Jerry Speier

Pictured (l to r): Peter Pepper, President, Board of Directors, Workmen’s Circle; Honoree Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers; Ann Toback, Executive Director Workmen’s Circle; David Kazansky, Co-Chair, United Federation of Teachers, Jewish Heritage Committee, and Workmen’s Circle Board Member

(New York, N.Y.) – The Workmen’s Circle honored its historic partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its President, Randi Weingarten, at its Annual Winter Benefit on Thursday, November 30, seizing the occasion to urge guests to redouble their efforts to work toward economic and social justice.

The benefit, held at Helen Mills Event Space and Theater in midtown, drew more than 130 attendees, including supporters, friends, and union members. Flanked by courses of appetizers and dessert, a brief program illustrated the Workmen’s Circle’s longstanding commitment to seek a better and more beautiful world for all – and to resist efforts that divide instead of unite.

“Our progressive movement this past year has placed great demands on us all,” said Ann Toback, Executive Director of the Workmen’s Circle. “We have been forced into the position of fighting off a barrage of attacks on workers’ protections, civil liberties, immigrant rights, healthcare reform, taxation, and the list goes on. It is appropriate, and we are so proud that tonight’s honoree, Randi Weingarten, is a key leader in today’s national resistance movement. A leader who has spent her lifetime fighting for teachers, students, and workers everywhere.”

Ms. Toback added, “As a Jewish organization, today is perhaps the greatest opportunity: to unify and grow our base amongst the 99% and to take back political power for the progressive moment. It is especially encouraging to see so many women activists and leaders rising to this challenge.”

Echoing Ms. Toback’s sentiments, Peter Pepper, President of the Board of Directors of the Workmen’s Circle, said, “With the policies coming out of Washington, never has there been a clearer necessity for all unions and their progressive partners concerned with social justice to band together.” Noting the longstanding relationship between the Workmen’s Circle and American Federation of Teachers, he added, “The two organizations are and have been natural allies. Both have a strong desire to achieve social and economic justice and firmly believe that this may only be achieved by the strength of a passionate community.”

The Workmen’s Circle and the AFT have shared a mandate to support fair labor practices dating back to the early 1920s. Historically, they have had leaders in common, including Hyman Weintraub, Israel Kugler, Albert Shanker, and Ann Kessler. When the AFT fought a bitter campaign to unionize St. John’s University in New York City in 1966, the Workmen’s Circle contributed significant financial support. Ms. Weingarten has continued the close and productive relationship.

“It’s a great honor for me to receive an award from an organization that understands its social justice and economic justice roots, that doesn’t live in the past but is living in the future, and that’s really wonderful and I’m really honored by that,” Ms. Weingarten said. “We are in a moment that in my lifetime is both the most existential and essential. If we are not focused on how we help create a better word and connect with people, what will make this moment different than the 1920s and 30s in Eastern and Central Europe?”

Ms. Weingarten said this period is an “exceptional opportunity” for anyone concerned about the nation’s climate of fear and divisiveness to become engaged in efforts pursuing social, educational and economic justice. “People get it now; as kids say, ‘People are woke’,” she said, urging attendees to show up to combat bigotry and hate. “That to me is the role and purpose of our organizations right now.”

Ms. Weingarten has served as President of the 1.6 million-member AFT, AFL-CIO since 2008. Prior to that, she served for 12 years as president of the United Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2, representing approximately 200,000 educators, home child care providers and other workers in health, law and education in New York City.  During that time, she chaired New York City’s Municipal Labor Committee, where she coordinated labor negotiations and bargaining for benefits on behalf of the MLC unions’ 365,000 members.

She served as counsel to the UFT’s president, taking a lead role in contract negotiations and enforcement, and in lawsuits in which the union fought for adequate school funding and building conditions. She was a history teacher at Clara Barton High School. Ms. Weingarten holds degrees from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Cardozo School of Law. She worked as a lawyer for the Wall Street firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan from 1983 to 1986. She is an active member of the Democratic National Committee and numerous professional, civic and philanthropic organizations.  Ms. Weingarten’s column “What Matters Most” appears in The New York Times’ Sunday Review the third Sunday of each month.


About The Workmen’s Circle

The Workmen’s Circle powers progressive Jewish identity through Jewish cultural engagement, Yiddish language learning, multigenerational education, and social justice activism. For over a century we have provided this 360-degree approach to Jewish identity-building. Through contemporary cultural programs, joyful holiday celebrations, strategic social justice campaigns, vibrant Yiddish language classes, interactive educational experiences and more, we connect Jewish adults, kids and families of all affiliations with their cultural heritage, working to build a better and more beautiful world for all.

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