RANDI WEINGARTEN is president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, which represents teachers; paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; higher education faculty and staff; nurses and other healthcare professionals; local, state and federal government employees; and early childhood educators. The AFT is dedicated to the belief that every person in America deserves the freedom to thrive, fueled by opportunity, justice and a voice in our democracy. This freedom is achieved through an economy that works for all, including the ability to form a union; great public schools and affordable higher education; healthcare as a right; retirement security; the right to vote and civil rights; a vibrant democracy; and safe, welcoming and healthy environments and communities. The AFT and its members advance these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through members’ work—we care, fight, show up and vote.
Prior to her election as AFT president in 2008, Weingarten served for 12 years as president of the United Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2, representing approximately 200,000 educators in the New York City public school system, as well as home child care providers and other workers in health, law and education. Weingarten is the recipient of many commendations; she was included in Washingtonian’s 2021 Washington’s Most Influential People, City & State New York’s 2018 Labor Power 50 and 50 Over Fifty, and Washington Life’s 2018 Power 100 list of prominent leaders, and in 2017 received the Roosevelt Institute’s FDR Distinguished Public Service Award. In 2013, the New York Observer named Weingarten one of the most influential New Yorkers of the past 25 years.
Weingarten has led the AFT’s efforts to strengthen public education for all children and to address the crisis in the teaching profession caused by deep disinvestment and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Through the AFT’s Fund Our Future campaign, AFT members and leaders throughout the country are fighting for adequate investment in public education. Parents and many others have joined the AFT’s efforts to end the overuse and misuse of standardized tests, and to fix—not close—struggling schools, something Weingarten has advocated since her involvement in the creation of New York City’s Chancellor’s District, which dramatically improved achievement in what had been some of the city’s lowest-performing schools.
Weingarten has launched major efforts to place real education reform high on the nation’s and her union’s agendas. She created the AFT Innovation Fund, a groundbreaking initiative to support sustainable, innovative and collaborative education reform projects developed by members and their local unions. At Weingarten’s direction, the AFT developed a model to transform teacher evaluations from a way of simply rating teachers to a tool for continuous improvement and feedback. This model is used to align tenure and due process, so that tenure serves as a guarantee of fairness, not of a job for life. Weingarten led an AFT committee that called for all prospective teachers to meet a high entry standard—as in medicine or law—so that they’re prepared from the day they enter the classroom.
Weingarten oversaw the development of the AFT’s Quality Education Agenda, which advocates for reforms grounded in evidence, equity, scalability and sustainability. She promotes what she calls “solution-driven unionism”—an approach to collective bargaining and collective action that unites the interests of union members and those they serve in the pursuit of solutions that benefit students, schools and communities.
Under Weingarten’s leadership, the AFT continues to grow and expand its voice as a union of professionals. Nationwide, the AFT is the second-largest union of nurses and other health professionals and the largest higher education union, representing 230,000 higher education faculty, professional staff and graduate employees. Weingarten helped source millions of dollars of personal protective equipment for nurses and health professionals experiencing shortages as they served on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Weingarten is an advocate for a New Deal for Higher Education, a campaign calling for substantial federal investment in higher education that would prioritize teaching, research and student supports; provide sustainable careers with professional voice for all faculty and staff; allow all students to attend regardless of ability to pay; create academic environments free of racism and other forms of bigotry; and cancel student debt.