Weingarten with students at William B. Patterson Elementary School in Washington DC
December 18, 1957 |
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Trade union leader; attorney|
President, American Federation of TeachersFormer president, United Federation of Teachers
Randi Weingarten (born December 18, 1957) is an American labor leader, attorney, and educator, the current president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a member of the AFL-CIO, and former president of the United Federation of Teachers. New York magazine called her one of the most influential people in education in New York state. Crain's New York Business, an influential business publication, called her one of the 25 most powerful women in New York City business. On June 24, 2009, Weingarten announced she would step down from her post as president of the United Federation of Teachers effective July 31, 2009. In an editorial on July 3, 2009, titled "Head of the class: Outgoing UFT chief Randi Weingarten did right by her members", the New York Daily News said, "Randi Weingarten will be remembered as one of New York's most formidable union leaders—one with toughness, savvy and smarts to spare".
Early life 
Weingarten was born in 1957 in New York City to Gabriel and Edith (Appelbaum) Weingarten. Her father was an electrical engineer and her mother a teacher. Weingarten grew up in Rockland County, New York, and attended Clarkstown High School North. A former congregant of Beth Simchat Torah synagogue, she considers herself a deeply religious Jew.
Weingarten cites two events from her childhood which helped define her lifelong interest in trade unions and political advocacy. The first was when her mother's union went on strike when Weingarten was in the eleventh grade. The strike lasted roughly seven weeks. Under New York state's Taylor Law, her mother could have been fired for exercising her right to strike. Instead, she was fined two days' pay for every day she was on strike. Weingarten's father was out of work at the time, and the family suffered through some extremely difficult financial times. The second incident occurred later that same year. The school board cut $2 million from the budget, which (among other things) would have led to the dismissal of the drivers' education instructor. Weingarten and several other students convinced the school board to let them conduct a survey regarding the impact of the cuts. The survey led several school board members to change their minds, and rescind the cuts.
From 1979 to 1980, Weingarten was a legislative assistant for the Labor Committee of the New York State Senate. She received a Bachelor of Science in labor relations from the ILR School at Cornell University in 1980 and a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law in 1983.
Weingarten then worked as a lawyer for the firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan from 1983 to 1986, where she handled several acrimonious arbitration cases on behalf of the UFT. She was appointed an adjunct instructor at the Cardozo School of Law in 1986. She also worked as an attorney in the real estate department of Wien Malkin and Bettex.
On October 11, 2007, Weingarten publicly announced she is a lesbian. Weingarten introduced Liz Margolies, 54, a psychotherapist and health care activist, as her partner while accepting the Empire State Pride Agenda's 2007 Community Service Award by Christine Quinn. As of December, 2012, she was involved with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah.
Union career 
In 1986, Weingarten became counsel to Sandra Feldman, then-president of the UFT. Weingarten handled high-level grievances for the union. She was also lead counsel for the union in a number of lawsuits against New York City and the state of New York over school funding and school safety. By the early 1990s, she was the union's primary negotiator in UFT contract negotiations. Her negotiating positions became more aggressive throughout the 1990s.
From 1991 until 1994 she taught on per diem basis 122 days over the period at Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights. In fall of 1994 she taught history full-time at the school. By 1995, after six months of full-time teaching, Weingarten was elected Assistant Secretary of the UFT. She continued teaching per diem, from 1995 to 1997.
Elected the union's Treasurer in 1997, she succeeded Feldman as President of the UFT a year later when Feldman was elected president of the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Weingarten was elected a Vice President of the AFT the same year, and continues to serve on the national union's Executive Council.
UFT Presidency 
Weingarten has won re-election by consistently wide margins since her appointment in 1998. The local union's constitution required her to run for the UFT presidency within a year of her appointment. She received 74 percent of the vote against two opponents in 1999, and served the final two years of Feldman's term. She ran in 2001 for a full term and was re-elected. She won her third full three-year term with more than 88 percent of the vote, despite having two opposition candidates. On March 30, 2007, Weingarten won re-election to a fourth term as UFT President, garnering 87 percent of the vote.
During her tenure as UFT president, Weingarten has pushed for higher salaries and improved training for teachers, often agreeing to longer work days and more tutoring time in order to win better pay. Between 2002 and 2007, salaries for New York City teachers rose 42 percent. Weingarten has also endorsed merit pay for city teachers, and in 2007 negotiated a controversial contract which paid teachers bonuses if their students' test scores rose.
Weingarten is outspoken on issues of education reform and school choice, especially when it concerns the hiring, retention, and evaluation of teachers. She has not opposed school reform efforts in New York City, although she has challenged them when they threaten the rights and economic benefits of her members. She is a vigorous opponent of standardized testing being the be all and end all of schooling, private school tuition tax credits, and increased funding for charter schools at the expense of public schools. She has attacked vouchers in the strongest terms, arguing they do little to improve education. However, she cautiously supported Mayor Rudy Giuliani's plan to use city funds for a pilot voucher program, once Giuliani agreed not to fund the program out of the city school budget. She has, however, opposed school privatization.
Unlike some education union leaders, Weingarten has not opposed charter schools on principle. Rather, she has argued charter schools are worthwhile experiments in public education so long as worker rights are protected. Weingarten voiced reservations over but did not oppose New York City's charter school program, preferring to negotiate workplace due process protections and better salaries for charter school teachers. Weingarten has also advocated the unionization of charter schools, and attempted to organize some of them in the city. Weingarten's support for charter schools led the UFT to found its own publicly funded charter school in the summer of 2007.
Smaller class sizes have also been a major initiative of the UFT under Weingarten. She attempted to tie smaller class sizes to salaries in each of the three collective bargaining agreements she has negotiated, and linked class size to school repair and rebuilding issues. In 2003, Weingarten and the UFT pushed for a change to the New York City Charter which would force the city to reduce class sizes. The charter revision became caught in lawsuits and was eventually dropped, although Weingarten continued to advocate for smaller class sizes.
UFT Resignation 
On June 24, 2009, Weingarten announced she would step down from her post as president of the United Federation of Teachers effective July 31, 2009.
Collective bargaining 
Weingarten began negotiating her first contract as UFT president in 2000. Talks opened with the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani in early September 2000. The discussions focused on obtaining salary parity with suburban districts, but the contract expired on November 15, 2000, without a successor agreement. By March 2001, the talks deadlocked and a state mediator was called in. The UFT suffered a setback when AFSCME District Council 37, which represents city workers outside the school system, settled a contract with a minimal wage increase—putting pressure on Weingarten to settle a similar contract. Weingarten, however, refused to let the AFSCME contract set a pattern for the UFT's bargaining. Talks collapsed on June 5, and Weingarten asked for state arbitration. In an attempt to put political pressure on the Giuliani administration, Weingarten and the UFT endorsed Alan Hevesi in the Democratic primary. Hevesi promised a rich teachers' contract, and the UFT hoped Hevesi's promises would encourage management to settle the contract before the election. In the run-off between Green and Ferrer, Weingarten endorsed Ferrer, who ended up losing to Green. Bloomberg defeated Green in the November 2001 election. Giuliani attacked Weingarten for seeking a 22 percent wage increase after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and offered an 8 percent salary boost instead. Despite the war of words, the city agreed to use state money for raises on March 7, 2002. But still the offer was too small for Weingarten, and talks collapsed on March 9. Weingarten began preparing the UFT for its first strike since the early 1970s. The state arbitration panel released its report in mid April, advocating a major wage increase as well as a longer work week. Additional state aid was secured about a week later, raising hopes for a contract. A new collective bargaining agreement raising wages 16 to 22 percent and lengthening the work week by 100 minutes was agreed to on June 10, and ratified by the union on June 25. More than 81,000 of the union's 87,000 teacher members voted, approving the agreement by 94 percent.
The UFT's contract expired on May 31, 2003, due to the highly retroactive nature of the 2002 agreement. Once again, negotiations proved contentious. Only one negotiating session was held in the six months after the pact's expiration. In January 2004, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein proposed reducing pay for poor teachers and adopting incentive pay for others. This was followed a month later by a proposal by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to jettison the union's 200-page contract in favor of an 8-page set of guidelines. Weingarten declared these proposals to be significant threats to union members' due process rights and economic benefits, and asserted that the city's bargaining postures were once more driving the parties to impasse. Weingarten asked for state mediation in late March 2004. Then in May, with talks still moving extremely slowly, Weingarten agreed to explore a merit pay concept with the city. In September, the administration withdrew its proposal for an 8-page contract. Although an agreement seemed close in October, talks collapsed once again. Both sides cited economic issues (including funding for additional pay raises) as a primary reason. But Weingarten said talks had progressed well until Mayor Bloomberg intervened and overruled his aides, and she accused him of purposefully breeding mistrust between the city and union. With mediation having failed and negotiations at a standstill, Weingarten instituted a public relations campaign featuring subway and television ads demanding a contract. She also began mobilizing the UFT's 87,000 active-duty members for a series of rallies, protests, marches and a possible strike. On June 1, 2005, nearly 20,000 teachers—about a quarter of the UFT membership—packed Madison Square Garden for a rally in which Weingarten denounced Bloomberg and Klein, asked for a strike vote, and requested state arbitration. The public relations campaign seemed to work, and contact talks resumed in earnest in August and September. A tentative contract was reached on October 3, 2005, nearly 16 months late. Weingarten won a wage increase of 14.25 percent over 52 months, retroactive to June 1, 2003. In return, she agreed to a slightly longer workday (with the extra time devoted to tutoring) and to eliminate union control over some staffing decisions. The two sides also agreed to establish a new "master teacher" position (with higher pay) to help mentor struggling teachers and improve educational quality in low-performing schools. The long term of the contract moved the expiration date to October 12, 2007, just prior to mid-term city elections. The contract was ratified on November 3, 2005. However, it passed with just 63 percent of UFT members in favor.
Weingarten concluded her third collective bargaining agreement barely a year later. On November 6, 2006, the union and city reached a tentative deal to increase pay by 7.1 percent over two years. Weingarten spearheaded a citiwide coalition for bargaining in June and based upon that, several unions concluded talks quickly. The agreement raised base pay for senior teachers above $100,000 a year, bringing city salaries in line with those in New York City's suburbs for the first time. The city did not seek any increases in the work day or work load or any other concessions, as it had with other unions. Negotiations over health benefits were to be conducted separately in talks with the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group for municipal unions which Weingarten chairs. Observers say Bloomberg sought an early contract in order to win the union's support for school funding fights. A 2005 New York state court decision mandated that the state spend at least $4.7 billion more a year in aid to New York City schools. Governor Eliot Spitzer had demanded that the city pay a portion of these costs, but the city has refused—saying it receives proportionally fewer funds already than other school districts while educating far greater numbers of students with significant behavioral, health and educational disadvantages. The new collective bargaining agreement seemed designed to win UFT support for Bloomberg's refusal to ante up additional funds. The pact was easily approved by the UFT's 83,000 teachers and 30,000 other school employee members. In October 2007, Weingarten agreed to two sidebar agreements, one where the City and the UFT would jointly seek legislative approval for a new pension improvement allowing teachers with 25 years of service to retire at age 55, and the other- voluntary school wide performance pay agreement which provides bonuses to all the teachers in a school if student achievement increases by agreed upon benchmarks. In June 2009, Weingarten negotiated some pension contribution modifications for new teachers in exchange for maintaining the age 55 pension and for enabling teachers to return to their traditional start date of the day after Labor Day.
New union headquarters 
In 2003, Weingarten moved the UFT's headquarters from near Gramercy Park to Lower Manhattan. The union purchased one building at 50 Broadway for $53.75 million and leased the building next to it, 52 Broadway, for 32 years (with two 20-year renewal options; the union also took a minority ownership in 52 Broadway). Weingarten sold the union's longtime headquarters at 260 Park Avenue South as well as two other union-owned buildings at 48 and 49 East 21st Street for a total of $63.6 million to cover the cost. The purchases did not utilize any union dues. Weingarten justified the move in part by saying that the UFT wanted to give the city a vote of confidence in the wake of the September 11 attacks. But Weingarten also said the move resolved a space problem for the union. UFT gave up 310,000 square feet (29,000 m2) of older space in midtown for 740,000 square feet (69,000 m2) of newly built space downtown. Weingarten also financed a $40 million renovation of 50 and 52 Broadway, joining the buildings at several floors and adding a 1,000-seat auditorium, a 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) conference center, and a cafeteria. The renovations would be paid for by rental income from three tenants (the New York State United Teachers, the New York State AFL-CIO, and the UFT Welfare Fund) at 52 Broadway.
The UFT represents all teachers, paraprofessional school employees, and professionals (such as school nurses, school psychologists, and others) in the New York City schools. The UFT has seen some membership growth under Weingarten among these workers, as the union has pushed for additional staffing.
However, the UFT has a registered nurse division which represents roughly 2,800 registered nurses at Lutheran Medical Center, Staten Island University Hospital-South, Jewish Home and Hospital Home Health Agency, and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. The UFT saw more growth in this division, as the Visiting Nurse Service expanded and the union organized non-RN units at the non-profit company.
Weingarten's largest organizing victory, however, came when the UFT organized child care providers in New York City. The campaign began in 2005, and concluded in 2007. The organizing drive—the largest successful unionization campaign in the city since 1960, when the United Federation of Teachers itself was formed—added 28,000 workers to the union's 113,000 active and 56,000 retired members.
AFT President 
On February 12, 2008, AFT President Edward J. McElroy announced he would retire at the union's regularly scheduled biennial convention in July. On July 14, Weingarten was elected to succeed him. Weingarten is now the first openly gay individual to be elected president of a national American labor union. In her first year Weingarten has fought for resources to keep schools, and other public institutions afloat during this fiscal crises, and has started an AFT Innovation Fund, to promote and disseminate innovative educational reforms pursued and promoted by teachers and their union.
As of May 10, 2010, Randi Weingarten is in the eye of a storm which revolves around the AFT and Weingarten specifically interfering with the local elections of the Washington Teachers Union (WTU). A part of the "countdown" in the DC 'fired teachers' fiasco involving Chancellor Michelle Rhee, is the local election which is to occur during the middle of May 2010. Should Nathan Saunders, General Vice President, WTU Local 6, presidential candidate, and not a supporter of Rhee, win the election for WTU president, the terms of the teachers' Tentative Agreement and contract would be called into question. George Parker, current WTU president, is pro-Rhee. Saunders in an ednotesonline.blogspot.com, (see above) editorial, raises the question, "Is AFT Undermining DC Teachers?" This is not the first time Weingarten and Saunders have tangled.
Political activity and other roles 
Although personally "progressive", Weingarten and the UFT endorsed George Pataki for re-election as Governor of New York in 2002. Weingarten is very active in city politics as well, and has been described as a "kingmaker" in New York City mayoral politics due to her union leadership position.
Weingarten has also served as President and Vice-President of the New York City Central Labor Council (NYC CLC), AFL-CIO, although as of 2007 she is only a member of the board. She leads the CLC's Municipal Labor Committee, a coalition of public-sector unions representing members working for the City of New York. She has been called the only municipal union leader on par with the powerful union presidents of the 1970s who helped rescue New York City from bankruptcy—Victor Gotbaum, executive director of AFSCME District Council 37; Albert Shanker, president of the UFT; and Barry Feinstein, president of Teamsters Local 237.
A lifelong Democrat, Weingarten is a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). She was an early and critically important supporter of Howard Dean as Chairman of the DNC. She is a superdelegate who was pledged to Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary. In January 2009, she was mentioned as a possible candidate in the appointment process to replace Clinton's U.S. Senate seat.
Weingarten is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Albert Shanker Institute.
Steven Brill's book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools (2011) described the success of charter schools, using the Success Academy Charter Schools (then known as Harlem Success Academy) as an example, and profiled teacher Jessica Reid as a model of what could be done without union restrictions. He described how unions, particularly the United Federation of Teachers and Weingarten in New York City, protected incompetent teachers, and were opposed to pay-for-performance, and obstructed necessary reforms, a system he previously exposed in The New Yorker.
But by the time Brill came to the end of the book, Reid quit. The long hours and stress of her job, with nightly calls to parents, and constant prodding of students, were affecting her marriage. Brill changed his position on charter schools and unions. He said that after two years of researching school reform, he understood the complexities. He reversed his view of Weingarten, and proposed that Bloomberg appoint her chancellor of the school system.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Randi Weingarten|
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- Annals of Education: The Rubber Room: The battle over New York City's worst teachers. by Steven Brill, The New Yorker, August 31, 2009
|Non-profit organization positions|
|President of the United Federation of Teachers
Edward J. McElroy
|President of the American Federation of Teachers