The pre-RA Local Presidents & Retiree Council Presidents Conference, attended by almost 400 union leaders, concluded Friday after a jam-packed schedule of workshops, seminars and lively discussion.
At a workshop on organizing, leaders learned the difference between building strength that lasts for a day, and building strength that lasts for years.
The first tactic - mobilizing - brings members together in bursts of activity for a rally, phone bank or fax blast.
The second approach - organizing - lays the groundwork for lasting solidarity by increasing membership, developing new leaders and creating long-term strategies.
NYSUT political director Melinda Person and NYSUT's regional political organizers shared tips on reaching new members, developing persuasive messages and planning ahead instead of reacting to individual crises.
"Organizing is essential to building our political power, but it's also essential to our survival," Person told members.
Members shared stories of successful organizing.
"What we're seeing is that you need to get to some of the people who think, 'Well, someone else will do it,' and you need to get them involved," said Caroline Brooks, president of the Schoharie TA.
Dan Kinley, director of Policy and Program Development, briefed leaders on state budget policy changes involving tenure, certification re-registration, APPR, receivership and 3020-a changes.
Though Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch has called for districts to have more time to negotiate new teacher evaluation plans, Kinley noted it's crucial for legislators to revise the law so state school aid is not withheld from districts that don't have a state-approved plan by Nov. 15.
In light of the huge number of parents who opted their children out of state assessments, local leaders asked what will happen if not enough of a teacher's students took exams. "Our view is that you will have some teachers who will not get state growth ratings," Kinley said. "You can't suddenly do a two-month SLO (Student Learning Objective). That's not fair."
Peter House, president of Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES EA, urged NYSUT to seek APPR regulatory changes so students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are honored. "We're not being evaluated on IEP goals and students with disabilities are taking assessments that are totally inappropriate," House said. "An IEP is a legal document but it's been rendered meaningless. Somebody needs to tell SED we're completely disenfranchising all the IEP students."
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide today whether to hear a case being pushed by anti-labor forces looking to deliver a severe blow to unions.
The case - Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association - centers on whether requiring the payment of "agency fees" violates the constitutional rights of those who do not wish to be members of a collective bargaining unit.
If the court decides to hear the case, it could make a decision as early as January, Matt Jacobs, NYSUT regional staff director in Nassau told leaders. An adverse decision by the court would be devastating and take effect immediately.
Austere state budgets, short-sighted education policies and the implementation of the state's tax cap has already created a difficult environment for the union. And now, Jacobs said, the prospect of providing collective bargaining benefits to non-dues-paying employees has forced organized labor to contend with a "perfect storm.
James Bilick, NYSUT's assistant general counsel, said the Friedrichs case is especially troubling because "there won't be any way to legislate around" a ruling that determines agency fee unconstitutional.
NYSUT and its locals must confront this challenge head-on. The key is to build strong, effective locals, "building by building, member by member, constituency by constituency," Jacobs said. "This is going to be painstaking … time-consuming and labor intensive. But if we do not do it and we get a bad Friedrichs' decision, we will reap the consequences and we will not like them."
Defending earned benefits, including Social Security and public pensions, and raising awareness of the looming New York state constitutional convention vote in 2017, was the focus of a workshop for retiree leaders. NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale whose office handles retiree issues, thanked leaders for "their advocacy and hard work."
Featuring Eric Kingson, co-author with Nancy Altman, of the book, Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and How Expanding It will Help Us All, the session dispelled the myth that Social Security is insolvent.
"Less than a penny is spent for every dollar that's paid out," said Kingson, founding co-director of Social Security Works and co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition of more than 300 national and state organizations. He urged retirees to "keep blocking destructive legislative proposals, and lobbying for the expansion of Social Security."
Steven Leberstein and Bill Friedheim of the Professional Staff Congress' Social Safety Net Working Group - which travels statewide educating about the value of earned-benefit programs - also spoke. PSC represents NYSUT members at CUNY colleges. Friedheim leads the retiree chapter and Leberstein and PSC retiree John Highland lead the safety net workgroup, created in 2010 in the wake of congressional attacks on earned benefit programs. "The social safety net is under attack," said Leberstein who urged retirees to educate in-service members about the risks.
Peter Savage, NYSUT legislative staffer, highlighted threats posed by the upcoming New York state constitutional convention vote in 2017. Since the constitution protects fundamental rights such as guaranteed pension benefits and the right to unionize and bargain collectively, opening it carries great risk.
"A constitutional convention can allow for sweeping changes to the state constitution," said Savage, explaining that mobilizing to defeat the measure will be an important campaign in 2017.
Successful bargaining for SRPs
Crossword puzzles. That's the tool Laura Haas, local president of the Frontier Central Employees Association, shared with a roomful of her fellow School-Related Professional local presidents to encourage members to get to know their contract.
Haas found a setup for crossword puzzles online, and now, in each FCEA newsletter, she creates a puzzle with clues relating to the local's contract, and winners receive gift cards. She received 10 responses to the first puzzle, and 200 to the second one.
"That's 200 people who looked at the contract," she said.
Haas was one of two dozen leaders who attended a session on Setting the Table for Successful SRP Bargaining.
NYSUT Labor Relations Specialists Mark Jurenovich and Elizabeth Vignaux outlined how to get members invested in the process; how to prepare for bargaining based on the unique needs of the bargaining units; and how to send surveys to members prior to the bargaining process and again once bargaining is underway to redefine priorities.
To help determine district resources, "NYSUT is an excellent source of information for budget analysis," said Vignaux.