Members from the 20 local unions taking part in this year's union-strengthening Local Action Project departed for home after their intense weeklong conference with praise, long to-do lists, strong encouragement and urgency.
At LAP, local union members traditionally focus on how to strengthen their local unions, how to partner with community organizations, and how to let the community know who the union is, what it stands for, and just how much it benefits students and the community. This year much more is at stake.
"The future of this organization requires us to reach each other... one at a time. The future of this organization is on all of our shoulders," said NYSUT president Andy Pallotta.
Two tasks are paramount: getting union members to sign up for union membership in the face of an adverse Supreme Court decisions that could end fair share; and educating people on why it is vital to vote NO in November on whether New York State should have a constitutional convention.
It is time for a lot of knocking on doors, individual talks and rallies, Pallotta said, leading the LAP locals in a chant of "I believe we can win."
"We organize, we strategize ... we're relentless!" Pallotta said.
"The work is hard, the hours are long ... the challenge is to talk to all members," said Martin Messner, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, adding that the American labor movement is facing its biggest challenge ever.
Locals devote three years to LAP, spending a week each summer planning and learning. Today's graduates are Wappingers Congress of Teachers, Salmon River TA, Mahopac TA, Clarkstown TA, Cleveland Hills TA, Fabius-Pompey Educators Association and Frewsburg FA.
"It feels awesome. We've worked really hard and come a long way," said teacher Kelly Bray of the Clarkstown TA.
The local instituted an annual program for the community called "A Perfect Storm" to bring in speakers and provide resources to address the heroin epidemic which has taken the lives of many students, among others. They partnered with the PTA and the police department, forging relations. Renowned speakers Steven Hill and former NBA player Chris Herren, both recovering addicts, spoke two different years, along with others. They've been asked to bring the program to middle school.
They also set up a welcome program for kindergarten students, providing a lunch tote bag, a book and a CTA magnet.
Copenhagen TA is heading out the door with a firm plan on ConCon plan in the works. They are working with the district on a postcard and robo call campaign, said local president John Cain.
A major rally is being planned for Oct. 11 in Watertown with numerous political groups, unions, and community groups.
Stephanie Green, president of Poughkeepsie PSTA, said her group, now in its second year, learned from their mistakes.
"Our goals were too lofty," she said. This time they will streamline their projects instead of front-loading.
She said they took in a lot of specific information about ConCon and now they have a plan to inform members.