The national teachers’ unions have not endorsed a presidential candidate yet—but teachers in the City of Angels decided they didn’t want to wait.
On Thursday, United Teachers Los Angeles announced that it had endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for president in the Democratic primary race. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement that Sanders would be an “unapologetic, longstanding ally of progressive policies,” and that Sanders would “make public education a priority in the White House.” Caputo-Pearl added further that Sanders would be the first candidate in a quarter-century to “stand up against privatization, the charter billionaries, and high-stakes testing.”
Tonight #UTLAStrong House of Reps voted 80% to endorse #BernieSanders, following the most comprehensive member engagement process UTLA ever conducted for a political candidate. Like UTLA, Sanders believes in building a national movement for lasting change. https://t.co/RRG7fhOViR pic.twitter.com/sdERYo5Ffo
— United Teachers Los Angeles (@UTLAnow) November 15, 2019
The endorsement marks a departure from the typical endorsement process unions have used to endorse presidential candidates. It’s unusual, although not unheard of, for local affiliates to endorse before the two national unions make decisions. (UTLA is an affiliate of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.)
In 2016, both the AFT and the NEA endorsed Hillary Clinton over Sanders early on in the Democratic primary—the AFT made the call in July 2015, and the NEA followed in early October.
However, many union members were dissatisfied with that decision, either because they supported Sanders instead or because they wanted a more deliberate endorsement process. Last March, the AFT announced that it would have an extensive process before endorsing any candidate; the union has held a host of town halls with candidates. In May, the NEA also announced a more detailed endorsement process for 2020.
In 2008, the NEA did not endorse any candidate in the primary, and some of its affiliates made their own decisions. The AFT, meanwhile, endorsed Clinton, while some of its affiliates endorsed Obama.
UTLA went on strike at the start of this year. Issues such as reducing class sizes and adding more school nurses were the foremost issues in the strike, not teacher pay.
Sanders’ Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education calls for tripling federal funding for disadvantaged students, a ban on for-profit charter schools along with other huge changes to how charters operate, and a national minimum teachers’ salary of $60,000. Many of Sanders’ plans would require the cooperation of Congress and the states, and would face a very steep climb before becoming reality.
Eighty percent of the UTLA’s House of Representatives, the leadership group of the 34,000-member union, voted to endorse Sanders on Thursday. It follows a public process that dates back to September, when the union’s board of directors voted 35-1 to begin exploring an endorsement process for Sanders.
Photo: Patrick Semansky for the Associated Press