Red and gold was a popular color combination on the tags at the 38th annual School-Related Professionals Leadership Conference in Saratoga Springs this weekend. “We have 76 first-time attendees,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, referencing the first-timer tags. “That's tremendous. Last year, we asked you to ‘be the union’” and she highlighted the many ways SRPs stepped up. That included the SRP-led Fight for 15, to secure a living wage for New Yorkers, including many NYSUT members.
Magee said this year's focus is to grow the union, “through our advocacy and engagement.” Magee said she was gratified to see so many first-timers making the commitment to educate themselves on the issues that are important as they represent members in their locals.
First-timer Andre Mathis, co-president of the Union-Endicott School District Office Personnel Association and a registrar for his district, said he wanted to learn more about getting his local members more involved in the union.
Jacquie Wieand, a senior clerk typist and member of the Lancaster Association of Paraprofessionals, said she was looking forward to learning how to better engage members.
Teaching assistant Jeff Turner of the Buffalo Educational Support Team said he attended the weekend conference because his local president, SRP Advisory Committee Chairperson Joanne Sweat, asked him to attend. Turner is a building rep for his local.
Growing the union through advocacy and engagement was a theme echoed by the NYSUT officers and other speakers.
In her keynote address to SRP leaders, Kristina Schwarzkopf of the Toledo Federation of Teachers and recipient of the 2016 American Federation of Teachers Albert Shanker Pioneer Award said when union members come together, "we can change the world." She created a successful campaign to turn many of her union’s fare-share (agency fee, in New York) payers into union members. She said she hopes to make her mark through her union activism and invited SRP leaders to do the same.
Schwarzkopf said it is critical that SPRs have a seat at the table and shared her “secret” to motivating members to want to be at that table. “I listen to them,” she said simply. “I listen to what is important to them and connect it with the power of the union.”
In his plenary session presentation, “The Politics of Union Busting,” AFT Deputy Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives Edward Muir detailed the many threats currently facing labor unions. These threats are funded by wealthy extremists, who can raise $9 million in one evening of fundraising, to be used in anti-union campaigns.
For every $1 that unions spend on political issues, businesses spend $15.
While unionists may not be able to outspend anti-union forces, unionists can be individual ambassadors of truth. Muir encouraged SRP leaders to participate in one-one one conversations that share the truth about the way unions benefit all workers.
The truth, Muir said, is born out in research. Unions create safer workplaces, make the workplace better and are the conduit for safe sharing of information. Unions improve the economic conditions of working families. Unions set market standards across the economy. That means that, when unions are present, non-union workers wages rise too. "If unions had the same bargaining power as they did in 1979, non-union workers would have $2.1 billion more than they do now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Magee stressed the critical importance of voting on Nov. 8. "If you want a leader who is prepared, professional, if you care about who sits on the Supreme Court, you know how to vote," she said. NYSUT and its national affiliate, s the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.
NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale said that, as soon as the presidential election is over, NYSUT activists need to focus on defeating the proposed State Constitutional Convention. NYSUT has a toolkit available to leaders, which shows why a constitutional convention would be a bad idea for New Yorkers and for New York State. “In 2017, that will be our focus,” said Pecorale.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta told SRP leaders: “We’ve made some important legislative gains for the union this year thanks to your efforts.” He underscored the importance of SRPs in the Fight for $15 campaign. NYSUT was awarded the AFT’s Dorothea Bell Political Action Award for the Fight for $15 Lobby Day at the New York State Capitol.
Pallotta thanked SRPs for their continued generous contribution to VOTE-COPE, the union’s voluntary political action fund.
Also at their conference, SRPs honored the 2016 SRP of the Year, Sandie Carner-Shafran, who is a NYSUT SRP At-Large Director, Executive Committee member and a member of the Saratoga-Adirondack BOCES Employees Association. Carner-Shafran said she accepted the award "on behalf of all of us." She also encouraged leaders to submit members’ names for the SRP of the Year award. Deadline for submitted nominations is Jan. 13.
The 225 conference attendees came from 57 locals from all over New York State to participate in 22 professional development workshops, including eight that were new this year.
This year's book donation drive netted 388 K-6-level books for the Brushton-Moira Support Staff Association, accepted by its president, Cheryl Rockhill. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
SRPs’ generosity shone through in many ways this year:
- They collected three bins of toiletries, earmarked for troops overseas.
- The book donation drive netted 388 K-6-level books for the Brushton-Moira Support Staff Association, accepted by its president, Cheryl Rockhill.
- Raffle tickets sold throughout the weekend earned a $2,585.00, which SRP Advisory Chair Sweat presented to NYSUT for the Disaster Relief Fund.
VOTE-COPE awards were presented to 16 locals: BOCES Educators of Eastern Suffolk, Cherry Valley Springfield Teachers Association, Guilderland Central Teachers Association, Henricks Teachers Association, New Rochelle FUSE, Newburgh Teachers Association, North Babylon Teachers Association, Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and School Related Personnel, Sachem Central Teachers Association, Saratoga Warren Counties BOCES Association, Somers School Related Personnel, United Federation of Teachers, Western Sullivan United Teachers and School Related Personnel, Half Hollow Hills Teachers Association, Hempstead Teaching Assistants Association and Sewanhaka Federation of Teachers.