Randi Weingarten has spent only a small portion of her career in the classroom despite leading the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest national teachers union in the United States. Trained as a lawyer, Weingarten taught full-time for just three years and was a substitute teacher for three more.
However, according to a report by Freedom Foundation, a think tank, she will collect over 15 years’ worth of public pension when she retires. That sum could total well over $200,000.
Weingarten worked as a per diem substitute between 1991 and 1994 and then became a full-time teacher for three years. Weingarten was also employed as legal counsel for United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Sandra Feldman until 1998, after which Weingarten became union president.
But according to public records, Weingarten is listed as having collected over 15 years of “service credit” as a teacher—meaning she can expect the pension benefits of someone who worked in the classroom for well over a decade longer than Weingarten has.
How has Weingarten earned 15 years’ worth of pension benefits? Per Freedom Foundation’s Maxford Nelsen, it’s due to the UFT collective bargaining agreement, which allowed her to have over 11 extra years counted toward her “service” even though she wasn’t in the classroom. This likely came from “time spent…on union leave as treasurer and then president of UFT from 1997 until her election as AFT president in 2008,” Nelsen notes.
“Employees who are officers of the Union or who are appointed to its staff shall, upon proper application, be given a leave of absence without pay for each school year during the term of this Agreement for the purpose of performing legitimate duties for the Union,” the collective bargaining agreement said. Public records from November 2022 show that Weingarten was one of several dozen such “teachers” out on union leave.
While Weingarten’s union leave is unpaid, the New York City Department of Education used tax revenue to pay her pension contributions for over a decade.
Weingarten wouldn’t have been eligible for a pension in the first place without the extra service credit from her union years, as teachers need five years of service credit to be eligible for a pension. Including 12 months of credit she received from substitute teaching, Weingarten only had four years of service credit from her time actually spent teaching.
It’s unclear how much taxpayers will shell out for Weingarten’s pension. Assuming her average salary was $60,000 (public records show that her last salary as a New York City teacher was $64,313) and she collects her pension for 15 years, taxpayers could end up paying Weingarten $230,000 total, Nelsen estimates—not including any cost-of-living adjustments.
Weingarten has disputed this, telling the New York Post that his calculation is “completely wrong,” adding that “I would have to check with UFT and TRS [Teachers Retirement System] on the other or find a quarterly statement, none of which I have right now.” UFT did not respond to a request for comment.
Students are hardly Weingarten’s top priority. Despite recent attempts to rehabilitate her image, Weingarten was a vocal supporter of extended COVID-related school closures, advocating for such ridiculous policies as forgiving all teacher student loan debt and suspending teacher evaluations as requirements for “safe” reopening.
“Weingarten’s case is a prime example of how government unions around the country have managed to force taxpayers to subsidize their extreme, one-sided political advocacy,” Nelsen wrote, “and it’s high time federal and state lawmakers stand up to union influence.”