July 07, 2014

In Fallsburg, unions take a stand for rights and fairness

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT Communications

The seven teachers from Fallsburg's Benjamin Coser Elementary School in Sullivan County had no idea why they were being ordered by a district administrator to report immediately to police.

Was there an emergency? Had there been an accident? Were their families OK?

But soon after arriving at the Fallsburg Police Department, they were shocked to learn they were all under suspicion of using heroin while at school. In fact, the local police chief demanded the educators, right there and then, provide urine samples to prove their innocence.

There was panic. The educators feared for their jobs. The stress was overwhelming.

Fortunately, they were all union members and had access to legal consultation provided by NYSUT, which immediately stepped in to ensure its members' civil rights were protected and that they were afforded the due process to which they are entitled.

The probe started after a school resource officer in December 2013 discovered heroin and needles in a school bathroom. A camera was then set up to record when employees accessed the restroom. Two months after the initial discovery, more heroin and paraphernalia was found again, leading to the roundup of anyone recorded entering the bathroom during that span.

All of the educators summoned by local authorities are either members of the Fallsburg Teachers Association or Fallsburg School-Related Professionals, both of which are local affiliates of NYSUT.

Concerned with the safety and well-being of the school's students and staff, the union emphasized it would cooperate fully with authorities. But, in doing so, it also made clear that it fully expected, and would ensure, their members were treated fairly. Their profession not withstanding, the educators are citizens first and, as such, have basic rights that the union would make certain were protected.

Ultimately, the educators submitted hair-follicle samples and, to date, all those tested have been cleared.

Meanwhile, the school resource officer has been re-assigned due to controversy over the way in which the Fallsburg probe was handled.

It's been a trying time for these educators. But, as it does in workplaces everywhere, their union made sure they were treated with fairness and their rights weren't trampled.