Teaching Profession

Hillary Clinton Praises Teacher Activism, Says Unions ‘Are Not Going Anywhere’

By Madeline Will — July 13, 2018 3 min read
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Pittsburgh, Penn.

Educators must continue to fight against the Trump administration’s policies, said Hillary Clinton in a mobilizing speech to teachers’ union delegates.

She was at the American Federation of Teachers’ biennial convention here in Pittsburgh, Penn., to accept the AFT Women’s Rights Award. In a speech to more than 3,000 educators, health-care professionals, and union leaders, Clinton slammed many of the current administration’s policies and decisions, including the recent nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and urged educators to vote in November. Still, she didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name once.

“I believe with all my heart that the test of any society is how we treat the most vulnerable among us, particularly our youngest, our oldest, our people with disabilities—and right now my friends, our country is failing this test,” said Clinton, who was the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and the former Secretary of State.

Clinton condemned several of the Trump administration’s actions, including “gut[ting] funding for public schools and universities and roll[ing] back protections for students.” She also said Trump’s child-separation policy at the border was “beyond politics” and inhumane.

“Why do they do these things?” she said. “Ideology, religion, corporate power. They have a lot of rationale and excuses. The net result is, they’re trying to rip the heart out of America.”

Clinton also praised educators’ activism over the past year, including in protesting for school safety and for more school funding. She denounced the Supreme Court’s recent decision to abolish “agency” or “fair share” fees that unions had been charging to nonmembers in 22 states to cover the cost of collective bargaining. Union leaders, including AFT President Randi Weingarten, have pledged to fight against conservative groups’ campaigns to get teachers to drop out of their unions.

“You sent a resounding message that despite the Supreme Court’s wrongly decided Janus decision, teachers’ unions are not going anywhere,” Clinton said to a standing ovation.

Strong unions, she said, “don’t just help their members, they raise wages for all working Americans.”

Clinton also commented on Kavanaugh’s nomination, saying it “holds up the threat of devastating consequences” for workers’ rights, LGBT rights, and women’s rights.

“It’s a blatant attempt by this administration to shift the balance of the court for decades,” she said.

Two years ago, when Clinton addressed the AFT delegates at their last convention, she said that teachers, paraprofessionals, and other educators and health-care professionals “have some of the hardest, most important jobs in the world,” she recounted. “And since I said that, your jobs have only gotten tougher, but so have you.”

Clinton finished her speech by urging all attendees—and every member of their families—to vote in November. After she lost the presidential election, she said, people would come up to her, crying, and saying that they didn’t vote because they didn’t think their ballot mattered.

“Elections have consequences, especially in today’s world where we are in the midst of a struggle for our nation’s heart and soul,” she said. “If we take back one or both houses [of Congress], which I pray we do, we can start holding people accountable again, the way they should be. The alternative is too grim to think about.”

“You really only have one choice, and I know that the AFT will be on the front lines,” Clinton concluded.

Clinton’s political action committee, Onward Together, has been sending emails recently, leading at least one columnist to speculate that she may be considering a 2020 presidential run—though many others say that’s unlikely.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are both rumored presidential contenders, are expected to address the AFT delegates later this weekend.

Image: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, center, acknowledges the audience as AFT Executive Vice President Mary Ricker, left, and President Randi Weingarten look on after giving a speech at the AFT conference. —Lake Fong/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.