August 21, 2015

Getting their attention: Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake TA hosts leadership institute

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT Communications
Getting their attention: Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake TA hosts leadership institute

The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Teachers Association, led by President Mike Mosall for the past four years, had been thinking since last winter about ways to energize the membership and maybe even groom the next generation of leaders. Then, in January, the governor delivered his state of the state/budget proposal and gave them a gift.

“Gov. Cuomo's very public attack on teachers during the budget process made (engaging the membership) a top priority,” Mosall said. “An unintended consequence of his anti-teacher agenda was that it really got the attention of our members.”

Mosall procured one of NYSUT’s life-size, stand-up cutouts from the Capital District Regional Office “and we took it from room to room in our schools putting ‘Cardboard Cuomo’ in situations he would have been in had he actually visited a public school,” he said. The social media success of this effort inspired the union to engage the community and members to help spread the message that Cuomo’s test-and-punish agenda would be very bad for students, schools and teachers.

The TA hosted one of the state’s first rallies that called out the governor last March and April, attracting 650 people from the community, including 200 union members. Members were eager to participate and share their perspective on how dangerous Cuomo’s agenda had become.

It was empowering. With members participating eagerly, NYSUT supporting it and local news media and politicians showing up, “it showed us that there is a confluence of factors motivating our members as never before right now,” Mosall said.

Building on that momentum, this summer the TA launched its own leadership institute to train future leaders and prepare members for the next cycle of contract negotiations. Borrowing the philosophy of the NYSUT Leadership Institute, each member of the local’s executive board personally invited two people to the two-day training in August at the Capital District Regional Office, located at NYSUT headquarters in Latham, Albany County. The local covered significant costs using VOTE-COPE funds, so the event was completely dues neutral. The new-teacher co-chair, Mary Grasso, organized branded T-shirts and event binders for the attendees, gifts for speakers and meals.

About 20 people attended, 12 of whom had not previously been regularly involved in the union on a daily basis. Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta and Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner spoke to the group. Two members of the NYSUT Board of Directors also attended. Previous leaders of the local union discussed the history of unionism and shared decision-making in the school community.

As with any organizing effort, the program required a personal touch.

“Asking members, face to face, to be part of this event was critical,” Mosall said. “In personally reaching out to our members, I think it helped illustrate how important the event was to us and how important it was that the invitee attend. It required a serious commitment. Not only was it two days in the summer but it also reflected a pledge to invest the time moving forward.”