August 5, 2014
By Stephanie West
Los Angeles, California – There has never been a time like this for the labor movement, AFT President Randi Weingarten told the opening session of the AFT Retirees Conference on July 10. "People want a union if they can get it," she said, noting that the fight for collective bargaining and retirement security is one that we can't do alone anymore.
"When we work with community, we win. And when they divide us, we lose. And that's the difference between Wisconsin and Ohio. Our job today is bigger than it has ever been because we have a lot of in-service workers who are under attack in the name of privatization and deprofessionalization. I need you to be emissaries," she said. "Let them know that when we are solution driven, community engaged and a little badass, we win."
The conference keynote speaker, Rich Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, called on the retirees to get involved in the events held by their local communities. "We have to be worried by this election this year, because there is a lot at stake. There has been talk about raising the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare. Pensions—public and private—are under attack." He urged retiree conference participants to "go on the offense. We can continue to fight to expand Social Security; defend Medicare and Medicaid; make prescription drugs more affordable; protect public and private pensions; preserve voting rights; and expose corporate initiatives that harm retirees, workers and their families."
The message resonated with Bill Toto, president of the Retired Educators Chapter of the Great Neck (N.Y.) Teachers Association. "I came to Los Angeles to get an update on retiree issues regarding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; but I really want to get my members more involved politically, particularly around retiree benefits."