American Federation of Teachers
555 New Jersey Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
1.5 million total members
250,000 retiree members
The AFT is governed by its elected officers and by delegates to the union’s biennial convention, which sets union policy. Elected officers of the AFT include the president, secretary-treasurer, executive vice president, and 39 vice presidents. AFT is separated into five divisions (see “Industries”) that each have their own unique objectives. All divisions are represented among the 39 vice presidents.
These 42 constitute the executive council. They are elected in the even years by the convention for the term of two years. A program and policy council represents each division of membership. Members of program and policy councils and their chairpersons are appointed by the AFT executive council, upon recommendation by the AFT president.
Paraprofessionals and school-related personnel
Higher education faculty and staff
Public Employees (Local, state, and federal employees)
Randi Weingarten, President
Randi Weingarten was elected president of the AFT in July 2008. Weingarten became president following 11 years of service as an AFT vice president. In the months immediately following her election, Weingarten launched major efforts to place education reform and innovation high on the nation’s agenda. In September 2008, Weingarten led the development of the AFT Innovation Fund, an initiative to support sustainable, innovative and collaborative reform projects developed by members and their local unions to strengthen public schools. She has been outspoken about their pro-environment policies and recognizes the connection between environmental protection and economic sustainability.
Loretta Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer
In October 2011, Johnson was elected treasurer of the AFT Educational Foundation and chair of the AFT Benefit Trust. Two months prior, she was elected as a vice president of the AFL-CIO—the federation representing 56 national and international unions, including the AFT. Johnson also serves on the board of directors of the Albert Shanker Institute, the AFL-CIO’s Union Privilege organization and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department.
Before becoming AFT’s secretary-treasurer, Johnson was the union’s executive vice president (2008 to 2011). She also chaired the AFT Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel (PSRP) program and policy council from 1979 until October 2011. Prior to that, she was an AFT vice president for 30 years. Johnson also served as president of the Baltimore Teachers Union’s paraprofessional chapter for 35 years and as president of AFT-Maryland for 17 years.
Johnson holds several leadership positions outside the AFT. She is vice president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council, AFL-CIO; is a trustee for the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO; and serves on the board of directors of the Municipal Employees Credit Union in Baltimore. In August 2008, Johnson was named treasurer of the national board of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and is president of APRI’s Baltimore chapter. She also is the assistant treasurer for the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP. Most recently, Johnson was elected to the board of directors of the BlueGreen Alliance; the Child Labor Coalition, which she co-chairs; the Faith & Politics Institute; and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank that focuses primarily on domestic women’s issues.
Johnson’s political activism led to her being honored as 2005 Labor Leader of the Year by the Maryland Democratic Party. Ebony magazine included her in an article titled “Blacks of Influence in Unions.”
Francine Lawrence, Executive Vice President
In October 2011, Lawrence was elected secretary of the AFT Benefit Trust and secretary of the AFT Educational Foundation. In the same month, she was unanimously elected to be treasurer of the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees and, a month prior, joined the board of directors of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 16 education associations dedicated to improving student learning in America’s public schools. In December, Lawrence was elected to the United Way USA board of trustees.
Lawrence served on the AFT executive council as a vice president from 2008 until becoming the union’s executive vice president and is a member of the AFT Teachers program and policy council. She served as the PPC chairperson from 2006 to 2008. She also is the AFT’s chief spokesperson for the Global Campaign for Education, a broad-based coalition dedicated to ensuring access to high-quality basic education in developing nations.
Lawrence was an invited participant at the Aspen Institute’s 2007 Summer Workshop, Rethinking Human Capital for K-12 Education, and its 2008 Summer Workshop, Rethinking Human Capital: Designs for Urban School Districts. She also was a member of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) Strategic Management of Human Capital Task Force.
Tish Olshefski, Assistant to Secretary-Treasurer Loretta B. Johnson, a member of the BlueGreen Alliance board. Her email address is email@example.com.
The AFT’s environmental concerns focus on the cost effectiveness of using sustainable materials and the benefits for student learning. For example, in a 2008 resolution, the AFT pledged to advocate for green schools that ensure a quality learning environment for students and staff. Additionally, in the 2008 AFT report, Building Minds, Minding Buildings: Our Union’s Road Map to Green and Sustainable Schools establishes that “green and sustainable schools create a healthy environment that is conducive to learning while saving energy resources and money.”
While the various “Green School” initiatives often mention greenhouse gases, carbon footprints, or global warming in passing, they are primarily focused on health, educational, and financial benefits. Some teachers within the union are heavily invested in environmental protection, but they are scattered, and their approaches differ across the board. Climate change education does not rank as a high priority for AFT.
Some members of the AFT have made it a personal priority to teach and practice sustainability. Some such exemplary teachers from California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York and Texas attended and presented workshops at the 2012 Second Annual Green Schools National Conference. For example, the UFT’s Steve Ritz, the creator of the Green Bronx Machine, has a project that provides jobs and achieves greater student health. Ritz’s Green Machine “has grown more than 25,000 pounds of vegetables while also improving academic performance and work opportunities for students. His classroom features the first indoor edible wall in New York City’s public schools; it routinely yields enough produce to provide 450 healthy meals to students, and it trains a certified workforce—students who have installed green roofs from New Jersey to outer Long Island. Ritz has bumped up attendance from 40 to 93 percent, helped create 2,200 youth jobs and won an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
Another UFT member, special education teacher Mitch Porcelan from Brooklyn, gave a presentation about his efforts to “reconnect students to the natural environment and create meaningful learning experiences.” He reported “his students, who spend time gardening and studying outdoors, have improved their performance significantly on standardized tests.”
At the same conference, the PeaceJam Club at Ponderosa High School was featured as a model program. Ponderosa building engineer Carey Kalisch, also an AFT member, presented his groundbreaking creativity: “room-by-room HVAC scheduling using digital controls, and energy savings by cutting down on the number and type of lights.” One of his students linked the result to “calmer kids and fewer headaches.”
President Weingarten has been outspoken about their pro-environment policies. She makes the connection between environmental protection and economic sustainability. She notes that “it is the responsibility of the nation’s public schools to prepare our children well and give them the strong civic and academic foundation, as well as the occupational skills and environmental literacy, they will need. To succeed despite the current budgetary woes, we must invest, not disinvest, in a well-rounded, well-supported education and in school buildings that are healthy, high-performing, sustainable, well-lit, well-ventilated and safe.”
Her claims have translated into the legislative sphere. The AFT lobbied the House for the passage of the U.S. 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act, which passed with their sponsorship.
The AFT recommends the following federal action:
- Passage of America’s Better Classroom (ABC) Act, which would provide $24.8 billion in school modernization bonds for renovation of existing buildings and construction of new schools.
- Passage of the 21st Century High Performing School Facilities Act, which would authorize grants to school districts for modernization and construction.
- Creation of a “Learning Environment Index” under NCLB that would require schools and districts to make improvements in the teaching and learning environment.
Green Employment Prospects
The AFT website lists “green jobs in a green economy” as a key issue. In her December 2009 promise to join the UN Climate Change Conference, AFT President Randi Weingarten said that “we owe it to our children to leave them a better world by investing in green, sustainable technology that will create good green jobs.” This language does not clarify how the AFT will invest in such technology or job creation. At present, the construction of green schools seems to be the only real green employment prospect for the union. However, these construction jobs would be temporary and might not include actual AFT members.
Further Comments or Analysis
Climate change is certainly acknowledged as an important danger to be taught to students, but, past this, the AFT has not been very particularly proactive in the fight against climate change. Resources for teaching climate change or environmental protection are absent from the “Tools for Teachers” section of the AFT site, and other resources are simply outdated.
Public employee unions like the AFT are uniquely placed to take a lead at local, state, national, and global levels. They can do so through collective bargaining, public policy positions, public education, and coalition-building. There are roles to be played here by people in each of the job categories these union members work in, from health care to schools, and AFT has failed to tap into its potential for influencing proactive climate change policies.
The positive examples set by the three aforementioned stand-out teachers could be highlighted in a campaign to reach educators and show them the unique place they have to impact students with sustainable policies and practices .
Appendix 1: Vice Presidents
Appendix 2: Officers Emeritus
Appendix 3: Green Schools and Environmental Education
From AFT President Randi Weingarten: Green Schools and Environmental Education
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten posted the following blog on DailyKOS outlining the BlueGreen Alliance Principles on Green Schools and Environmental Education. You can view the original post here.
Today’s students will inherit the awesome task of competing in a global economy while dealing with resource and energy shortages and creating solutions for climate change.
It is the responsibility of the nation’s public schools to prepare our children well and give them the strong civic and academic foundation, as well as the occupational skills and environmental literacy, they will need. To succeed despite the current budgetary woes, we must invest, not disinvest, in a well-rounded, well-supported education and in school buildings that are healthy, high-performing, sustainable, well-lit, well-ventilated and safe.
Aside from providing a huge health benefit to students and staff, constructing, renovating and maintaining sustainable school buildings are key components to an overall plan to create “green collar” jobs that will put Americans to work and give our economy a sorely needed boost.
As we start a new school year, the BlueGreen Alliance today released its “Policy on Green Schools and Environmental Education” to provide a blueprint for Congress as it works to make education a priority through reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This set of policy principles focuses on the short- and long-term benefits that can be achieved by greening our school facilities and educating our kids about their environment.
The labor and environmental groups that make up the BlueGreen Alliance believe that building truly green schools involves more than renovating and updating school facilities. We must stop narrowing the curriculum to simply those subjects tested by standardized tests, and instead renovate it to ensure that students are taught an appreciation for the environment, along with the knowledge and skills they will need as part of the 21st-century workforce.
The green approach is working in places like award-winning West Philadelphia High School’s Automotive Academy, where students apply their math and science lessons to build solar-powered cars from the ground up, and the Rosa Parks School in Portland, Ore., a LEED Gold-certified green school, where the improved air quality has resulted in better attendance and fewer sick days for staff and students.
The policies that will help achieve this broad vision of green schools include:
Green and Healthy School Facilities. Not only are green school buildings the best learning environments, they are a great long-term financial investment. On average, green school facilities save $100,000 a year in maintenance costs—enough to hire two new teachers, buy 200 more computers or purchase 5,000 textbooks.
- The administration and Congress should support the Green Ribbon Schools program proposed by the Department of Education to set a high benchmark for school greening.
- Congress should provide grants to state and local education agencies to renovate schools to enhance energy efficiency, remove toxic chemicals and improve indoor air quality.
- The administration and Congress should provide grants for modernization and construction of school facilities designated to receive Impact Aid funding—aid for school districts that include federal lands in their boundaries that aren’t part of the tax rolls—prioritizing projects that enhance efficiency, air quality and water conservation, and use sustainable building materials.
- The administration and Congress should provide financial support for school building construction or renovation to schools on or near American Indian reservations and Indian land trusts.
Environmental Education as Part of a Rich Curriculum. Fiscal crises in the states and an emphasis on standardized test scores have led many schools and districts to jettison subjects such as music, art and outdoor education. To be globally competitive, our children must be exposed to a broad and rich curriculum that:
- Incorporates a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program with a good environmental focus.
- Educates kids about the consequences of climate change, how we can adapt, and what action we can take to mitigate it.
- Encourages participation in outdoor learning programs. A study by the California Department of Education shows that participation in outdoor experiential learning leads to significant improvements in science test scores and classroom behavior.
- Teaches the concept of sustainability in terms of our environmental, economic and occupational health goals grounded in the principles of social justice.
Mutual Responsibility for Ensuring Our Students’ Success. Accountability is a word often used today, but responsibility for what happens in our public schools must extend to parents, principals, administrators and communities—in addition, of course, to teachers and students. All of us have a role to play in ensuring that students and staff work and learn in a healthy environment; that staff are qualified and are provided a rich curriculum, adequate resources and time to teach; and that measuring the effectiveness of the delivery of education take into account all the factors that affect student achievement.
Further, the report suggests schools should provide more opportunities to explore the vocational and technical careers that will address the need for “green collar” workers in the 21st century.
Jobs21!, coordinated by the BlueGreen Alliance, is a national grass-roots campaign for good jobs in the 21st-century economy. By having our children attend green schools—preparing them with occupational skills and environmental education, in a safe and healthy school environment—we are preparing the next generation to be competitive in a cleaner, more efficient global economy.
Appendix 4: AFT Resolutions, Green Economy
WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers has policy that enunciates our continued strong support of initiatives to strengthen career and technical education; and
WHEREAS, the AFT has made clear our positions on expanding educational opportunities that address environmental sustainability, climate change and more sound environmental policies; and
WHEREAS, the economic recovery priorities of the Obama administration are closely linked to promoting the creation of more green jobs and the use of clean energy as evidenced by the appointment of a White House advisor on green jobs, enterprise and innovation; and
WHEREAS, our members in K-12 and higher education, who will be expected to prepare students for the new green economy, feel they have not been consistently and actively involved in local, state and national initiatives on green workforce development, as they should be; and
WHEREAS, nearly 45 percent of AFT members live and/or work serving students and the public in urban areas, which are a special focus of green job development; and
WHEREAS, our members in education and public employment can bring unique expertise and experience to the discussion and work necessary to prepare the current and future workforce for jobs and careers in a green economy; and
WHEREAS, the AFT is in the position to be a convener of influential allies and partner organizations with whom we have strong relationships to join the effort to promote the development of an education and local/state government infrastructure to support green jobs; and
WHEREAS, the AFT is committed to advancing the cause of good green jobs through our participation and support of the AFL-CIO’s Center for Green Jobs:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers partner with environmentalists, labor unions, social justice and faith-based organizations, government, students and others to make certain our country creates good green jobs—including the green jobs of our members in education , government and healthcare—that:
- provide wages and benefits that can sustain a family;
- are in workplaces where employers remain neutral when workers seek to join a union;
- are safe and healthy whether by federal, state or local statute or by employer practice;
- where workers are provided meaningful opportunities for appropriate and sufficient training and certification; and
- where employers and employees model sound environmental practices; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT provide our affiliates with information and research to support their efforts to ensure genuine involvement of our members in K-12 and higher education, particularly those in community and technical colleges, in the development of curriculum and programs to prepare and support students—youth and adults—for careers in our emerging green economy. Such support will encompass analysis of effective approaches such as:
- incorporation of environmental education into the curriculum at all levels so that it meshes with teacher-developed standards and best practices;
- models for professional development that support educators and best practices in environmental education;
- examples of models in K-12 and higher education that provide education and training to pursue careers in green jobs, particularly collaborations with trade union apprentice programs that unite skills training and academics in ways that encourage lifelong learning and career development;
- models of community and technical college programs to build and assemble green projects, particularly in partnership with other labor unions;
- strategies for modeling sound environmental practices in schools and colleges;
- the role of school counselors as they assist students moving from high school to jobs and careers in a green economy; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT urge coordinated federal, state and local efforts and policies that assure adequate professional development in green technologies for career-technical teachers and instructors, beginning with establishing criteria for career-technical professional development through the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor and Energy; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT monitor trends in the development and expansion of work in the public sector related to the green economy and provide support to affiliates in areas such as
- defining what constitutes public sector green jobs; and
- guidance on training to help members meet possible new requirements for green jobs; and
- development of strategies to ensure the work remains in the public sector; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT support federal and state legislative efforts that enable the expansion of institutions of higher education as centers of research in green economy-related fields; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT support the development of federal, state and local legislation or policies and safeguards that ensure “green” businesses that receive tax cuts or incentives actually live up to their promises of worker training and the creation of new and meaningful opportunities for employment in the emerging green economy. (Adopted by Executive Council, 2009)