Delegates called for commonsense actions and solutions during NYSUT's 41st annual Representative Assembly last month in Washington, D.C. The RA is the union's policy-making convention.
High on the list was school safety. Delegates adopted a resolution advocating for a law that applies stiffer criminal penalties for assaults on School-Related Professionals.
The union also was directed to lobby for state legislation that would enable districts to exceed the tax cap in order to ensure schools are adequately staffed and equipped with appropriate security measures.
A number of resolutions concerning gun violence protection were referred to NYSUT's Board of Directors with the aim that the union send a strong message to Congress and demand decisive action to ensure schools are kept safe.
The resolutions were introduced in the wake of the horrific killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and recognize too many other school shooting tragedies throughout the nation in recent years.
One referred measure directs the union to lobby for federal legislation that would prevent the availability for persons, other than law enforcement personnel, to acquire any weapon capable of exacting mass murder. Another calls upon NYSUT to work with its national affiliates to lobby for and support any legislation that would strengthen bans on assault weapons.
NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue sits on three task forces charged with addressing school and community safety, including those headed by the State Education Department, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.
Save SUNY Downstate
Delegates resolved to turn up the heat on the union's already aggressive campaign to keep SUNY Downstate Medical Center a fully operating state-run hospital and beat back any effort to privatize it.
"It's about fighting against the union-busting of public-sector unions, and providing essential health services" to the Brooklyn community, said Rowena Blackman-Stroud, United University Professions SUNY Downstate chapter president and treasurer of the statewide local.
Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen said the idea of privatizing Downstate is similar to what is happening in public education now, with private-sector interests looking to bust unions and turn a profit in a traditionally non-profit industry.
Language in the state budget opens the possibility to the privatization of Downstate. Blackman-Stroud said if such a move happened, the possibility would then exist for the same to occur at SUNY teaching hospitals at Stony Brook on Long Island and Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.
NYSUT was called on to intensify advocacy for quality pre-K and full-day kindergarten programs, and to make lobbying for the continued funding of those programs a top priority.
The union will continue its efforts to modify and improve the new Annual Professional Performance Review system and consider establishing a task force charged with studying and improving the evaluations law.
Delegates also directed NYSUT to support the development and implementation of initiatives to promote family and consumer science programs - dealing with home and career skills - at the middle school level.
Health care issues
Delegates approved a resolution directing the union to lobby state lawmakers to expand New York's Child Health Insurance Program.
Another measure directs NYSUT to work with its national affiliates to fight for legislation that would end the practice in New York of sending nursing home patients and their Medicaid dollars out of state, and to provide workshops and establish an information campaign to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorders such as Asperger's.
The union was also urged to join with local and state policymakers to support secondary school courses that address obesity.
Delegates directed NYSUT to assist locals in negotiating additional compensation for RNs certified by professional accrediting organizations in specialty roles. Another resolution urged the union to help locals negotiate contracts that provide necessary time for RNs to adequately teach patients about their health care needs. The union was also directed to foster, along with its affiliates, an education campaign to prevent the abuse of prescription medication.
Delegates referred to the Board a resolution calling on NYSUT and its national affiliates to lobby the federal government to develop clear and defined regulations that would enable businesses to provide affordable health care to part-time employees.
Delegates called on the union to press the governor and state Legislature to provide 40 percent of the costs at all community colleges - as required by state law.
Additionally, NYSUT will oppose any state budget initiative that would base community-college repayment plans on student income, as has been proposed in other states.
A resolution was passed that encourages NYSUT's labor relations specialists to recommend that local leaders include professional development language in contracts covering School-Related Professionals.
The union was also directed to push SED to adopt regulations that put SRPs on districts' professional development committees.
School counseling programs
Adopted resolutions urged SED and the Board of Regents to recognize the importance of a new comprehensive school counseling program based on national standards, and urge them to support reasonable student-to-school counselor ratios of 250-to-1.
Delegates passed a resolution to establish a task force charged with determining whether to maintain NYSUT's five officer positions.
The resolution follows a constitutional amendment adopted last year at NYSUT's RA in Buffalo that calls for reducing the number of union officers from five to four by 2017.
The task force will make a recommendation to the union's Board of Directors. The Board is then required to act prior to adoption of NYSUT's 2014-15 budget.
The RA's Constitutional and Bylaw Amendments Committee recommended non-concurrence with a proposed constitutional amendment that would have reversed the constitutional amendment adopted by the 2012 RA.
Other adopted resolutions
The union was directed to:
- continue working with other unions, such as the AFL-CIO, on protecting the Triborough Amendment and collective bargaining rights;
- encourage SED to develop and adopt protocols for an exposure control plan to protect employees who toilet and toilet train students;
- establish a task force charged with assessing the impediments to services and protections often encountered by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members and to help other unions expand their support of LGBT members;
- work with its locals to educate the public on doing away with the term "entitlements" in reference to benefits earned through a lifetime of work;
- work with its national affiliates and other unions to defend existing defined benefit plans and to explore establishing similar plans for all workers; and
- urge New York City to settle the lawsuit brought by the "Central Park Five" and issue the men wrongly imprisoned in the 1989 rape case a fair settlement, and to recognize the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Special order of business
Delegates passed a special order of business directing NYSUT to strenuously oppose any proposal that would adversely impact the U.S. Postal Service's financial stability.
The measure directs NYSUT to work with national affiliates to press Congress to ease mandates on the USPS so it has the opportunity to re-organize and remain viable, and continue to provide services.
The measure also calls on the U.S. government to provide its own business to the Postal Service.