Updated, 2:30 p.m., with comments from DeVos’ office.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Monday blasted the head of a teachers union for her salary, which tops $500,000 annually, but Randi Weingarten hit back in an exclusive interview with the Michigan Advance.
“Great teachers… perhaps should be making at least half of what [American Federation of Teachers president] Randi Weingarten does at a half-million dollars a year,” DeVos said at a Baltimore conference.
Weingarten was in DeVos’ home state of Michigan that day appearing with presidential contender U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who’s made increasing teacher pay a signature campaign issue.
“I don’t think she knew I was in Michigan,” Weingarten told a crowd of teachers in a town hall in Detroit on Monday. “I don’t think she was that stupid. I know she’s stupid.”
Weingarten added that “we want you [DeVos] to end your tenure now and we don’t want you back in the state of Michigan.”
She said in a statement that she’d be “delighted to get all teachers up to” $200,000 annually.
AFT Michigan President David Hecker said DeVos should have known better than to have “come after” Weingarten, adding that she “gave it back to DeVos and hit it out of the ballpark.”
In a one-on-one interview with the Michigan Advance after the event, Weingarten noted DeVos’ wealth and said she’s trying to deflect from her record.
“If you’re a billionaire who has many, many, many yachts and many, many, many homes and is the head of Department of Education and has never done a thing to help teachers why not … try to blame somebody else who’s actually really helping teachers,” Weingarten said.
Harris campaigned in Wayne County on Monday, visiting three public schools with Weingarten and Hecker. The presidential hopeful has proposed increasing teachers’ salaries by $13,500 annually, which she said is a year’s worth of groceries or mortgage payments.
Education Department press secretary Liz Hill responded to Weingarten’s comments in an email.
“When you don’t have good policy to stand on, I guess you resort to name calling — and the four letter words protestors shouted at the secretary in New York at a protest AFT claimed to organize,” Hill said. “Pretty sad for an organization that claims to represent the teaching profession.”*
Weingarten told the Advance she has a “proposal” for DeVos.
“We could actually use some of the money from the [2017 GOP] tax cut, we could use Kamala Harris’ proposal and we wouldn’t even need one of your yachts or one of your houses in order to actually try to raise teacher pay,” she said.
Weingarten said she knows “how to negotiate with billionaires” like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She invited DeVos to work with education advocates to increase teacher salaries.
“Come work with us and find that $350 million that Kamala Harris is proposing right now,” she said. “And why don’t you actually instead of cutting the Department of Education’s budget by $9 billion — or take that $50 billion proposal you had for charters and vouchers — why don’t use it to raise teachers’ salaries? I could negotiate with you on that.’”
The Advance asked Weingarten why she thought DeVos decided to take a shot at her.
“Well, I think she went after me because she doesn’t know, we’ve been saying, ‘truth to power’ for a long time,” the AFT president said. “And because she doesn’t want to deal with the issues; the only thing she knows how to do is to insult, and to bully and to try to divide. And this is the exact thing that the president always tries to do when it comes to dividing teachers from their unions. So I think she actually went after us because she knows that she has done nothing when it comes to investment in public schools, teacher pay, all the issues that people really care about.”
Weingarten compared DeVos’ attack on her to President Donald Trump in March going after UAW Local 1122 President Dave Green, who was working to save the General Motors plant outside Youngstown, Ohio.
“I just think this is the Trumpian way of when you can’t respond to someone to a legitimate issue — and teacher pay is a legitimate issue — you just insult them and try divide or try to create chaos or division. You notice what did Trump say about Dave, about the local UAW head. I mean it’s just it’s their way, that they just insult.”
Weingarten noted that she and DeVos toured schools together in Ohio in 2017.
“She said afterwards, ‘I really want to work with you.’ I’m like, ‘Fine.’ You think I ever got another phone call?”
That comment was rhetorical.