A record number of new young activists joined several hundred of their union colleagues at NYSUT's 33rd annual Community College Conference in the fall to discuss strategy, learn new leadership techniques and discuss effective approaches to collective bargaining.
The 40 first-time attendees was double the normal turnout for new activists at the conference, said conference chair Ellen Schuler Mauk, a NYSUT board member and president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that for some time now, a lot of locals have had leadership development programs," Schuler Mauk said. "Tough times bring in people who want to make a difference."
Justin Rahn, 25, a new member of the Mohawk Valley Community College Professional Association, said he joined out of a concern for the future of community colleges. He is a graduate of Mohawk Valley and now works as an advisor there.
He said he thinks the next few years ''are going to be a time of austerity, of really coming to grips as a country as to what the priorities are and whether community colleges are going to be there to fill that need."
Speaking during the conference, both NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Vice President Kathleen Donahue lauded the community college leaders for their solidarity in difficult times. Among the topics covered: mobilizing younger members; building long-range political action; collective bargaining during a recession; and strategies for handling bullying in the workplace (see related story).
Members said they benefitted from the atmosphere of mutual support as well as the informative workshops. Rosa Maria Smith, a member of United College Employees – Fashion Institute of Technology, called the conference ''excellent" and said she is active not only for herself, but for the future of her six children.
''I want them to be able to participate, to have the knowledge, because knowledge is power," she said.