Budget woes a pretext for war on teachers, unions

The leader of the nation's big-city teachers' union on Monday said Republican governors and lawmakers were using "the pretext of budget problems to basically take away peoples' voices."

Meeting with the Inquirer Editorial Board, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said teachers in a number of major cities had already offered to accept contract terms that helped save millions of dollars. She decried Gov. Corbett's plan to cut education funding by $1 billion.

AFT president Randi Weingarten spoke to the Inquirer Editorial Board (Russell Cooke/Inquirer staff)

Weingarten said it was ironic that, amid the assault on collective-bargaining rights to cut spending in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio, some of the states that are doing even worse financially already bar labor unions from negotiating for public workers. She named Arizona, Texas, and Nevada, among others.

Here to address students at Temple University, Weingarten said "people are starting to say 'Don't turn back the clock' " on both bargaining rights and education funding. She said teachers are willing to do their share to contain costs. She was accompanied by Philadelphia PFT president Jerry Jordan, who noted that city teachers are working under an existing wage freeze but have not broached the subject of extending the freeze.

Weingarten is known for her moderate tone of engagement with education management - a style that seems even more appealing in contrast to the confrontational tactics of elected officials such as Gov. Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The question is whether moderate public-sector union leaders will be able to win over taxpayers who really do want to see government spending reduced.