Teachers Campaign for Bernie on Wall Street

The United Federation of Teachers handed out flyers in support of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his education reform plan.

The United Federation of Teachers met with Wall Street supporters of Bernie Sanders during one of the candidate’s rallies. (Image via Gage Skidmore @flickr)

While Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign moves to South Carolina after winning the New Hampshire primary, some of his supporters are campaigning in an unlikely place — Wall Street.

Outside the headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s teacher’s union, Sanders supporters handed out flyers highlighting the Senator’s Thurgood Marshall Plan. This policy includes an effort to desegregate schools, improve teachers’ salaries and provide free school meals among other goals. Campaigners were largely educators aiming to convince other union members to endorse Sanders for president. 

The American Federation of Teachers, the national affiliate for the UFT, changed their presidential endorsement process after members criticized the union’s early endorsement of Hillary Clinton in 2016. This inspired rule changes to the AFT’s endorsement process, including town halls and promises for increased transparency, in addition to an increase in local and state unions issuing endorsements.

“I think it spurs greater discussion at the local level and greater discussion with the rank and file. This should be done by the members and the new changes are doing that,” 12th-grade teacher and member of the informal group Educators for Bernie August Leppelmer said.

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Sanders has the most union endorsements among 2020 democratic candidates, with 15 to date, according to The Washington Post

He also recently secured the nomination of Nevada’s largest teacher’s union, a valuable endorsement in the 2020 presidential race. However, he has faced criticism from another powerful election influencer, Nevada’s Culinary Working Union, which has criticized his Medicare for All plan for putting a benefit they bargained for in jeopardy. 

In August, Sanders launched a plan allowing unions to negotiate for lost benefits with wage increases through the National Labor Relations Board after facing union criticism.

While the New York primary is still over 70 days away, his supporters aren’t wasting a moment to build support for him. Jeremiah Bornemann, a paraprofessional who helps educate disabled individuals in NYC, cited the Thurgood Marshall Plan’s pledge to triple funding for public schools, charter schools and districts serving disabled individuals, as a reason for his support. Bornemann says that shifting the financial burden to the federal level would help the students he works with get the support they need.

“As a special educator, a lot of students get misclassified [in the schools] based on their disabilities, or pushed to worse accommodations,” Bornemann said. “Shifting that burden could impact so many students’ lives.”

Ryan Bruckenthal, who helps organize both with NY Labor For Bernie and Educators for Bernie, doesn’t think it will be an uphill battle to convince his coworkers to support Sanders. He cited teachers as the largest group of donors to Sanders’ campaign, adding that the policies outlined in the Thurgood Marshall Plan would appeal to them.

“When I’m talking with my coworkers, for the most part, the main skepticism was, ‘Can he win?’” Bruckenthal said. “Now that we’ve seen the first two primaries were victories, people are realizing that this narrative that Bernie is somehow fringe, or not a possible candidate, is going out the window.”

Email Matthew Fishchetti at [email protected]

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