Dan McGowan

National teachers' union leader to visit Providence Thursday

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The president of the American Federation of Teachers is scheduled to travel to Providence Thursday to visit two schools and meet with members of the city’s teachers’ union, according to Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro.

Randi Weingarten is planning to tour Pleasant View Elementary School and Mount Pleasant High School after visiting the local union’s headquarters, Calabro said.

Weingarten’s trip comes as tensions flare between Mayor Jorge Elorza and the city’s teachers, who have been working without a new contract since last August. More than 150 teachers rallied outside the mayor’s campaign re-election kickoff Sunday, forcing politicians to decide whether they were willing to cross a picket line to support Elorza.

The AFT represents 1.7 million members across the country and 3,000 local affiliates, including the teachers in many of Rhode Island’s largest communities. The National Education Association Rhode Island is the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Weingarten has made several visits to Providence since becoming president of the AFT in 2008.

In 2013, she flew to the city to support United Providence, an organization that was billed as the "first labor-management educational management organization in the nation.” Known as UP!, the organization was designed to turnaround Carl G. Lauro Elementary School, Gilbert Stuart Middle School and Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, but it faced opposition from teachers and federal budget cuts forced the city to abandon the organization by 2015.

Weingarten also traveled to Providence in 2011 to attend a press conference on the steps of City Hall when then-Mayor Angel Taveras issued pink slips to every member of the union as part an effort to generate savings at a time when the city was drowning in red ink. The city ultimately rehired every teacher.

Providence’s teachers have been at odds with Elorza for several months, accusing the Democratic mayor of reneging on an offer that would have led to modest raises in a new contract. Elorza has said he is seeking a “transformational contract,” although he hasn’t expanded on the specific changes he is seeking.

Asked if Weingarten intends to comment on the current contract dispute, Calabro said, “I’m sure she will.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan 

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