By:  Eleanor Mueller
Source: Politico

Teachers unions hit the Hill ahead of gun safety votes

ORGANIZED LABOR SPEAKS OUT ON SCHOOL SHOOTINGS: The nation’s two largest teachers unions are mobilizing against gun violence on the Hill this week as the House prepares to consider two bills that would aim to restrict access to firearms.

Their lobbying comes after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers last month in the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

On the schedule: NEA President Becky Pringle and AFT President Randi Weingarten will both participate in a press conference with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the mall Tuesday; testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday; and participate in a March For Our Lives event in D.C. Saturday, among other things. Weingarten is also taking part in a Students Demand Action event today.

What they’re pushing for: AFT, for one, is “calling for background checks, safe storage, red flag laws, and bans on high-capacity magazines and assault rifles that 75 percent of Americans support,” Weingarten told POLITICO Nightly last week.

And NEA has “been calling for background checks, preventing those people who have long histories of mental illness from having access to guns,” Pringle told The 19th. “Also, assault weapons have no place anywhere. Beyond school shootings, certainly there’s continuous shootings in our neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods of color in states where guns are flooding in from other places.”

What they’re fighting against: Pringle said in a press release following the shooting that “arming teachers makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to protect students and their families when they go off to school, shop at the grocery store, attend church services, ride the subway, or simply walk down the streets of their neighborhoods. Those lawmakers pushing to arm teachers and fortify school buildings are simply trying to distract us from their failure to prevent another mass shooting.”

Big picture: “Both teachers' unions and healthcare unions have been among the strongest voices calling for tighter gun control — partly because it's a real issue in their workplace,” Gordon Lafer, co-director of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, told Weekly Shift. “NEA and AFT have unequivocally rejected the occasional call for teachers to be armed as a defense against mass-shooter events.”

But not all unions have taken up the call to arms.

“This is one of those issues that are difficult for labor leaders to maneuver; in one hand, [for] public sectors workers like those who belong to NEA, UFT and CWA and other unions … this is a core issue around safety at work,” Patricia Campos-Medina, executive director of Cornell University’s Worker Institute, told Weekly Shift. “In the other hand, you have police unions and the wing of the labor movement who supports Trump and the pro-gun laws lobby.”

“In the middle, you have working low-wage worker unions like UNITE HERE, whose members’ families and children are the victims of mass shootings.”

A middle ground? “There are a lot of gun owners and hunters among union members, and unions are not for prohibitions on gun ownership,” Lafer said. “But I believe that most unions would support less extreme common-sense moves like closing the background check loophole at gun shows, etc.”