“NYSUT did not blink. You stepped right to the confrontation,” said New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “What you did over the last couple years is a model.”
Advocating for $15-an-hour wages; reversing funding cuts to SUNY hospitals; achieving a 6 percent increase in state aid for public education; championing pre-K education; supporting union and non-union workers; and taking action in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association Supreme Court case are some of the powerful examples of NYSUT’s sustained action, he said.
NYSUT stepped up to bullies, clear in its demand to be treated with respect, he said. “You transformed the conversation.”
Schneiderman, the “People’s Lawyer” who is the guardian of this state’s citizens, knows of what he speaks. He gets results taking on multi-layered problems on large fronts: drugs, crime, banking and industry. But he didn’t get to his position as New York’s highest ranking law enforcement officer by chance.
During the Great Depression, his grandfather was a member of the Teamsters, and was able to keep work. His father and two siblings got a great education in public school, and each one of them got a free college education at CUNY.
“They achieved great things because American invested in children and in the future,” he said. “Everyone deserves a fair shot.”
Schneiderman said he has often had to speak at union functions about how labor is “taking more hits than we’re dishing out,” but he was elated to say, “That is not true here today,” to cheers from the crowd.
“What NYSUT has done the last two years, there is no better example of organizing,” he said.
Conservatives have had clear directives, as witnessed in written memos, Schneiderman said. Their goal: weaken unions and the middle class.
“We are fighting back and we are winning and we are gaining more ground every day,” he said.
His office has defended workers’ rights to fair and decent wages, successfully recovering $21 million on behalf of 17,000 workers in what he calls “an epidemic of wage theft.” The AG’s office also helped 230,000 retail workers who were subjected to on-call scheduling.
Schneiderman was one of more than 20 state attorneys general who filed amicus briefs supporting the rights of workers and the rights of unions in the Friedrichs case, he said as delegates rose for a standing ovation.
“We won the first round,” he said, noting that the conservatives going after the rights of workers are “relentless.”
The idea of the USA, Schneiderman said, is that each of us leaves our country a little more just than we found it. Unions help achieve that.
“We’ve got to keep our organizing efforts strong,” he said, sharing his hope that this year New Yorkers break new records for fair contracts, and that the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY gets a contract after six draining years without one.
Educators are not here to get rich by taking care of other people’s problems.
“As long as you will stand up, I will stand up with you!” he said.