Schumer: Thank you for all you do
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, a staunch ally and advocate of NYSUT and public schools, brought delegates to their feet: "I love teachers," he said.
A proud product of New York City schools, Schumer, whose wife and daughters also attended public schools, declared, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you are doing for us.
"We know how important teaching is. We know we cannot maintain our place if we don't maintain the best educational system in the world."
Schumer talked about taking a private school parent who was bashing public schools to task.
"It makes no sense to degrade, to belittle the most important profession in America," Schumer said. "We should make it an exalted profession.
"How about trying a little collaboration for a change?" he asked. "How about working with teachers for a while instead of against them?"
The best way to do that, he said, is to financially support education. Schumer pledged his support for increased federal aid and programs that range from pre-K to career and technical education. He also promised to lead efforts for sensible gun control in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut and a bipartisan plan for fair immigration reform.
DiNapoli: Educators deserve respect
As the grandson of immigrants, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's respect for teachers runs deep. "For both my parents, public education was the path to success," he said. "I get angry when I hear people disparaging teachers and public schools."
He recalled attending the 50th anniversary of his elementary school. One of his favorite teachers was his guest.
"I was able to thank her and all the other teachers who helped me — it meant a lot," said DiNapoli.
That respect for educators infused his address to delegates, reiterating his long-standing defense of public education and secure pensions. He also thanked NYSUT activists for their advocacy, which helped restore nearly $1 billion in state education funding.
"This came about because you displayed tenacity and grassroots advocacy," said DiNapoli. "Thanks for raising your voices and making a difference."
He called on members to again use their voice to stem the tide of sequestration, which would result in a loss of $42.7 million in funding for the state's primary and secondary schools. "This will hurt students, and New York's property tax cap will make it more challenging," he said.
DiNapoli also applauded union members for making SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges strong institutions.
Shuler: Unions must broaden outreach
Two serious challenges face unions, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler told delegates. One is declining membership, which erodes the ability to bargain good contracts and elect pro-worker lawmakers. Another is that fewer people know how unions benefit their communities.
"We need to create new models of membership to allow those without union representation in the workplace the chance to become part of the union movement," she said.
An example is the AFL-CIO's Working America program, a community-affiliate group that involves 3 million non-unionized workers in the labor movement. Reaching out to non-traditional workers, such as taxi drivers, nannies and fast food employees, is also important.
"We need to open our doors wider to people who are open to unionism," said Shuler.
Getting the good news out is vital, she said. "We need to reintroduce unions to the public on the basis of shared values like fairness, equality and democracy."
Shuler encouraged members to share stories of the good, yet unseen, work they do. The AFL-CIO is highlighting the positive work of union members through Our Values@Work, a new feature at www.aflcio.org
"We need your thoughts, inspirations, concerns and ideas," she said. "America needs a strong labor movement."
Cilento: NYS AFL-CIO backs tax cap suit
The president of the AFL-CIO in New York praised NYSUT for challenging the constitutionality of the state's property tax cap, saying his union fully supports the courageous legal challenge.
"We support you and I know parents and communities across this state support you," said Mario Cilento. "We will be with you every step of the way."
NYSUT sued the state in February, asserting the property tax cap — which requires school districts to obtain a 60 percent supermajority vote in order to pass a budget increase of more than 2 percent — prohibits schools from providing a sound, basic education and deprives individuals of their voting power. Cilento said the cap is hurting students, teachers and districts.
Noting that a top strategy of labor's enemies is to pit unions against one another, Cilento said labor is most successful when it bands together and works from a level of "shared concern."
"This has always been the way we have been able to fight back and level the playing field," he said.
Cilento also praised NYSUT for its fight against the state's testing obsession.
Cilento told delegates he signed NYSUT's parent petition as both president of the state AFL-CIO and father of two daughters, ages 8 and 10