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local presidents
Aug 09

Summer school's in session for new union leaders

At the end of the week, Port Washington teacher Regina McLean is finally taking the vacation she’s been waiting for all summer. This brand new local union president has been immersing herself in learning about all things union at the NYSUT Leadership Institute, an American Federation of Teachers convention, the NYSUT endorsement conference, and, this week, the NYSUT New Local Presidents Conference.

Why is she spending hot, humid summer days in conference centers? She’s part of a movement of veteran and new leaders tracking the attacks on the labor movement by those who want to see less for the workers and more for themselves.

“There is a new reality here,” NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale told the new local presidents gathered for a three-day conference. “It’s a post-Janus world…We need to engage members on the importance of the labor movement.”

“My vision really is to get more members involved; to show them it’s not the union, it’s their union,” said McLean, who just took office of her Nassau County local union on July 1.

After her vacation, there will be more learning experiences at regional conferences hosted by NYSUT.

Unions have been in full gear hosting educational programs, training, and going door-to-door to have members sign cards and recommit to their unions.

“We’re a very strong, very caring, fighting union,” Andy Pallotta, NYSUT president, promised the new local union presidents. He told the leaders how, at NYSUT’s endorsement conference earlier in the week, the union withheld endorsements from every state senator who voted for more charter schools and against reforms to the state’s broken testing and evaluation system. He said NYSUT activists will work hard to elect the dozens of other candidates for state and federal office who have earned the union’s endorsement

NYSUT Political Director Melinda Person showed the new presidents the routes that big money campaigns are taking to detract from the labor movement, including email, advertisements, direct mail and canvassing roll-outs from organizations such as Mackinac, New Choice and Freedom Foundation — all backed by wealthy billionaires such as the Walton Family and the Koch brothers.

“The labor movement is the last line of defense between them completely controlling the economy,” Person said. “They need to see that being part of the union is being part of something bigger.”

At NYSUT headquarters for the first time, math teacher Cynthia Klein was elected president of the 240-member Cornwall Central Teachers Association last year after serving four years as treasurer.

“I’m always looking for ways to improve solidarity and to show the importance of the union,” she said.

Greece TA President Brian Ebertz, who now leads 1,050 members, took over his new role in March, following stints as a building representative and serving on negotiations.

“We’re a strong, united local,” he said. “We have motivated people and shared leadership.”

Ebertz attended both the endorsement conference and the event for new local presidents.

“We want to be assets to our members in all kinds of ways,” he said.

While many of this summer’s conferences are regularly hosted by NYSUT, there is more emphasis this year on member engagement in light of the recent Janus case.

At this week’s New Local Presidents conference, shiny new union presidents are being taught about all the ways that NYSUT can support them through technical services, communications, membership benefits, legal aid and more. Political action is a separate arm of the union funded through voluntary contributions made to VOTE-COPE. Political funds do not come out of union dues, Pecorale stressed.

“We have a tremendous cast of characters to move the labor movement forward,” Pecorale said of NYSUT staff.

endorsements
Aug 08

NYSUT issues endorsements; holds senators accountable for votes on teacher evaluations


ALBANY, N.Y. Aug. 8, 2018— New York State United Teachers today withheld endorsements from every state senator who voted for more charter schools and against reforms to the state’s broken testing and evaluation system in the waning hours of the legislative session, but backed dozens of other candidates for state and federal office.

At its three-day meeting, NYSUT enthusiastically backed state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for re-election; endorsed 37 state Senate candidates; supported 136 candidates for state Assembly; and recommended to its national affiliates the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and some two dozen members of Congress. The union also backed Letitia James for attorney general.

“In endorsing for state Senate, we are standing with those who have stood consistently with us,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “We made clear to the entire Senate and its leaders that Senate Bill 8992 carried serious consequences. Those senators who turned their backs on teachers and public education — and held students and educators hostage in hopes of dealing for more charter schools — are now being held accountable for their vote.”

Pallotta said candidates who earned NYSUT’s endorsement all “showed through their advocacy, their accessibility and their strong pro-education, pro-labor voting records that they are true friends of public education, organized labor and working people. They have demonstrated a willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with educators to fight for better public schools, colleges and hospitals. We are proud to support them and will work hard to get them elected.”

Pallotta noted that NYSUT’s endorsement means “an army of members will be knocking on doors, handing out campaign literature and making tens of thousands of personal phone calls on behalf of favored candidates.” He added, “Candidates know that a NYSUT endorsement means ‘feet on the street’ — the energy of passionate and enthusiastic volunteers who know the issues, vote in every election and get their friends and colleagues out to vote as well.”

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

student activists
Aug 07

Student activists offer hope for the future of our democracy

These students are too young to vote. But they're already making a difference.

Sanari Ismail is 13 years old. She is changing the world.

This past spring, she convinced the administration at her Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland to allow students to participate in the National School Walkout in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting tragedy that took 17 lives and injured 17 others.

She didn’t do it alone.

“I did not have the support of the administration, or of the other students,” she said, “but what helped me were the teachers, who were not supposed to do it, but who helped me behind the scenes.”

Speaking to several hundred educators and union activists at the NYSUT Presidents Conference on Endorsements today in Colonie, Ismail urged educators to help their students who are motivated to take action.

“Give your students a voice,” she said.

student activists

She was one of seven students who presented a panel discussion, “Too Young to Vote, Old Enough to Take Action.” They said educators do a lot to help develop young citizens, but many times, they could do more.

“School should be a place where you can develop a political consciousness,” said Genesis Logan, 16, from Brooklyn, by infusing civics and citizenship into creative curriculum, particularly art, music and writing.

“There’s something empowering about being in a roomful of young people who want to change the world,” she said. “Schools in Brooklyn are not pushing that kind of thing.”

Jordyn Bucci-Mooney, 18, a senior at Shaker High in Latham and a GLSEN activist, said in addition to inclusive curriculum, inclusive school policies, and safe places for students who are often harassed for their sexual orientation or gender expression, students need supportive teachers.

“You don’t have to come into class on the first day and say, ‘I am a liberal teacher and I will support you.’ That’s not what we’re looking for.

“To have open discussions in a classroom setting over controversial topics is very difficult, but needs to happen,” she said.

Mallory Sunday, 17, from Massena High School near the Canadian border, has gotten involved with the regional “People Project,” backed by NYSUT and the Massena TA, led by President Erin Covell. The project started when area labor unions — including teachers and steel workers — came together to save valuable jobs for the community at the local aluminum plant.

“I was so inspired to learn that the unions … had banded together” to help save the community from economic despair, Sunday said.

Also on the panel were O’Shunn Gibson-Henry, of Rochester; Acadia Gilcrest, Jamesville-Dewitt; and Nupal Kiazolu, Brooklyn.

Photo Gallery: NYSUT Endorsements Conference 2018

2018 Presidents Conference

Earlier in the day, participants heard an update on the 2018 legislative session[LINK to our wrap up from JULY NU] and a look ahead to 2019.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli gave brief greetings and said the fiscal outlook going into next year is not great, with a projected deficit of $4 billion as we head into next year’s budget talks.

“We’re going to have our challenges,” said NYSUT Legislative Director Chris Black.

Black said priorities for next year include fair and adequate funding for K-12, higher education and health care; final resolution of the unresolved APPR fix; expansion of the loan forgiveness program and other steps to address the teacher shortage; and further steps to strengthen the state’s Taylor Law in the wake of the Janus decision.

“This decision can’t hurt us as long as we all stick together,” said President Andy Pallotta. “It’s an opportunity to make our union even stronger.”

Political Director Melinda Person said the billionaires who funded the Janus case did so for one reason: because we are so strong politically.

She outlined our vision: good jobs; affordable health care; great public schools and access to higher ed; a vibrant democracy with a free press and unfettered rights to vote, and to stand against discrimination and bigotry in all their forms.

“We have a very big tent in the labor movement,” she said. “ Everybody is welcome.”

Person outlined our mission: to be a check on the DeVos agenda and to take back one of the houses of Congress; to see Democratic Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins installed as majority leader of the state Senate; and to protect our friends and punish our enemies.


healthy schools toolkit
Aug 07

Coalition for Healthier Schools offers new 'Back-to-School Toolkit' for educators

To help empower parents, teachers, school leaders and others to advocate for cleaner, healthier schools, the Coalition is today releasing a Back to School (BTS) Toolkit, with information and how-to guides. Among the tools available in the kit are a draft op-ed, sample social media content, as well as fact sheets and guidance on addressing lead in school water, finding lead-free computers and tablets for school use, safer pest control for schools (Integrated Pest Management), and green cleaning products.

agnello
Aug 06

Union activism lays foundation for retiree’s work with Peace Corps

During his 40 years of teaching biology, anatomy and life science in Orchard Park, Tony Agnello was also busy experimenting with how he could improve the lives of others.

Now in retirement, he is strengthening and mobilizing community outreach through his work with the Peace Corps Alliance for Intercultural Understanding — doing so at a time in which democracy is under attack, and while fear and disillusionment reign.

book van go
Jul 27

Book Van Go is on the move to promote summer reading

Got wheels? Literacy mavericks are taking it to the streets in North Syracuse, meeting up with youngsters in a van stacked with racks of books.

The woman behind the wheel is teacher Sue Straub, who bought the vehicle and named it Van Go – the art of summer reading. Several days a week, when she finishes teaching summer school, Straub drives to local parks in North Syracuse and Mattydale to let kids come aboard and pick out a book that interests them. The titles are stacked on handmade wooden racks, organized by age groups.

She’s met by eager students running through the grass, and by colleagues in her union, the North Syracuse Educators Association, who show up to help students find the right books as part of Team Van Go. When kids pull a book off the shelf that catches their eye, they can keep it or return it after reading it. The books have been donated by friends, community members and coworkers, with the NSEA office serving as a collection site.

“Anyone that knows me, knows that as a child I struggled to learn to read,” said Straub, who teaches fifth grade at Roxboro Middle School. “With the help of my mom, my grandma and many great teachers, I finally felt like a reader in fifth grade, and I haven’t really stopped since. I was lucky because my family had access to books, spent time at the library, and lived in a neighborhood that was visited by the Bookmobile,” she said on the Van Go Facebook page.

Not so with some of her students. Some of these boys and girls do not own a book, or are unable to get to the community library. “I work at a school with some pretty significant poverty issues,” she said.

But who doesn’t need a good book on a long, hot summer day?

Once she started thinking about it, the wheels were already in motion in Straub’s mind. Nothing sesquipedalian about it – she just went out and bought a beater van, and began jangling the keys in a clarion call to let people know she needed books.

“It’s just so uplifting and cheerful and nice,” said Phil Cleary, North Syracuse EA vice president.

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. – Maya Angelou

To celebrate and support her new Van Go program – which has cycled nearly 2,000 books in its first month – NSEA hosted a party at union headquarters earlier this week. In a stream of rain beneath a gray sky, teachers huddled under a bright blue tent to grill food and hand out free books to children. The union donated the tent, food, facilities and extra books to support Book Van Go.

“It was pouring, and you couldn’t see happier people, “said Cleary, who grilled hot dogs with NSEA President John Kuryla.

“The project has the whole-hearted support of our officers and membership,” Cleary said. NSEA is an alum of NYSUT’s Local Action Project, which educates local union leaders on how to engage with community. “This is an extension of our community outreach.”

NSEA members have been donating books by cleaning out their homes, buying them at garage sales, or purchasing new books.

Straub’s mojo of going beyond the call of duty in the classroom has already been recognized – she was 2016 Teacher of the Year in the North Syracuse Central School District. This is a yet a new chapter in her outreach.

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it. – Oscar Wilde

book van go

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