A lawyer, educator and labor activist who would go on to serve as one of New York’s most influential and outspoken union leaders, Randi Weingarten has dedicated her life to one of America’s most turbulent zones of conflict: its schools.
For 12 years, Ms. Weingarten served as president of the New York-based United Federation of Teachers. During her tenure, she acted as one of New York’s most powerful figures, a kingmaker whom politicians and lawmakers actively courted for votes.
In her time as UFT president, Ms. Weingarten was a staunch fighter in the battle for teachers’ rights, opposing educational reform efforts when they threatened her members. She also actively worked to change the dynamic in New York schools, presiding over a teacher pay hike of 43 percent, working to increase accountability surrounding hiring, introducing a controversial system in which teachers received bonuses for improved test scores, and helping to increase mayoral control of city schools—resulting in years of vicious sparring with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In 2008, Ms. Weingarten became president of the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s parent organization and a labor union of 1.5 million, making her one of the key players in the national education debate. Since her election, she has worked tirelessly to move education to the front and center of the national stage. While she has faced more than a little heat in her long career—most recently, she was cast as supervillain in the documentary Waiting for Superman—the savvy negotiator and skilled politician has never been afraid to voice her opinions and stick to her guns, while demonstrating an ability to negotiate with rivals and make compromises to forward her union’s agenda.
Reported to be the first openly gay person to be elected president of a national labor union, Ms. Weingarten came out of the closet in 2007, and she has fought for progressive issues over her tenure, serving as an active member of the DNC.
In an era when unions have been increasingly demonized and teachers castigated as an enemy of education reform, Ms. Weingarten has been an outspoken advocate for teachers and one of the few remaining principled and effective union leaders of our time.