BUFFALO, N.Y. April 4, 2009 - Delegates to the New York State United Teachers annual Representative Assembly wrapped up their three-day policy-making convention here today, taking action on a number of recommendations-many concerning social justice issues in line with the convention's theme, "Speak up, Speak out." The delegates also heard words of support from several speakers, including both of New York's U.S. senators.
Sen. Charles Schumer said passage of the multi-billion dollar federal stimulus package for New York averted 40,000 teacher layoffs in the state, and he said it was vital for those funds to be used to protect education jobs, a view strongly supported by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and state Education Commissioner Richard Mills, who also addressed delegates this week.
Schumer called for new respect for the teaching profession: "In the 21st century, teachers should be the exalted profession," Schumer said. "Without teachers, America will not stay number one. America needs teachers. The only way out of this economic downturn is to give our kids the best education we can."
In her first appearance at a NYSUT convention, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told the nearly 2,000 delegates that she shares their commitment to making sure every child in America can achieve his or her potential, and she pledged to work on reforming the No Child Left Behind program.
"My view on NCLB is to fix it and fully fund it, or get rid of it," Gillibrand said.
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi set the tone for the assembly in his "State of the Union" speech Thursday night. The union leader said the theme of this year's assembly recalled the words of Robert F. Kennedy, who warned Americans about the failure to "speak up and speak out" against social injustices.
"As we carry forward the mission of NYSUT-with your voices joining in - we speak up and speak out for the same and similar causes: worker rights and equitable school funding; ending the achievement gap; a living wage; and healthy and safe work sites and institutions," Iannuzzi said.
Delegates acted on nearly four dozen resolutions. Many of them called for action on such social justice issues as universal health care, supporting hard-hit members of the United Auto Workers union, enacting progressive tax reform and protecting the rights of same-sex couples. In response to the nation's economic downturn, delegates approved a recommendation to encourage all NYSUT locals to hold annual food drives in their communities. They also supported a $5,000 donation to the Southern Agricultural Cooperative for new playground equipment for students in Georgia.
Delegates, guests and staff also dug deep to collect $5,000 for the American Civic Association in Binghamton and the victims of the April 3 shooting rampage there. NYSUT retiree Roberta King, 72, was among those killed. A member of Substitutes United in Broome County - a NYSUT local - King was working as an English teacher at the American Civic Association at the time of the shooting.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten – who also leads NYSUT's largest local, United Federation of Teachers - praised her colleagues' "amazing dedication" and the Obama Administration for its support of public education. She, too, urged delegates to live the convention theme.
"We must continue to speak up and speak out and work collectively to get kids the chances they need and to get our members the rights to which they are so dearly entitled," Weingarten said.
NYSUT delegates heard reports from NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin, Vice Presidents Maria Neira and Kathleen Donahue and Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler. They also heard speeches by NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle, state AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and state Labor Commissioner Patricia Smith.
The union also took time out to pay tribute to the following NYSUT members:
• Loretta K. Donlon and Shelvy Young-Abrams received NYSUT's highest honor for women leaders - "Not for Ourselves Alone: The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award;"
• Thomas E. Matthews of SUNY Geneseo earned NYSUT's Higher Education Member of the Year award;
• Carol Herb of Monroe Woodbury Teachers Association received the School-Related Professionals Member of the Year;
• Arlene Hanley of Rochester Teachers Association and Richard Miller of the United Federation of Teachers shared the award for Retiree Member of the Year;
• Miriam Lynn of Nyack Teachers Association won the Health Care Professionals Member of the Year award;
• Andrea Figueroa of Jamestown Teachers Association earned the Sandy Feldman Leadership Grant; and
• Vickie Mike, a Spanish teacher at Horseheads High School, who was named 2009 New York State Teacher of the Year by the State Education Department.
NYSUT represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.