REPORT: Lobbying for Deception: The Hidden Collaboration between the AFT & CDC

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Recent reports from the New York Post and other media outlets have shed light on a concerning series of emails between American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union president Randi Weingarten, and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky (MD, MPH), in which their offices collaborated in changing CDC guidelines in reopening schools to fit the alternative views of the AFT. In February 2021, a series of “suggested changes” to guidelines for public schools was directly implemented in the CDC’s K-12 Operational Strategy, updated only a few days after the emails were sent. 

No public announcement of collaboration between the two groups was ever published internally or externally, though Weingarten praised Dr. Walensky in a follow-up email, for her “genuine desire to earn our confidence and your commitment to partnership.” Several times in latter emails, obtained by a FOIA request via Americans for Public Trust, both CDC and AFT officials express their excitement at the continued teamwork as “thought partners.”

Strangely, this is not mentioned or alluded to at any point or in any document or memo to company staff in the AFT—obtained from a source inside the union. In fact, in public statements, tweets, and internal emails provided by Weingarten and her team, the CDC is referenced only as an organization they’ve “sent letters and memos to”, only having spoken with officials from the CDC in April. Because we now know that Weingarten, Dr. Walensky, and their staff were in Zoom calls developing partnerships as early as February—these statements are blisteringly dishonest at best, or horribly evasive and deceptive at worst. 

Twice now in the last five months Randi Weingarten has “suggested” changes to the CDC’s recommendations (once in February, once in April), and the CDC has done so within a week of each request. Upon questions from the media, schools, and legislators as to why the CDC had walked back its guidelines for reopening procedures, the CDC declined to comment or provide evidence—despite emails from Dr. Walensky’s office confirming that AFT pressure and collaboration was the catalyst for the changes. In a specifically damning moment, a reporter from Yahoo News asked, during the CDC press conference on February 12, if the CDC’s guidelines were “free from political meddling” and if she was delivering a message to unions. She responded, “…my presence here is not a message to anyone. My employer is the U.S. Department of Education, and I represent their views.” 

In 2020, the American Federation of Teachers began lobbying for several key bills in Congress that would drastically increase the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and the scope of its power and reach in the United States. In 2020 alone, $1,560,000 was spent by the AFT in part to benefit the CDC directly. Specifically, H.R.1227, H.R.1976, H.Con.Res.11, S.187, S.386, and S.531 all would directly benefit the upper administration salaries of the CDC. 

Additionally, after the CDC launched guidelines Weingarten agreed with, she began large internal and external campaigns to follow CDC procedures to the letter. Comically, just a few days after her initial collaboration with Dr. Walensky, she chided officials from the previous administration for “interfering with the CDC.”

As of May 4, 2021, neither Randi Weingarten nor Dr. Rochelle Walensky have responded to inquiries concerning the matter.

Tony Kinnett
Tony Kinnett is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chalkboard Review. He is an award-winning science teacher, and the former science coordinator and head instructional coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, until he was fired for whistleblowing information concerning the school system's use of racist material. In February, he was appointed the director of the education nonprofit Choice Media, now Chalkboard Media.