Leaders representing varied NYSUT constituency groups came to the pre-RA Local and Retiree Council President's Conference with different concerns but the same goal — to inform their union of the challenges facing their members and learn the latest information and strategies to take home.
In a wide-ranging discussion with NYSUT officers, local leaders asked questions about union priorities, political action, a gubernatorial endorsement, the teacher shortage, school safety and more. NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said the union's incredible success defeating the state's proposed constitutional convention last year sent a very strong message. "When labor gets behind something, we can really make change," Pallotta said. "Now, we have to continue this 'NYSUT Wave' as we move forward."
Local leaders attended a number of breakout sessions, including a Q&A with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, a session on the Janus case, SRP's, higher education and retirees.
NYSUT leaders give commissioner a look at real world
Commissioner Elia. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
Local union leaders gave Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia a heart-wrenching reality check of what the state’s testing regime is doing to students and teachers. Fresh from a painful first round of grades 3–8 state testing, educators at a Q&A with the commissioner described widespread student frustration, exhaustion and tears – and a disastrous foray into computer-based testing.
“I am a mandated child abuse reporter,” said Kathy Occhioni of Churchville-Chili EA, to much applause at the pre-RA session with local presidents and retiree leaders. “We probably should have been reporting what happened to our kids. After three hours of testing, more than half of my students were still taking the test. After five-and-a-half hours, I had five students still testing … That’s a crime.”
Equity for adjuncts a top priority
Kevin Peterman of Suffolk CC and Roberta Elins of Roberta Elins of United College Employees of F.I.T. at the higher education breakout session.
More than 75 percent of the instruction on some New York campuses is delivered by adjunct faculty — an issue NYSUT’s Higher Education Policy Council is determined to tackle. “We are continuing to fight for equity for adjuncts,” said Roberta Elins, council chair and president of the United College Employees of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Higher education union leaders are working with NYSUT Communications on a campaign to fight for fair pay, proper benefits and good working conditions for all adjunct faculty. Policy Council members also discussed a union task force that is examining the dues structure that requires adjunct family to pay multiple dues at each college or school they work for.
Council members also discussed the creation of a teacher preparation network to improve communication between community college leaders and their colleagues at four-year institutions. United University Professions Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler raised concerns about a proposal to significantly increase clinical observation hours. She noted that teacher education professionals, especially at campuses that send students to rural schools, will have serious problems meeting increased target.
The higher education leaders also discussed their goals for the remainder of the legislative session and ways to improve higher education lobby day and increase student participation.
Karen McLean of Herricks Teachers Association, at the SRPs breakout session.
School security and safe schools were the focus at a breakout session for School-Related Professionals leaders. Michael Lohman, American Federation of Teachers assistant director for health and safety, was on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting. “There were three main problems confronted by the local: lack of information, rumors and the press looking for a ‘gotcha’ story or someone to blame,” Lohman said. The Broward Teachers Union was able to serve as a resource for its members dealing with the trauma. The local made counselors available and helped members with leave requests. The AFT also brought in the local president and an educator from the Sandy Hook union to offer support and advice.
NYSUT staffer Wendy Hord polled the leaders on concerns at their schools and job sites. Mark Warner, Syracuse TA, said there is a serious concern with a lack of appropriate training. “In our area, a lot of day treatment programs are closing and you have students being sent back to the public schools without appropriate supports,” he said. The combination of students with mental health diagnoses and staff not trained to deal with them is explosive. “This ends up with people getting hurt,” Warner said.
Hord shared New York State school safety planning requirements and the urgency of SRPs being involved in school safety planning discussions. SRPs also heard updates from NYSUT legislative staffer John Green.
Retirees motivated to get out the vote
Florence McCue and Veronica O'Connor of Retiree Council 16.
NYSUT retirees were urged to mobilize for the upcoming 2018 congressional elections.
Rich Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, outlined the damage the Trump White House and Republican-controlled Congress have wrought on the programs and values important to seniors. He pointed to how the Trump tax plan dramatically shifts the nation’s wealth from the middle class to the wealthy, favors multi-billion-dollar corporations and hedge funds, and will increase the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion — thus squeezing Medicare and Medicaid. Meanwhile, the federal budget, he added, eyes cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and heating assistance.
Fiesta noted that every Democratic member of the House and Senate from New York this year scored an ARA rating of 100 percent on issues important to seniors. Meanwhile, not a single New York Republican scored above 50 percent — including Claudia Tenney, who was graded at just 10 percent and Tom Reed who received a big, fat zero.
Still, over the span of the last four congressional elections dating back to 2010, the majority of seniors nationwide voted Republican — and thus against their interests.
“The 2018 and 2020 races are going to be very important,” Fiesta said.
Mel Stern, a Long Island retiree, said he believes retirees can make a difference on election night and pointed to the successful Assembly race won by Long Island Democratic newcomer Christine Pellegrino last year.
“I’m an optimist. We can do this,” said Stern. “We did something (in getting Pellegrino elected) that they said we could never do. But we got the vote out and we won. And I think we have a really good chance to change things in Congress.”