We Need A Democratic, Transparent Election

To all members of the PFT:

In September, the Caucus of Working Educators announced that we are running a slate of candidates for PFT leadership in the 2016 internal PFT election. Many PFT members don’t know anything about our electoral process, because they’ve never had a chance to vote in one--the current Collective Bargaining Team (CB Team) leadership has held office unopposed since 2004.

We want a democratic, transparent election process for all candidates and members. Unfortunately, as a union we are not there yet. Here are a few contested parts of the election process that every PFT member needs to know about:

  • The PFT Executive Board sets the timeline and procedures for the election, and have thus far refused to make the arrangements, despite repeated requests from the Caucus over the last two months. All we know is that, according to the PFT Constitution, the election must happen between January and April of 2016. Although there has been some hint by PFT employees that the timeline will mirror the ceremonial election process of 2012 (where the CB leadership cast a ballot for themselves on an “election day” in February), no official word has been given. Why is the current leadership refusing to start up the process? All PFT members deserve to know the timeline and procedures for the upcoming election--and they deserve to know it now.

  • PFT Employees are not allowed to campaign for the CB Team while they are “on the clock” for their paid PFT jobs, nor may they fund any part of the CB campaign out of the PFT’s pocket. However, any group within the union is free to meet in schools to discuss matters relevant to them. The PFT cannot prohibit caucus members from congregating, just as the caucus would never attempt to prohibit CB team members from meeting once their official PFT work day was over.

  • This is also true for distributing materials to mailboxes. According to our contract with the School District of Philadelphia, any PFT member who wishes to distribute materials about union business has the right to do so. The Caucus of Working Educators is a part of the PFT.

PFT members and the Philadelphia Public school community have been suffering through many years of the undemocratic actions of the School Reform Commission. This PFT internal election can and must set an example for how democratic elections can empower and energize a community. That can only happen when members are allowed to freely engage with each other and exchange ideas openly. Any attempt to silence, alienate, or misinform our membership weakens our collective power.

All of us in the PFT must build on the incredible city and state electoral victories we all shared in on Tuesday by giving all of our members a voice in discussing, debating, and deciding the future of our union.


The Election Committee of the Caucus of Working Educators



The WE Convention on Nov 14th: Organizing Skills, Union Lessons, and Announcing our 2016 Election Slate and Platform!

Without a doubt, this is probably the most exciting time in WE's brief history:

  • In September we announced our Leadership Bid and Listening Campaign; and have been covered by most major papers in the city. (The Notebook here and hereThe Tribune here and hereThe Daily NewsCity PaperRaging Chicken Press here and here). 
  • Through the listening campaign, we've heard from educators from every part of the city about what they love about their jobs, the obstacles they face, and their ideas for how we can strengthen our union.
  • All that data is currently being compiled into a platform that truly represents the democratic power of educators in Philadelphia. 

And on November 14th, The Caucus of Working Educators will host our Annual Convention. We invite every educator and education advocate to join us for a day of skill-building, workshops from education and union experts from across the country, and...kicking off our official 2016 election platform and slate!

The 2nd Annual WE Convention
November 14, 2015 at 9:30am - 3:30pm
Old First Reformed UCC
151 N 4 St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Lunch, childcare, and parking provided free of charge.

RSVP through our website or on facebook.

Even if you can't make the convention, join us around the corner from 3:30-5:30pm for a Convention Afterparty and "Meet the Slate" Fundraiser at Second Story Brewery.


WE are working to build a member-driven, democratic union that can defend and transform public education-- but we need your ideas and passion to make it possible. Join us for the whole day or any part of it (make sure you get some lunch, too). Even if you can't make it, please forward this info to a Philadelphia educator you know that might be interested.


Tentative Program:

9:30-10:00am- Breakfast and Registration

10:00-10:45am- Opening Plenary: “Race, class and the future of our union”, Brian Jones (NyCORE/MORE)

10:45-12:00pm- Workshop Session 1
  • Organizing to Win: How to Have Effective Conversations that Move People to Action
  • #WEarethePFT: Carrying our Message through Social Media and Beyond
  • Internal Union Elections: Know Your Rights

12:00-1:00pm: Lunch (catered by school employees from Taggart Elementary)

1:00-2:15pm- Workshop Session 2

  • Organizing to Win: How to Have Effective Conversations that Move People to Action
  • Lessons from Recent Labor Victories: Open Negotiations, Hunger Strikes, Charter Protests, and more
  • It Takes More Than a Strong Caucus: Grassroots Fundraising for Our Election Campaign

2:15-3:30pm- Closing Plenary: Announcing our 2016 Leadership Slate and Election Platform!


Build the WE Platform at FIVE Listening Campaign Events this Friday!

Have you been hearing about WE? Want to learn more about what it means to build a member driven, democratic union? Want to share what YOU want to see in our schools, union, and city?

Since we kicked off our Listening Campaign and Leadership Bid in September, we've hosted listening campaigns in schools, communities, and neighborhoods across the city. Next week, we'll be announcing the official platform and slate at our Annual Convention.

This Friday, November 6th, make sure YOUR voice is part of our platform by celebrating with us at one of FIVE listening campaign happy hours:

-Northeast Philly: Nick's Roast Beef NE (2210 Cottman Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19149). Hosted by teachers from Central, Greenberg, U School, and Wilson. 

-North Philly: Tierra Colombiana (4535 N 5th St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19140). Hosted by teachers from Feltonville Arts and Sciences, Saul, Potter Thomas, and Kensington CAPA.

-South Philly: Triangle Tavern (1338 S 10th St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147). Hosted by teachers from Taggart, Southwark, Furness, and Palumbo.

-West Philly: Dock Street Brewery (701 S 50th St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19143). Hosted by teachers from Workshop School, Mitchell, Robeson, SLA Beeber, Overbrook, and Morton.

-Counselor Listening Campaign: Manayunk Brewery (4120 Main St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19127). Hosted by Counselors from Central and Masterman. 





Weekly Update 11/2: Election How-To's (and Happy Hours galore!)


Dear Working Educators,

Here's your weekly update:

And now, your rapidly approaching chance to find out what we're really all about:


2nd Annual Convention

Saturday, November 14th // 9:30 AM - 3:30 PM
Old First Reformed UCC  / 151 N. 4th Street, Philadelphia

Share organizing strategies with other educators and union members in interactive workshops, hear the results of hundreds of listening campaign conversations from every school in the city, and help decide the future of WE.

At this event we will be introducing our full slate running for PFT leadership positions. Be there and become a part of the movement!

Don't forget to sign up to get our Weekly Updates in your email at workingeducators.org/joinus!


Racial Justice Statement of the Caucus of Working Educators

The Caucus of Working Educators believes that purposeful action needs to be taken in order to eliminate the adverse outcomes derived from perpetual structural racism evident in public education.

  • WE want public school based policies that resist the criminalization of students of color.
  • WE want curriculum and pedagogy that recognizes the collective contribution of all groups to modern society.
  • WE want a full and fair funding formula that can provide for all of the needs of our students and schools.
  • WE want standardized testing to end and no longer be used as the criteria to shutter schools since these tactics adversely affect low income, Black, and Latino communities.
  • WE want to attract, develop, and retain more teachers of color.

WE are aware of the barriers that all of our students and families face that limit their chances and opportunities to achieve academic success and a positive sustainable quality of life. WE support all organizations and collective work that are against stop and frisk policies, support the fight for fair and safe housing, support a living and sustainable wage for all citizens, and the right for all to have access to affordable and equitable healthcare.

The Caucus of Working Educators believes that this Racial Justice Statement  promotes equity, human life, educational and social justice,  and will develop the necessary knowledge and actions necessary to eliminate the barriers created by prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination and bias  in Philadelphia and beyond.


Open Letter to DeRay Mckesson on TFA and Racial Justice in Education


Dear Mr. Mckesson,

As the social justice caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we were surprised to see that you are coming to Philadelphia to speak alongside leaders of Teach for America (TFA). The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) is committed to racial justice in our schools and society, and we stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

We see Teach for America as working in opposition to the goals of publicly funded education for all students in Philadelphia and to the goal of increasing the number of teachers of color and teachers who are committed to building relationships with communities over the long term, which we see as an integral component of culturally responsive teaching. We view the hiring of cadres of racial, cultural, and geographical outsiders with very little teaching preparation as part of a larger neoliberal effort to privatize education and replace unionized teachers (many of whom are teachers of color) with young, inexperienced teachers (most of whom are white and do not intend to stay in the teaching profession and commit to the long-term improvement of their teaching practice).

This practice of displacing African American teachers, in particular, is already underway. While Philadelphia’s teaching force increased by 13 percent from 2001-2011, the percentage of Black teachers dropped by 19 percent. This has contributed to Philadelphia having the greatest disparity between the race and ethnicity of the student body and those who teach them. Only 31 percent of Philadelphia teachers are of color compared to 86 percent of the student body they are teaching. This is unacceptable.

TFA has ties and parallels with the charter school movement, which we see as undercutting public education. The mass charterization of public neighborhood schools has led to the outsourcing of public school management to private operators. Just weeks ago Philadelphia Public Schools announced yet another wave of school closures and conversions of public schools into charter schools affecting upwards of 5000 students. This is in addition to the 23 public schools that were closed in Philadelphia in 2013.

The decision to turn a district school into a charter is often made by the highest levels of administration without consulting with the school community, including parents, teachers, students, and leaders. Your support of Teach for America represents a support of these same kinds of outsourced and contracted paradigms for educating our children. Rather than hiring experienced professionals that will stay in the profession for a long period of time, Teach for America hires individuals with little or no experience in classroom settings via external channels such as private universities and corporately sponsored recruitment. Teach for America and charter schools both represent a failure of public leadership to lead and create change in our public schools, and prioritize outsourcing teaching and school governance over public responsibility to realize every student’s right to a fully funded, culturally relevant, education in their neighborhood.

Instead, TFA contributes to the dangerous and misleading discourse that claims poverty and structural inequality have little to no impact on educational outcomes. This irresponsible explanation provides Democrats and Republicans alike with a pretext to continue vicious budget cuts to public services and institutions under the guise that “personal responsibility” and “grit” are the main factors in determining a child’s success or failure.

We live and work in state that has the largest funding disparity between wealthy and poor districts and in a city whose externally appointed school governance commission is proposing to continue to close down schools that primarily serve low-income African American families. In Philadelphia where 79 percent of the city’s students are Black and Latino, $9,299 is spent per pupil compared to the $17, 261 spent just across the city line in Lower Merion where 91 percent of the students are white. This is the civil rights crisis of our generation.

In this context, we believe that it is essential that those who are committed to racial justice take a critical stance against organizations that aim to further privatize education and/or replace fully prepared unionized teachers with underprepared novices who are likely to leave the teaching profession in two to three years.

The Black Lives Matter movement has served as an inspiration and instruction on how to confront racism and inequality throughout our country. Part of that inspiration is the way that the movement has looked at the connections between police violence and racism and other inequalities faced by African Americans. We consider the attacks on public education to be a part of the “state-sanctioned violence” that the movement has done so much to highlight over the last year. We do not believe that the white billionaires that bankroll Teach for America and the corporate education “reform” movement are any more interested in the education of poor and working class Black and Latino children than we believe they are interested in ending police violence in Black and Brown communities. If they were, these crises would no longer exist.

We are glad that you are visiting Philadelphia, and we hope that you will use your platform to engage in a critical dialogue about whether TFA supports – or as we believe undercuts – the goals of a fully funded education for every student in Philadelphia with teachers who know their community and are committed to staying for the long haul.


Members of the Caucus of Working Educators Racial Justice Committee
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

For more information please contact [email protected].




After The Campaign: Reflections on Work To Rule


Earlier this month, we brought you the story of Mifflin Elementary organizing their Work To Rule Campaign. Their week-long action is now complete -- here's how it went, from caucus member Pamela Roy. 

Last Friday, after participating in a week of work-to-rule, the staff at Mifflin went out to happy hour. There, we shared some of our successes and desires for improvement.

On a positive note, many of the parents of our youngest students became aware of the amount of time the teachers at our school spend watching their children after hours. Most kindergarten and first grade parents became very aware of the drop-off and pick-up times with the understanding that there would not be adults present to watch their child. Some parents expressed their displeasure that they could not drop their child off as early (some drop them off up to 45 minutes before school starts). We hope that parents will continue to realize the importance of timely drop-off and pick-up times, for the safety of their students.

We also felt the roll-out and notification of parents was successful. In most cases, parents were aware of what we were doing- and why. However, we perhaps didn’t achieve the intended result, which was for students to contact the district and SRC and complain about the lack of resources in our school. Apparently, they were not inconvenienced enough to communicate this message to the decision-makers in our district.

As a staff, we wondered: what if there had been district-wide buy-in? Would that have been more effective?  Participation from all schools and all members would have sent a more powerful message. Additionally, we asked: Would this have been more effective if it had started on the first day of school?

Ultimately, we agreed that if we were to do it all over, we would make the following modification: we would have stayed in the building outside of contractual hours to have time to prepare for our classes.

Most teachers would agree that things like lesson planning, making copies, grading papers and the like are a part of the job, and those things usually take place outside of contractual hours. We would have liked more time and space to do those things in the building, with the understanding that we would not be watching or working with students outside of those hours, nor communicating with administration or parents. On a do-over, we would have still upheld our lunch periods as student-free time, and cancelled after-school activities.

In the end, the work-to-rule protest helped create solidarity amongst staff, while raising awareness with families that we have been stretched quite thin as professionals and our schools are sadly under-resourced.


So, What Does An Internal PFT Election Look Like?

Did you know that the PFT Constitution calls for an internal election every 4 years? Federal law requires that the members of all unions democratically elect their leaders, and the next PFT elections are due in early 2016. Here's who we will vote for:

  • 9 Executive Officer positions (including President),

  • 27 Executive Board members

  • 260 delegates to AFT conventions

The Collective Bargaining (CB) Team is the caucus that has held the leadership of our union for almost 30 years. Because they “ran” unopposed in a ceremonial election in 2012 and 2008, many of our colleagues have never participated in an actual internal election! However, as PFT members, we can nominate candidates, form slates, and run for these seats. Our involvement is essential to protect our rights and maintain a healthy and strong democratic union.

The timeline for this election is set by the current leadership. We are waiting for the current PFT Executive Board to adopt new nomination and election procedures and release them to the membership.

However, there is a template for how this election should go. Based on the 2012 Nomination and Election Procedures published by the PFT, here is the potential timeline:

  • An election committee will be formed, with members of any group presenting a slate included.

  • Nominations for candidates will be due in early January 2016.

  • Slates will be drawn up, and ballots will be mailed to members in early February.

  • Members will then mail their secret ballots to the American Arbitration Association to be counted.

If you're interested in learning more about how PFT elections work, read over the 2012 Nominations and Elections Procedures. Then get involved to help build a member-driven PFT!





Le Bok Fin: What Do We Value? What Are We Forgetting?

If you were around in Philly this summer, then you probably have heard about Le Bok Fin -- Philly's the "hottest new bar" stationed on top of the former Bok Technical High School.  As working educators and community members, many of us in WE and TAG were deeply upset about this type of development in our city.  
Although the narrative of development says: "a building shouldn't remain empty" -- we wanted to push back against that type of market-driven logic and remember that Bok's current status is the result of a massive slashing and gutting of our public schools' budget, on top of the historic disinvestment we've seen in Philadelphia's public schools for decades, and the subsequent disaster-capitalism-type shuttering of 23 schools in 2013.
Gentrification often depends on a certain amount of "forgetting" -- i.e. how the space used to function, who inhabited the space and benefitted from its resources.  Educators and community activists came out to talk to bargoers about the real story of Bok Technical High School, to ask the question, "What do we value in Philadelphia?" and to share a vision of stable communities and equitably-resourced public goods that benefit youth of color in our city.
Check out the video from the September Action at Bok Technical High School. 

Beyond The Bell: How to Log Your Extra Work


What has your building organized around the work to rule campaign? No matter how you are approaching that initiative, we encourage your staff to take the next step and start reporting how much extra time you put into your job each day beyond what's mandated by our contract -- that's both what you do for your own work, and what you do to close the gaps due to layoffs and budget cuts (that do not fit in your job description.)

Try it for just one day using this quick and easy form, and then we can send you a toolkit to calculate the number for your entire building!

We also encourage you to share the ways that you and your colleagues go above and beyond for our schools every day using the hashtag #beyondthebell. Writing college recommendation letters at midnight? Finding a full parking lot when you get to school at 6:30am? Rushing to the store for a copy-paper sale? It's time to lift the curtain on everything that we do!