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Opinion

A conversation with Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks during the "Reimagining Readiness: Preparing Students for Life After Graduation" conference hosted by Nassau BOCES at LIU Post in Greenvale on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Daily Point

An enlightening visit

On Long Island for a forum on rethinking high school graduation requirements and college-readiness, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten paid a visit to the Newsday editorial board Tuesday afternoon. The conversation spanned from teacher pay and evaluations to the civic engagement of the nation and presidential politics—fitting since Weingarten also sits on the Democratic National Committee.

Her most interesting views included:

  • We are living in a moment with extraordinary economic inequality and distrust between racial, ethnic and social groups, but unlike in the 1920s, the chaos and dissension are being stoked from the White House.
  • In the hurry to test, test, test in math and English over the last generation of educational policy, a deep understanding of civics and the need for civic engagement and the connections it builds was all but forgotten, contributing to our current crisis.
  • Polling shows rural voters in Trump country may not agree with Democrats about immigration or guns, but the vast majority do prioritize strong local public schools.
  • It’s becoming more and more clear that a school funding system based mostly on local property taxes will never provide equitable education to all New Yorkers; a change to funding based on a statewide income tax is needed.
  • There needs to be multiple pathways to high school graduation, including capstone projects and deep learning.
  • Some testing is always going to be needed to assure students are learning but it should go back to just the fourth and eighth grades, and not be so high stakes for individual teachers or students that it poisons the classroom.
  • The AFT is going to be very involved in the 2020 election, and is working to get as many people as possible engaged in the political process, stressing sustained community engagement over simple get-out-the-vote efforts.
  • There is a path to 270 Electoral College votes for Democrats to beat President Donald Trump, strengthened by the fact that both Michigan and Wisconsin now have Democratic governors and secretaries of state, and the AFT will concentrate its efforts in those two states and Pennsylvania. 
  • The AFT will endorse in the primaries if there is a true consensus for one Democrat, or endorse the nominee if there is not. But teachers unions are free to endorse Democratic candidates in their states to boost activism. 

And with that, Weingarten was bustling off to LaGuardia Airport and an evening flight to Chicago to meet with striking teachers. 

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Shelling out the big bucks

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is gearing up for Election Day – and its efforts potentially could be costly to taxpayers.

The MTA is offering certain categories of workers an extra four hours of straight-time pay, or four hours of future paid time off, in exchange for working their entire shifts on Election Day, an MTA source told The Point. 

A change in state law in April allows any worker in the state to take three hours of paid time off on Election Day to encourage voting. Workers have to give their employers only 48 hours notice, which means this Sunday, that they’re taking advantage of the paid voting time. The law applies to everyone, no matter what shifts workers are assigned and no matter whether they needed the time off or not. All of this happens against the background of early voting and easier absentee ballot rules designed to encourage more participation.

The new law became a problem for the MTA during the June primary, when hundreds of Long Island Rail Road workers said they were taking the allotted three hours. And at the last minute, the MTA had to instead offer LIRR employees overtime pay to make sure trains were staffed.

To avoid another last-minute scramble, the expense of overtime, or train cancellations that could affect commuters who themselves might want to go vote, the MTA developed the four-hour offer as a contingency plan, the source said.

MTA spokesman Tim Minton told The Point in a statement that the MTA is “encouraging all of our employees to take advantage of the historic opportunity to participate in New York’s early voting.”

“We’ve been working collaboratively with our labor partners to ensure safe and reliable service for the riding public on Election Day,” Minton added.

But that effort could get expensive. The MTA doesn't know how much it’ll cost but if everyone who gets the offer takes it, the MTA could be shelling out in the “low millions,” according to the MTA source.

“We look at this as we have to protect service on a day when we’ve been handed an unfunded mandate by the State Legislature,” the MTA source said.

All of this comes during contract negotiations among the MTA and its unions. And the management-worker relationship has been publicly ugly as of late. A Transport Workers Union rally outside MTA headquarters in Manhattan is planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday, and one TWU official suggested last week that if MTA chairman Pat Foye showed up to it, workers would greet him with “tar and feathers.”

No word on whether any other employers in the state will offer similar incentives, or whether state lawmakers will see the MTA’s expense as enough of a reason to change the law come January.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Leftovers

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Final Point

Coming back for more

It’s the attack ad that won’t die. 

Back in 2017, during the tense race for Nassau County executive, an ad for Republican Jack Martins used a photo of three shirtless, tattooed men with the headline “Meet your new neighbors!”

The mailer warned that Laura Curran, a Democrat, would “roll out the welcome mat for violent gangs like MS-13!” 

Curran said the mailer misrepresented her positions, and she went on to win. But the focus on MS-13 and immigration hasn’t died out for Republicans nationally. The same picture popped up this cycle in a Virginia House delegate race.

The ad photoshops Democratic delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler next to the tattooed  men, who appear to be Hispanic, and calls her “weak on illegal immigration,” according to the Virginian-Pilot. 

Convirs-Fowler in a statement called the ad “racist,” adding that, “I believe that if you commit a violent crime in Virginia, you should go to prison, regardless of where you came from.”

The literature was paid for by the Republican Party of Virginia, authorized by the GOP candidate, and created by ad agency Creative Direct, according to the paper. 

The anti-Curran ad had been paid for by the New York GOP, but spokeswoman Jessica Proud says Creative Direct did not make the 2017 ad. 

New York Republicans continue to work concerns about immigration into their campaigns, as modeled by President Donald Trump. But Proud said the state party hasn’t used that image for ads since 2017. 

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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