Were teacher union early endorsements rigged against Bernie?

Jake Jacobs
Nov 14, 2016 · 7 min read
TIMESTAMPED: American teachers felt something was wrong long before the Podesta emails showed secret collusion between the Hillary campaign and the major teacher unions.

I am an AFT and NEA member teacher that believed our union leadership was on the Hillary team well before the primary and didn’t give democracy a fair shake. Leaked communications showed this was indeed the case, with one email suggesting the NEA endorsement vote would be delayed if Hillary was not expected to win. They also discussed asking friendly members of other unions to block endorsement votes that looked to go Sanders’ way.

On the radio show/podcast The Majority Report, host Sam Seder, a parent of school aged children himself interviewed Dan Montgomery, the Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers at the 2016 DNC Convention in Philly. As a member, I listened closely.

Right off the bat, Sam asked about the “fairly early” Hillary endorsement:

DAN MONTGOMERY: “The AFT did a lot of early polling of it’s members”.

Yes, over a year early in fact. This was a complaint, even by Hillary supporters, that we endorsed before a single debate was held, and intentionally rushed it to lock in Hillary just as Bernie was rising in polls. This not only silenced the members who preferred Bernie (or perhaps a Republican) but also anyone that wanted public dialogue about education in the campaign.

Sam pointed out to Montgomery that Bernie was clearly the more pro-labor candidate, but he was also the better pro-education candidate. And all along the head to head polling had him doing better against Trump. Montgomery said “Hey, I love Bernie”, but then defended the process as legitimate:

DAN MONTGOMERY: We conducted “Scientific, real polls”. The results were “resounding, wasn’t even close”.

So were they “scientific”, real polls? It was hotly contested and teachers have asked for the data. There was considerable embarrassing press about this at the time. The AFT released one Hart Research poll, but the President of Hart worked on Hillary’s 2008 election and for PrioritiesUSA, her SuperPAC.

Hart called 1,150 AFT members “at random” who were registered to vote from a list of members provided by the AFT for whom there were phone numbers. Only 683 were Democrats and of them, 67% chose Clinton. That means about 450 people. So even if Hart’s poll was scientific, how was the call list composed?

Montgomery said they didn’t “just do an email blast” — but email blasts are better! Polls take a small representative slice of the membership. Email surveys can invite a full-membership census as opposed to a poll. AFT could have had responses measured in millions, as opposed to a few hundred. You also can get more specific feedback, or qualitative data.

As soon as the endorsement was announced, the Badass Teachers Association did a snap poll on their teacher-only Facebook page which got over 1,500 responses, more than double the Hart sample. This “un-scientific” poll asked activist BAT teachers, who are most familiar with the issues — and it went over 90% for Bernie.

Then, the AFT Facebook page where they announced the Hillary endorsement was bombarded with over 2,300 comments, 99% of which oppose the endorsement (and anyone can see the accounts are legit). This remains the one “online engagement page” that is publicly visible.

MoveOn’s endorsement process took the opposite approach, email-blasting five million members to show that the grassroots really can move an organization to the left. The Intercept noticed this in January in an article entitled “Bernie Sanders gets group endorsements when members decide, Hillary Clinton when leaders decide”. Besides MoveOn, the Communication Workers, Postal workers, National Nurses United, DFA and the Working Family Party also went for Bernie after asking the full membership.

As for AFT’s claims they emailed a survey to a million members, members say they don’t remember any ‘endorsement’ survey, or the telephone town halls, or the engagement webpage — and AFT isn’t showing their work. I did get called in AFT phone polls, but when they asked me to weigh in on politicians, they did not mention “endorsement” in any way. Tricky. The AFT has all this data, but won’t produce it.

FOOL ME TWICE: Sam then asked Mr. Montgomery whether the union should ask Hillary to name her prospective Secretary of Education BEFORE the election, to earn some trust. Sam even set up the question in terms of the unpopular Arne Duncan, the scourge of overtesting and corporatism, suggesting the AFT could furnish a list of five or so names acceptable to the educator community.

DAN MONTGOMERY: “We’ve got to get her elected first. That’s where I want our members concentrating…once that happens, Hillary has said to us repeatedly ‘you will have a seat at the table’…I think that means we’ll be able to sit down with her or share our ideas about what kind of people would make a good choice.

Montgomery did float the name of Stanford academic Linda Darling-Hammond, senior education advisor for Obama’s 2008 campaign. But even before Obama won the election, his transition team had already picked Arne Duncan to expand charter schools and corporate testing of every 3–8th grader in all public schools. Rahm Emanuel and Eric Holder were other Wall Street-approved cabinet heads picked in stark contrast to Obama’s campaign promises as corporate insiders secretly supplied transition team chair John Podesta with Obama’s final list of cabinet heads.

DATA-MINING TEACHERS: Another troubling issue is the relationship between the NEA, the other large teachers union, and NGP/VAN, the technology arm of the DNC that specializes in data analytics to win elections, specifically with a division called Catalist. They signed a 2014 contract hailed as a way of more efficiently identifying activist teachers to match them to upcoming events, but the tools build data profiles that enable teachers to be sorted by their political views. If the union ever wanted to identify pro-Hillary teachers to tilt an outcome, here is the software that could find them.

On education, the divide was clear. Hillary supported “bubble tests” and charter schools, and Bernie opposed them. The DNC platform ended up with watered down language on charters and nothing about testing or privatization. It was after the convention that the NAACP came out with a bold call for a moratorium on charters.

BACKLASH: The AFT’s early endorsement led to some negative press coverage, which the campaign was watching closely. Even teachers who preferred Clinton criticized the rushed process. By contrast, environmental groups held off endorsement until the platform committee meetings and won major concessions from Hillary’s team. Teachers got nothing they were asking for and much they never asked for, such as proposals for unwanted new federal tinkering with the teaching profession.

This followed years of top-down testing and evaluation policies directly championed by John Podesta and Center for American Progress, who were fueling Hillary’s campaign with money from billionaire “ed reformers” seeking education overhauls. Podesta even partnered with Jeb Bush and Republicans to hustle major campaign payola for years. This appalling video clip shows them revealing long-term plans to elect candidates all over the country to support ed reform and fund propaganda.

But we can also now see how Randi Weingarten, AFT President planned with the Clinton campaign to influence the AFT endorsement process:

“Randi mentioned today she very much wants to be on the offense going into the July 30th Executive Council meeting. She is going to be asking for a point of privilege at the meeting to emphasize the importance of her early endorsement. She has already lined support in the room among AFSCME, Trade Unions and IAM. She wants HRC to go into the room on offense too. I flag this because I think it could be helpful to have a strategy session around the July 30th meeting for the Secretary. Randi also raised the Cadillac Tax issue with me today. Randi is really an amazing HRC champion.”

Senior campaign staff responded by saying:

“I think diving into executive boards of unions needs to be done very strategically so we don’t create more headache. I’ll work on options for tonight.”

The campaign also internally shared that AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka “cut off debate” when it came up that the AFT’s early endorsement technically needed approval by other AFL-CIO affiliates to go forward.

John Podesta later wrote: “Randi, Thanks for everything you are doing for us. Let me know directly if there is more we can do to deflect some of the heat your [sic] feeling.”

Randi replied “…we are in it together… I am a big girl… frankly, I expected alot worse….and I have some ideas.”

WHAT NEXT? A frequent criticism of the right is that the teacher unions are in bed with Democratic politicians. But it seems to be the leadership only, privy to secret meetings and negotiations while classroom teachers and their pesky grassroots groups were ignored. Hillary’s corporate education policies were definitely helping her raise money, but turned key voters off. Her plan to continue Bush and Obama’s privatization of schools may even have driven voters to Trump, who vowed to “end Common Core” and restore local control of schools.

Full interview with Dan Montgomery here: (18 min.)

While standardized tests were being refused in protest by parents across the states, the AFT and UFT were quietly discussing the issue with the Hillary campaign. Secretary Clinton continued to support annual testing and privatization preferred by mega-donors, but the issue of K-12 education was barely ever discussed on the campaign trail.
Jake Jacobs

Written by

NYC Art Teacher, Education Reporter for The Progressive. Podcast at NYupdate.org