This is a tough time to be a union leader, but the attitude among nearly 150 new NYSUT local union presidents is, "We're up to the job, and then some."
The leaders are gathering at NYSUT headquarters for the New Local Presidents Conference this week to learn about NYSUT programs, strategies and staff that support members.
"You've taken on a tremendous responsibility," Vice President Kathleen Donahue told the gathering. "We work for you - never hesitate to call us and ask for help. Always remember - you're not alone."
The joke about the local president who ducked out of a union meeting to make a phone call and returned to learn that he or she had just been elected president rarely happens in real life. Throughout the group, new leaders spoke of how they had decided to run in answer to a call for action, or out of the spirit of unionism. Most have longstanding experience in other leadership positions; all understand the heavy responsibilities they are undertaking.
"I've been in three contract negotiations and I felt it was important to be part of that, and also to maintain some of the legacy I was brought in under," said Sean Kennedy, the incoming president of the Yorktown Congress of Teachers.
Members could choose from workshops on a range of topics, including health care, retirement and pension systems, field and legal services, communications and an overview of NYSUT's governance.
"The programs and services that we have will make their job easier, better and more efficient," Donahue said. "The networking that they will build in the next few days will help them move forward in their job."