In a rousing address to delegates, President Andy Pallotta outlined the five main reasons he is confident that the union will survive and thrive in these “crazy times.”
“I stand here before you filled with hope. I have to tell you, I sleep very well at night … because I have faith in our union. Our Voice, Our Values, Our Union.”
We are united, and nothing showed that more than the overwhelming defeat of the constitutional convention referendum last fall.
We are winning elections, electing members of our union to political office locally and in the state house.
“We the people” are stepping up, inspired by the grassroots courage and conviction of students demanding safe schools and teachers walking for their rights.
We won’t back down and now, after years of battles, we finally have a bill moving through the state Legislature that would prohibit mandated use of state standardized tests to evaluate educators and students.
And, we are organizing! We have placed person-to-person contact and relationship building at the heart of all that we do.
Pallotta said, “It is a whole new world out there, but we’re facing it together.”
Here is the video and full text of Pallotta’s speech.
Good evening sisters and brothers...
It is my honor to stand before you as your President.
I want to begin by thanking our incredible NYSUT staff –
Melinda Person, my Senior Advisor, Political Director and right hand...
And the Directors of other departments which I oversee - Chris Black, our Director of Legislation, Madeline Connolly, our Director of IT, Damien LaVera, our Communications Director and Bob Reilly our General Counsel.
To our lawyers, organizers, writers, the support staff and legislative reps - you are there - day in and day out - fighting for our members.
Thank you to all of our great staff.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't thank my incredible wife Martha who supports me every day, my son Stephen, and my daughter Andreanna - both of my kids are new teachers.
They both work so hard to make a difference in the lives of children... and they make me so proud.
We are a PROUD UNION FAMILY.
Do you have the magnet for your car yet?
On another happy and personal note, we found out recently that my daughter Andreanna and her husband Jose are expecting a baby boy this September.
I'm going to be a grandpa!
There is something about expecting a grandchild that changes your world.
You start thinking a lot more about the future- the world we are leaving to our grandchildren.
We are living in wild and crazy times.
I wake up each morning and watch the news and read the headlines.
You never know what attack on our rights or dangerous international incident is going to happen next.
I think a lot about the Janus case, which is likely to be decided in a matter of days.
This case is a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people.
They hope to undercut the interests of millions of workers by depriving their unions of the funds they need to function.
This case poses a grave threat to unions ability to advocate for not only our members, but for economic justice that benefits all Americans.
But I stand here before you filled with HOPE - I have to tell you ... I sleep very well at night.
Because I have FAITH in OUR UNION.
Our VOICE, Our VALUES, Our UNION.
Let me tell you why ...
I've got at least five reasons!
First, I'm not worried because - we are UNITED.
This past November we overwhelming defeated the Constitutional Convention- 83 percent to 17 percent - a defeat that will go down in the history books!
This was a victory for NYSUT, for labor and for working people.
Two years ago, polling showed two-thirds of likely voters supported the ConCon, and our efforts, together with our coalition partners, more than flipped it.
Every local got involved.
Our retirees went above and beyond, fighting back against the proponents day and night.
And our members showed up at the polls.
NYSUT members showed up to vote last November at MORE THAN TWICE the rate of the general public.
New York saw what happens when labor organizes, mobilizes and acts as one to protect working people.
Second, I'm excited about the future because - we are WINNING ELECTIONS
Motivated by education cuts, over-testing and a nationwide spirit of activism, dozens of educators are running for legislative seats across the country, and we're winning right here in New York.
This past May, NYSUT members helped elect elementary reading teacher Christine Pellegrino in a special election for Long Island's 9th Assembly district.
Union volunteers helped her pull off a tremendous upset that got national attention.
Christine's message resonated. Voters wanted to send a teacher, mom and opt-out leader to Albany to make public education policy.
And it was so great to have her friendly face in Albany on the Education Committee when we were testifying!
Her victory followed the election of Monica Wallace, a NYSUT member elected to represent the 143rd Assembly District right here in Western New York.
We officially have a NYSUT Caucus in the State Assembly!!
Pellegrino and Wallace were part of NYSUT's "Pipeline Project," which encourages and supports union members seeking elective office.
And now we have another educator, John Mannion, who is stepping up to run for State Senate.
John has been a teacher for 25 years.
He is an AP biology teacher and president of the West Genesee Teachers' Association.
A graduate of the Member Organizing Institute, last summer John knocked on members doors to talk to them about the ConCon - and now he is stepping up to lead once again and running for office.
John - please stand and be recognized.
It was only a year ago that we did this with Christine!
Are we going to get John elected to the Senate?
This week we also won a huge victory in Westchester electing Shelley Mayer to the State Senate - a lot of outside money from a pro-charter school PAC flowed into this race.
The group spent over $800,000 on negative and misleading ads against Shelley.
The main funders are the Walton Family, of Walmart fame, and they added another $1 million to the PAC during the last week of the campaign
Despite being outspent - We prevailed!
Now that Shelley moves over to the Senate, she leaves her Assembly seat vacant.
I am excited to announce today that another NYSUT member is stepping up to run for THAT seat.
Anthony Nicodemo, a high school social studies and special education teacher and coach — and president of the Greenburgh North Castle United Teachers — is running for Assembly!
This is so exciting...
My third reason that I have so much hope ... is because We the People, all across this country, are STEPPING UP
Last month, thousands of students across the country walked out of school to protest gun violence.
Following the lead of these students was so inspiring.
The student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and from other schools around the country — spoke so well and took actions to advocate for themselves in such a staggeringly powerful way, that critics came out accusing the students of being "crisis actors".
But what WE know — is that their eloquence and poise — demonstrates the power of a high quality public education that educates the whole child.
Where art and music and debate and civic participation are essential elements of the curriculum.
Our students give me hope because they are stepping up!
Not only are our students stepping up, but educators in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma are stepping up too!
They just recently engaged in successful strikes for living wages and improved learning conditions for their students.
In Kentucky, thousands of teachers rallied at their state capitol over school spending and to protest a new pension law.
We're seeing a renewed militancy in a time when our unions are under attack.
When the president and Congress fail us.
When state legislators and Governors fail us.
When they govern on behalf of the wealthy — we the people are stepping up.
Fourth, I know that we will prevail because — we are NOT BACKING DOWN.
Testing this year has been a disaster AGAIN!
There are benchmarks that still don't make sense.
And educators around the state told us about test scores being -quote end-quote -"lost" during computer based testing.
Others sat for hours and hours, missing lunch, more kids brought to tears.
The stories of what is happening out there brought ME to tears.
I'm not going to mince words.
The state's 3-8 testing system is still a mess.
Together with parents, we have started to turn the tide against this disastrous test-and-punish approach to education ... but we're far from done.
Our actions resulted in an unprecedented moratorium on the mandated use of student tests in teacher evaluations.
With that moratorium now in its third year, it's essential to fix what's so clearly broken: the state's failed system of APPR.
And we intend to do so THIS YEAR.
But this isn't just about our evaluations.
We must also act to protect our students from the high-stakes nature of these exams.
If the legislature fails to act, the prohibition on using these flawed tests against students will expire at the end of this year!
Now is the time to fix this for good!
Today I am announcing a new campaign entitled — Let Us Teach! Let Them Learn!
This bill would PERMANENTLY prohibit the use of the states 3-8 exams for both TEACHER and STUDENT evaluations.
We will not back down until this legislation is signed into law!
My fifth and final reason I have hope... why I BELIEVE that we will WIN — is because We are ORGANIZING.
We have placed person-to-person contact, relationship building, at the heart of all that we do.
This isn't new.
We're just getting back to our roots.
Al Shanker met with members at their kitchen tables.
They talked about what mattered to them and their families — our shared values.
And it took courage.
On November 7, 1960 — the year I was born — New York City teachers went out on strike, igniting what would become a nationwide teachers' movement.
As that fateful day approached, administrators told them if they walked the line they'd be fired.
Older teachers with decades of service were warned that they'd lose their pensions if they walked.
Still, thousands of educators took to the streets.
That took guts!
You may have heard me say this before ... don't be ashamed of how powerful we are.
That power is EARNED.
Our contracts were EARNED.
They were earned through the blood, sweat, tears and ORGANIZING of our predecessors!
And so we organize AGAIN!
Raise your hand if you've signed a new membership card at work?
At a time when our ability to advocate for our profession and collectively bargain for fair pay is under attack by wealthy special interests, signing a card is the best way to defend our voice, our values and our union.
Raise your hand if a NYSUT member has come to visit you at home?
Starting last summer, NYSUT member organizers have been visiting other NYSUT members in their homes, talking to them about the value of our union, and asking them a key question...
Are you sticking with our union?
People are already calling and visiting our members and telling them to drop their membership — they say "give yourself a raise, lose nothing" — but we need to tell them the truth.
When people withdraw their union membership, salaries drop, benefits decrease, pension contributions soar!
We won't let this happen here.
This summer, we'll be sending out 500 member organizers for an organizing blitz, with a plan to visit every NYSUT member's home at least once by September.
The NYSUT Member Organizing Institute is hiring!
If you're looking for a way to get involved this summer, find more info on the NYSUT website.
And if we haven't visited you at home yet, keep an eye out for us this summer!
We are UNITED;
We are WINNING ELECTIONS;
'We the People' are STEPPING UP;
We won't BACK DOWN; and
We are ORGANIZING
This is why I sleep well at night. Why I have FAITH in our UNION.
I want to finish with a story from early on in my teaching career.
I was teaching 2nd grade at PS32 in the Bronx.
This was a school that hadn't been painted for over 30 years.
There was plaster that had started flaking off of the ceiling and the walls.
This plaster was falling on students' desks during the day.
It was awful.
The administration wasn't doing anything about it.
So what did I do ... I got involved with our union
We got together the next day.
We all went to advocate TOGETHER.
The following day they sent an industrial hygienist for air testing.
And you know what?
They found asbestos ... so they closed off the classrooms and FINALLY did the remediation.
It was all of us acting together through our union that made this happen.
It was our union that came through for our kids in our classrooms.
Look back at our history.
Through our union, educators have lifted themselves out of poverty and into the middle class.
Through our union, we've demanded respect and a voice at work.
Through our union, we've supported funding for public schools and colleges, helping New York's students get the resources they need to succeed.
Through our union, we've raised funds and collected supplies to assist regions ravaged by hurricanes like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The people in this room are all people of varied opinions.
We don't always agree, but at the end of the day we are a powerful, strong, union FAMILY.
In the words of Walter Dunn — a longtime NYSUT activist and former Vice President of the union:
"We've been through all the same battles together. There's a kinship. The union movement calls each other brothers and sisters. We use the word solidarity, and it's not just a term. It's a feeling people have of being connected with each other."
It is a whole new world out there but we're facing it together.
Now if you'll indulge me in a little chant I've become fond of lately ... please repeat after me.
I believe that we...
I believe that we can win!