February 2011
February 09, 2011

Retirees advance the union's work

Author: Bernie Mulllligan
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Retired North Country educators meet the soldiers in their adopted platoon. Teachers are, from left, Kathy Wallace, Hope Marston, Gloria Spadora, Priscilla Zeller, Marianne Malatino and Burt Phillips. Now in Afghanistan, the cavalry unit from Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division is scheduled to return home this spring.

After closing out their professional careers, many of NYSUT's 140,000 retirees remain involved in activities that benefit their union sisters and brothers, and their community. Here are some of things they are doing:

Saving Social Security

NYSUT retirees were in the forefront of the fight to stop a key proposal of the federal Anti-Deficit Commission.

When the panel delivered final recommendations in December that included raising the retirement age for Social Security and affecting benefits for future recipients, commission members rejected the report because of the outcry — including petitions collected by active and retired NYSUT members — against the proposed cuts.

"I am proud of the role our retirees played," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who oversees the union's retiree program. "We helped stop recommendations that would have hit our members, other working families and the poor the hardest."
NYSUT activists gathered more than 5,000 signatures. The petitions were delivered to the White House and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

"We have the experience of speaking with strength, knowledge and fortitude to issues regarding our members," said Peter Randazzo, a retiree consultant in Rochester. "The role is ours."

Adopting soldiers

Kathy Wallace has taken her years as an educator to a new field — trying to bring the comforts of home to soldiers overseas.

The science teacher and union activist, who retired in 2006 from the Lowville schools in Lewis County, is a leader in the national "Adopt-a-Platoon" effort, which provides care packages for the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The materials can range from cards and letters, to home-baked brownies, to artwork made by young students.

A member of Lowville Teachers Association, Wallace coordinates efforts with other retired educators from the North Country in getting materials to platoons they have adopted.

"In many ways, supporting a platoon is like having a classroom of students," Wallace recently wrote. "There are about 25 to 30 soldiers in a platoon. Over the year, you get to know your soldiers like you know your students. Some you become close to for the year, some you just know and a few become lifelong associates."

She encourages others to become involved in the effort. "Soldiers just want to know that people back home support them, so a card or a letter can do the trick," she said.

Mike Plummer, a retired Army officer, is the contact to open a relationship with a platoon. He can be reached at plummike@aol.com.

Next generation honored

To start a scholarship program for new teachers in their region, the Jefferson-Lewis Council of NYSUT Retirees decided to pick a name at random from those submitted by area schools.

"We hit upon a real winner," said Lynn Hunneyman, council president. "Karin Martinez is a first-year, first-grade teacher in the Thousand Islands district."

Martinez received $250 from the council to use in the classroom or for another professional need.