Fueled by a newly energized rank-and-file membership, NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said she's proud the union has truly become "the voice that cannot be ignored."
"A year ago you made it clear you wanted a fighting union — well, you've got it!" Magee said, in her first state of the union address. "We are organizing, energizing and mobilizing … We are truly a union driven by the rank and file."
Magee noted members who had never before attended a union meeting — newer members, members of all ages from all constituent groups — are leading the charge at rallies and protests and in an explosion of creative song and advocacy on the Internet.
"We've rocked the state at forums where, together with parents, we exposed the damage caused by the test-and-punish agenda," Magee said. "Together, with our brothers and sisters in UUP, PSC and community colleges, we beat back a Hunger Games policy aimed at our campuses; we protected teaching hospitals for future generations; and we vigorously defended the principle that practitioners — here's a novel idea — should set the standards for entry to their own professions."
Of course, the union's had some unexpected help in mobilizing members.
"I would be remiss if I did not pause for a moment here to acknowledge the greatest union organizer in modern New York state history," Magee said. "Governor Andrew Cuomo!"
The crowd chuckled, then booed.
"You didn't think I'd forget him, right?" she said.
After months of pushing a vindictive, anti-public education agenda, Cuomo was back at it again the week before the RA, declaring that the commercially prepared state standardized tests are "meaningless" to students.
"Are you kidding me?" Magee said. "Let's think this through … The tests are ‘meaningless' to our students but they should count against teachers? Brothers and sisters: CALL HIM OUT!"
The crowd chanted back in unison: "Call him out! Call him out!"
"Our students deserve better and so do we," Magee said. "Meaningless? Brothers and sisters, our work has meaning. And I mean this: We are not standing down!"
While the union was disappointed that the final state budget includes the governor's unworkable, convoluted and test-heavy evaluation system, Magee promised the union will keep fighting on a number of fronts: in the Legislature, with the Regents, in the courts and in the court of public opinion.
"NYSUT is 100 percent committed to fixing what the governor has broken — and we will do more," she said. "We will build on the momentum generated by our mobilized members and the public's support."
"We will carry forward a new positive vision for public education: A vision that respects educators … values parents … A vision that rejects privatization and profits and focuses with crystal clarity on what all students need to learn — from preschool through college."
Magee said NYSUT will remain front and center — taking on tough legal battles, vigorously defending tenure and due process, supporting small cities in their fight for equity, and challenging the undemocratic tax cap and Pearson's obscene gag orders on educators.
She said the union will also continue working closely with its powerful allies: parents, community groups and brother and sister unions in the AFL-CIO.
"We are moving the needle in public opinion," Magee noted. "Independent polls tell the story: The governor's ratings have tanked. And guess what, brothers and sisters? His ratings were driven down to these new lows for one reason — because of his stand on public education."
Magee urged members to keep up the pressure and do more.
"As we continue to fight for public education in the state of New York: BE the union," Magee said. "Speak up as the collective voice that cannot be ignored: BE the union!"