April 07, 2017

Pallotta: 'We will never quit fighting for those we serve, for each other'

Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Proclaiming the union is “a force to be reckoned with” that has risen time and again to accomplish the impossible, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta on Friday urged members to be “relentless” in meeting the challenges ahead.

“This is not going to be an easy four years,” he told a convention hall packed with 2,000 delegates to the union’s Representative Assembly. “We’ll be dealing with a multi-front attack on policies and institutions that we hold dear.”

Pointing to NYSUT’s recent history of successful activism, Pallotta said the union has repeatedly proven it can achieve “things that others say cannot be done.” Members have beaten back voucher schemes, saved SUNY Downstate hospital from almost-certain closure, prevented the elimination of hundreds of jobs at Alcoa in Massena, fought successfully against the state’s overreliance on standardized tests, and worked to elect members to public office and Board of Regents.

“The grassroots activism that I have seen over the past few months,” Pallotta said, “has been earth shattering.”

Moving forward, that same kind of activism will be needed, he said, to defeat the proposed state constitutional convention, advocate for a fair and appropriate teacher evaluation system and prove our relevance and value in the face of court challenges that threaten the future of public sector unions.

“I believe in being relevant, resilient and above all, relentless,” said Pallotta. “We will never quit fighting for those we serve, or for each other. We must stay strong for one another and for the next generation of NYSUT members.”

Video and Transcript

Good evening sisters and brothers...

It is my honor to once again stand before you as your Executive Vice President ...

I want to begin by thanking my incredible staff in the Legislative and Political Department – Melinda Person, our Political Director and Chris Black, our Legislative Director... our regional political organizers, support staff and our Albany lobbyists – you are there - day in and day out - on the frontlines - fighting for our members.

Most importantly, I want to thank my incredible wife Martha who supports me every day, my son Stephen, and my daughter Andreanna – who are both making me so proud – Andreanna, teaching 1st grade and Stephen teaching at the elementary level too.

I also want to take a moment to honor Sonia Basko.

Her energy, her love for life, her love for the labor movement, her friendship, her tenacity... she was one of a kind.

My mother had a pin she used to wear – it said “Life is fragile, handle with prayer.”

Sonia’s too short life, reminds us all, to make every moment count, to hug our loved ones, and to remember to always make it fun.

When I look back over the last 7 years as your executive vice president I am proud.

Proud of our advocacy.

Proud of our proactive, powerful union.

Proud we are a “force to be reckoned with”.

I’m proud when we send 20,000 faxes to legislators in 24 hours.

When 700 of you show up for committee of 100 to lobby lawmakers.

When we call for a picket outside of a Senator’s office with 2 days notice and hundreds of you show up.

I have traveled up and down New York State – listening to NYSUT leaders and members, building coalitions, and fighting for what our members and communities need.

Fighting – because we get from our elected officials what we fight for.

And I will continue to fight - for labor rights, for public education, for public higher education, for health care, and for all workers.

I got my start in the union when I was a kindergarten teacher – can you imagine me in a room with 25 five-year-olds?

Have you seen that movie Kindergarten Cop?

Yeah, that’s kinda what it was like.

The first school I taught in was in Brooklyn... a building that was built in 1895.

The second school that I taught in was in the Bronx... much more modern... that school was built in 1898.

I was drawn into union work because of a principal.

A principal that was really mean to young teachers.

She was so mean that she would make teachers cry on a regular basis.

It was wrong.

And it was no wonder that over a third of the teachers left each year.

It wasn’t good for teachers and it wasn’t good for the kids.

I discovered that the union could stand up for those who felt alone, could be powerful for those who thought they had no power, no voice.

That the union could bring us together to do things that would have been impossible to accomplish alone.

Doing the impossible.

Walt Disney famously said “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

I couldn’t agree more.

When I first came to NYSUT, we were under attack by school voucher proponents.

They were spending millions of dollars trying to pass school vouchers through the state legislature.

The word on the street was – this is the year – we can’t stop them.

We said NO WAY.

We built a coalition with almost 50 organization signed on... and we have continued to beat back vouchers EVERY YEAR SINCE.

Doing the impossible.

It wasn’t long ago there was a proposal on the table to privatize SUNY Downstate, a Brooklyn Public Hospital and Teaching Facility that serves community members and trains more doctors of color than any university in the country.

I was told it was a lost cause.

That we should prepare for a major loss of membership.

But UUP said NO WAY... . Right Fred and Rowena?

We started a multi-year campaign to fight back against this privatization... and we won.

In December of 2015– it was announced that they were going to close the Alcoa Aluminum plant in Massena, NY.

It was a done deal.

The Massena Teachers Association reached out to us.

Erin Covell, the local president and a guidance counselor in the school called.

She told me about a high school student who had come to her and burst into tears.

The student told her that because the plant was going to close, they would have to put their house up for sale and leave.

The Massena TA started to form a coalition - with the steelworkers, community groups and legislators - they formulated a plan to save the plant and thereby save the city.

Randi Weingarten and the AFT came to help.

We worked with Senator Schumer, state and local leaders.

And several months later, through non-stop advocacy, they were able to save that plant, those jobs, and impact the lives of so many in the community... doing the impossible.

Over the last two years, we’ve launched NYSUT’s Pipeline Project.

Encouraging our own members to step up and run for office.

Our members see what’s wrong.

They want to be the change they want to see in the world.

For school board, for town council, county legislator and even State Assembly and Senate.

Last year we proudly elected UUP-member Monica Wallace to the State Assembly.

And this year we have an opportunity to do something else that may seem impossible to many.

In the 9th Assembly District, a very Republican district by any measure, located on the South Shore on Long Island... Christine Pellegrino, a reading teacher from the Baldwin TA, who was actually teaching earlier today, is stepping up and running for Assembly with the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.

This is a special election that will be held on May 23rd, only a handful of weeks from now.

Christine may be the underdog, but this will be a race to watch!

In addition to being an educator, Christine is a parent, an activist and a person who is truly ONE OF US.

Christine, please stand up and be recognized.

Do you want to send Christine to Albany?

Well it’s all hands on deck.

We need YOUR help to get her elected.

Thanks to our virtual phone bank system, you can help us make calls for Christine from anywhere in the state.

We’ll also be running bus trips for volunteers from the surrounding counties.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you more about how to volunteer...

Please join us in making the impossible happen once again!

Since November’s election we’ve faced new and scary challenges coming out of Washington.

The last few months have been a relentless onslaught of awful news.

This is not going to be an easy four years.

We’ll be dealing with a multi-front attack on policies and institutions that we hold dear.

As activists, we need to remember to take care of ourselves or at some point it will become too much to handle.

The worst thing that could happen is if we all stop being shocked... stop being horrified by the latest attack on our rights, our schools, our professions.

This could become the new normal... but THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

So take breaks.

Let a tweet go unanswered.

Have fun.

As Saul Alinsky wrote in “Rules for Radicals”, protest and activism is supposed to be loads of fun for the protesters.

Anybody out there have fun picketing your Senator a couple weeks back?

The grassroots activism that I have seen over the past few months has been earth-shattering.

Less than two weeks ago, we stood up against a plan that would have taken away health coverage from nearly 3 million New Yorkers.

A plan that would have left the elderly, children, low-income people and the disabled without vital services.

A plan that made health care unaffordable for the sick and that gave billions in tax breaks to the super-rich at the expense of the rest of us.

It’s truly unbelievable.

Twenty years from now we’ll look back on this moment and think – “hey, remember that time they tried to repeal Obamacare?”

And now lets talk about Betsy DeVos... . It’s ok to boo and hiss.

We were part of an amazing effort that has been credited with helping to convince two Republican Senators to oppose DeVos.

For the first time in U.S. history the Vice President was needed to approve a Cabinet nominee.

Educators, parents and allies sent over a million letters and made even more calls to the Senate urging senators to vote no.

Senator Schumer told us the 3 days before the vote resulted in the most calls into the Capitol switchboard in history.

At least 23 school boards in New York State passed resolutions opposing her nomination.

NYSUT members here in New York called thousands of other NYSUT members in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and even Nebraska, encouraging them to reach out to their own Senators.

Betsy DeVos may be education secretary, but she has no mandate.

In fact, she has the opposite because of you.

She can’t visit a school or even send out a tweet with any credibility.

You disrupted the DeVos agenda before she even started.

This is only the beginning.

Over my last 30 years in the labor movement, one thing has been consistent - working people always rise to the occasion.

When was it easy? it was never easy.

But we know what to do.

It’s members talking to members.

It’s building power with our communities.

We have brought our activism to every corner of the state and had record-breaking turnouts at rallies and events in every region, lifting up the voices of our members at every opportunity.

Our retirees, SRPs, health care professionals – everyone has joined in the fight.

Just this month, your advocacy helped appoint Regent Sue Mittler, a retired teacher, to the Board of Regents.

Also in the running for this Regent slot was Kim Myers heiress to the Dick’s Sporting Goods fortune.

You might call her the Meryl Tisch of the Southern Tier.

Our activists intervened locally.

Our lobbyists advocated at the Capitol.

And Sue Mittler was confirmed.

Not only is Sue is retired teacher, but for the first time in history, a teacher union leader is on the Board of Regents.

In the budget fight this year, we stopped corporate charter school proposals that would have sent hundreds of millions of new dollars to charters.

On the Capital Tonight news program they interviewed one of the charter schools lobbyists... he said, and I quote, “well... we can’t send thousands of faxes like the teachers union.”

I’ve talked about what we’ve been able to achieve together, but now I want to tell you what’s next.

In November you’ll vote on whether or not we hold a New York Constitutional Convention – something that only happens every 20 years.

This is something that would be a huge waste of taxpayer dollars and that could destroy your future retirement security.

You know that pension that you thought was guaranteed?

Well there are people who’d like to take that away from you – and the way they could do that is through a constitutional convention.

Tell your members, your friends, your family – vote NO in November.

When it comes to testing and evaluations, I want to assure you that we are not done.

We hit pause, we beat back the ed reformers, but testing season is upon us again.

While the new chancellor and new members of the Board of Regents have taken steps to fix the problems with the implementation of the standards and tests, more changes are needed.

It’s no wonder parents continue to opt their children out in high numbers.

NYSUT fully supports parents’ right to choose what is best for their children — including NYSUT members who decide as parents to opt their children out of state tests.

And our billboards are helping to spread the word.

The state tests have been used to justify a narrowing of curriculum that deprives children of a rich, whole child education.

They’ve demoralized educators.


Your advocacy at the federal level resulted in the passage of ESSA, which finally takes the federal government out of the teacher evaluation process.

There is no longer ANY reason to continue with our current system and we are advocating for the complete de-coupling of testing from teachers’ evaluations.

The current “moratorium” on the use of 3-8 tests will end with the 2019-20 school year.

This fall, the Regents will advance recommended changes to APPR.

We are laying the groundwork now for the 2018 legislative session, where we will fight to develop a fair, appropriate and effective teacher evaluation system.

We will fight to have APPR thrown on the ash-heap of history, so it becomes a scary story we tell our grandchildren.

I’ve spoken to you over the years about the threats coming at us via the Supreme Court.

These threats have come in many names, first Harris v. Quinn, then Friedrichs and now Janus is the new one.

These cases hang over our heads, but NYSUT and our locals have been quick to respond and have been actively organizing against these threats over the past few years.

This is not the time to panic or for short-term thinking.

This is a time for breakthrough strategies.

As external threats have shocked the labor movement out of complacency, we have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and continue the transformation of our great union.

We must ask the question – “How can we ensure that we are relevant to our rank and file membership?”

The challenge of potentially losing fair share is much bigger and more complex than just how to convince people to join or stay a member of the union.

The challenge is how to evolve the very nature of NYSUT itself so that it can thrive in a radically changed environment.

We CAN survive these external threats, and I believe we will come out stronger and more agile.

We will place person-to-person contact, relationship building, at the heart of all that we do.

We will embrace a culture of organizing.

I believe in a “long table” approach to leadership, with input from all of the smart and capable people that are a part of NYSUT.

Asking the question – what’s working and what isn’t – and evolving tactics continuously.

We must keep up with the times and be a 21st century labor union.

That means meeting our members where they are – be it in the faculty room, on twitter or even on snapchat.

It means offering our leaders innovative systems to manage member data, communicate effectively and track relationships that they build over time.

We encourage unbridled activism.

Activism is what unions do best – we fight for what’s right.

We take collective action for the collective good.

We MAKE things happen.

We are a force to be reckoned with.

I believe in being relevant, resilient and above all RELENTLESS.

We will never quit fighting for those we serve, or for each other.

We must stay strong for one another and for the next generation of NYSUT members.

Together, sisters and brothers, we will press on and win this fight.

Thank you.

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