Dissent is brewing within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and the Caucus of Working Educators are about to launch a campaign within their union that has brought changes witnessed in teacher unions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and Chicago.
For the past several years, the a group of union activists have conducted campaigns that have raised awareness about today’s standardized test driven public education system, with their opt-out campaign being the latest. Now, they are promising to make the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers a more organized, a more mobilized and a more democratic union.
On Thursday evening, the Caucus of Working Educators announced that Kelley Collings, Ismael Jimanez, Yaasiyn Muhammad and Amy Roat are running on a slate to transform the PFT’s executive council. The structure of the PFT breaks down into two sections. There is a 26 member executive board and then a 9 member executive council, that includes seats like the President, Vice President, Secretary Treasurer and others.
Kelley Collings and Amy Roat teach at the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences and have been heavily involved in the Caucus’ opt-out campaign. Ismael Jimanez and Yaasiyn Muhammed are history teachers who have been teaching in the school district for seven years.
The candidates have not decided which seats they are targeting. Instead, they are seeking to make this process as democratic as possible by allowing the Caucus to decide. The candidates will take their slate and pitches to the to the Caucus of Working Educations and Caucus members will decide which seats the slate should target. Their goal is to make the PFT’s executive council as democratic as possible and a tool that can mobilize members against the latest attacks against public education.
To do this, the candidates have started, and are in the process of, organizing listening sessions that will “reach every school building and neighborhood.” On Wednesday night, Kelley Collings told a crowd that their slate does not have a set agenda, but instead, they are “listening to all PFT members across the city and building a platform that reflects our collective vision for the schools Philadelphia’s students deserve.”
Amy Roat explained to the Raging Chicken Press that the union is “10,000 strong but is not flexing it’s muscle because we’re not organizing or mobilizing.” She sees this campaign as a campaign to save public education in today’s current political environment and that this is “not an endgame, but a vehicle moving forward to make the union more democratic.” They believe that they can get rank-and-file PFT members organized and engaged to the point where they can sweep all four positions.
This challenge has a track record of scoring major victories in teacher unions around the country. Last spring, Progressive Educators for Action Caucus ran a 25 member “Union Power” slate and had decisive victories in the recent United Teachers Los Angeles union elections. In a union representing 35,000 teachers, the slate swept all 25 seats, which included Alex Caputo-Pearl unseating incumbent president Warren Fletcher. In San Francisco, the Educators for a Democratic Union ran a slate of 16 candidatesand they won 14 seats.
The Caucus of Working Educators candidates have not filed their paperwork for the positions they will be seeking, but promise to do so when the time comes. The slate will be presented at the Caucus of Working Educators convention on November 14th and the elections will take place between next January to April.