton campaign videotapes.

Rachelle Horowitz, the AFT's political director, said the union decided to use the videos after surveys of its members revealed that "people have VCR's and they are more interested in that than reading.''

Ms. Horowitz called the members' preference for television over printed matter "very disturbing.'' She speculated that many union members may be pressed for time as they try to cope with economic pressures.

The AFT's endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in his fall re-election campaign had some union members as irritated as they have been for some time--at least since the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

The union's "women's rights committee'' has backed Lynn Yeakel, Mr. Specter's Democratic challenger, in the race. That committee's members last month tried to block the union as a whole from endorsing the incumbent Republican senator, whose questioning of Anita Hill during Justice Thomas's confirmation hearings offended some observers.

But Mr. Specter last year sided with the AFT on 7 out of 10 key votes, and the union has a policy of backing incumbents who vote the way it wants them to, regardless of who is challenging them.

Mr. Shanker told delegates that Mr. Specter would get, along with his AFT backing, a letter chastising him for his "insensitive'' behavior toward Ms. Hill.

The union decidedly did not endorse a new doll and a chain of furniture stores.

The union last month announced its opposition to the "Mommy-To-Be'' doll, a "pregnant'' doll manufactured by the Judith Corporation, which features a baby inside its lift-off stomach.

The membership passed a resolution pledging to mount a campaign against the doll, which, it says, is anatomically incorrect, trivializes pregnancy, and commercializes motherhood and birth.

"Births just don't happen the way this doll depicts them,'' said Meryl Johnson, a member of the executive board of the Cleveland Teachers' Union, which submitted the resolution.

The union also has targeted Ikea, a chain of home-furnishing stores, and threatened a boycott if the company does not withdraw advertisements it placed in California newspapers last month.

The ad, promoting Ikea's prices on furniture for students, proclaimed "California hasn't seen figures this low since last year's SAT's.''

Helen Bernstein, the president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, called the ad "one of the worst examples of teacher-bashing I've ever seen'' and said it obscures the fact that student scores actually have risen in her state.

In contrast to its combative stand toward Ikea, the AFT has launched a new effort to bring peace to the nation's classrooms.

A resolution proposed by the union's New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, and passed by delegates last month calls for the union to counter school violence by, among other things, supporting the creation of alternative schools for dangerous students and by establishing a clearinghouse that would distribute information on school security, safety, and discipline.

--Peter Schmidt

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