From a steelworker to a social worker; from a construction foreman to a broadcasting producer; from a public dispatcher to a public college professor — these are the working union women being recognized for their mettle by the Workforce Development Institute in their 2018 calendar.
Among the 14 faces on the 2018 WDI calendar are two NYSUT members: Kathleen Taylor, retired from 22 years of teaching at Ulster County BOCES and a board member of NYSUT; and Norma Chrisman, educational technology specialist and president of the Mohawk Valley Community College Professional Association.
Their union and workplace involvement has led them to leadership roles in their locals and their central labor councils. Taylor has been honored with the Mother Jones Award and Chrisman has received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service.
The Workforce Development Institute produces the calendar to help highlight women and jobs, and to “to recognize women who have progressed in their careers and at the same time helped push the labor movement forward,” said Vivian Benton, WDI’s deputy director.
Kathleen Taylor, who is representing October 2018, learned about unions after leaving her 22-years-long job as a hairdresser to teach cosmetology.
“When I first started working at BOCES, I realized for the first time in my life that I had health insurance,” she said, still marveling. “So I got involved in the union.”
While working as a teacher, Taylor headed the hospitality outreach for her union — Ulster County BOCES Organization — followed by work as a union rep, leading to vice president and then president. She was also the president of the Central Labor Council in her region and was elected the first woman president of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation.
Realizing she was “doing too much,” Taylor streamlined her duties and roles in 2008. She is still active in the union organizations. Election season is especially important and this is where a lot of time is invested.
With the ALF, as in many labor organizations, Taylor said she has joined leaders in interviewing candidates through the political screening process for local, state and federal positions.
“Respect is important,” she said.
Taylor was humbled when she was awarded the Mother Jones Award from ALF. Mary Harris Jones was a schoolteacher and dressmaker who helped organize strikes and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World. She was a symbol for the labor movement, joining rallies and protests, helping to create energy to form or protect unions.
This retiree is quick to give credit to the staff of all the different organizations she works on behalf of. “It’s not me … there are staff at NYSUT, at the Central Labor Council, and at the Area Labor Federation. I couldn’t possibly have done all that without them.”
A graduate of SUNY Oswego and SUNY New Paltz, Taylor has her K-12 special education certification. She loves to walk, do yoga and spend time with people in her community who need a boost.
Though retired from teaching, Taylor is still busy in different union-related organizations, including her work as a NYSUT board member. Recently, she visited teachers at the nearby Saugerties TA, and went to opening day for teachers in Highland, Kingston, Onteora and other schools.
“It’s important for members to see NYSUT,” explained Taylor.
Chrisman, who is heralding the month of December 2018, is involved in all things union and all things baseball, from fundraising to peering out of the concession stand to hand over hotdogs at ballgames.
This vibrant leader is recording secretary of her Central Labor Council and is the first professional staff member to serve as president of the MVCC PA. She began teaching at the Utica community college in 2002, and her eyes were opened wide to how vital unions are to working people when her husband was hung out to dry.
“Shortly after being hired at MVCC, my husband was fired from Beech Nut. His union determined that he was fired because of his involvement with the union,” Chrisman said. “After going through over a year of arbitration hearings, he was awarded his job back. From that point going forward, I wanted to become more involved in my union. Not only did it motivate me to become involved and advocate for the membership and myself, it also gave me empathy when a member was going through a disciplinary issue. I could relate to how they were feeling and help them to understand the process.”
Empathy and action appear to be Chrisman’s hallmark. She makes her mark in fundraising for sports, for the Epilepsy Foundation, and for scholarships in the name of her son Kevin, who died in 2015 at age 22 from Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy. One scholarship is at Little Falls High School and the other is at Fulton- Montgomery College. The recipient has to play baseball or softball, just as Kevin did.
Chrisman has been president of the Professional Association since 2013; she began her third term earlier this year. The union represents both faculty and 12-month professionals.
“My proudest moments are when we defend our members, and how appreciative they are after,” said Chrisman. “As I was told by a respected colleague, ‘When we walk into the room with administration, our titles disappear and we are all equals. You should not feel intimidated by them because of their role at the college.’ I remember that, any time I have a conversation with administration, I am no different from them and respectfully express my opinion to defend my membership and our collective bargaining agreement.”
On the job at MVCC, Chrisman is administrator for the Blackboard system; the online course management system used for online, hybrid or supplemental course sites, working year-round. She is also qualified to teach freshman seminar, intro to computers and database management.
“I also provide training to faculty and staff to teach them about various software packages and hardware such as whiteboards, computers and projectors,” she said.
Chrisman has been awarded the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service — an award she calls “a complete surprise.”
Peers nominated her for the award, which is presented to people “who have repeatedly sought improvement of themselves, their campuses and ultimately the State University, and in doing so, have transcended the normal definitions of excellence.”
Chrisman helps plan the annual NYSUT community colleges conference. She is also president of the Mountie Athletic Club, which supports sporting groups at Little Falls High School. She’s been involved in Little League.
“Baseball is the true passion for our family,” she said.
The state-funded Workforce Development Institute works with both unions and manufacturing companies. Among many roles, institute staff put together training programs for companies and for unions. “We connect, facilitate and fund,” said Benton. The organization has 10 regional offices throughout the state, in addition to its Capital Region offices.
The other women featured on the calendar are Lacy Weber and Dionne Welch (cover, IUE-CWA); Jennifer Andrus, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians; Elizabeth Cassada; IBEW Local 910; Sandie Forte, Office and Professional Employees International Union; Kathy Rodriguez, CSEA; Christina Nieves, Iron Workers Local 40; Valerie Thomas, United Steelworkers Local 3657; Ann Marie Taliercio, UNITEHERE Local 150; Randi DiAntonio, PEF; Linda Lesnewski, Utility Workers Union of America; and Nikki Kateman, Local 338 Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW.
A limited number of the calendars are available by contacting Mediarel@nysutmail.org.