The ballots are still being counted in this year’s energetic, contested election for the leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, but in a press release issued about an hour ago, the insurgent Caucus of Working Educators conceded that they did not oust the current leadership led by PFT President Jerry Jordan, which has led the union for nearly 30 years.
“We are proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time. This election has woken up the membership of the PFT, and we are inspired by the energy of the rank and file to be proactive about the direction of our union,” said WE Candidate for President Amy Roat, who teaches ESOL at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences.
“We have been organizing for positive change from the beginning, and this election gave us an unprecedented opportunity to do that work on a larger scale,” Roat added.
The Caucus of Working Educators began building a movement inside the PFT based upon “social justice unionism,” a model of rank-and-file democracy, community activism, and direct action that made national headlines when the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) took over the leadership of the Chicago Federation of Teachers in 2010. Similar rank-and-file caucuses also took over the leadership of their unions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Caucus of Working Educators hoped to add Philadelphia to that list.
But Caucus Co-Chair Larissa Pahomov did not see their election results as a defeat. “As a caucus, we are less than two years old,” she explained. “Before we came together, the PFT was essentially a one-party state. Many PFT members had never even seen an internal election before. We are happy to bring the democratic process to our union.”
The group’s platform argues that “the true power of our union to make change comes from strengthening the web of relationships between members, not from waiting for or responding to top-down decisions.” Since WE was founded in March of 2014, its central mission has been to energize the rank and file members of the PFT and it does not appear that the election results will deter their efforts.
According to today’s press release, now that the election is over, the Caucus will be engaged in several citywide projects to continue the work that this election set into motion, including a One PFT unity campaign to connect members within and across buildings, and a Building Power Training series to help activate and strengthen union procedures within each school.
It has been 8 years since the PFT had any kind of internal election for leadership, and the last time sitting leadership faced a serious challenge from an alternative slate of candidates was in 1996.
Some union members were concerned that the contested election would lead to rifts in the PFT at a time when public education continues to be under attack in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania. Caucus candidate for president, Amy Roat, addressed that concern in today’s statement.
“I want to offer my congratulations to Jerry Jordan on his reelection as union president,” said Roat. “We are one union, and WE will serve and fight for our union regardless of election results.”