At the end of the week, Port Washington teacher Regina McLean is finally taking the vacation she’s been waiting for all summer. This brand new local union president has been immersing herself in learning about all things union at the NYSUT Leadership Institute, an American Federation of Teachers convention, the NYSUT endorsement conference, and, this week, the NYSUT New Local Presidents Conference.
Why is she spending hot, humid summer days in conference centers? She’s part of a movement of veteran and new leaders tracking the attacks on the labor movement by those who want to see less for the workers and more for themselves.
“There is a new reality here,” NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale told the new local presidents gathered for a three-day conference. “It’s a post-Janus world…We need to engage members on the importance of the labor movement.”
“My vision really is to get more members involved; to show them it’s not the union, it’s their union,” said McLean, who just took office of her Nassau County local union on July 1.
After her vacation, there will be more learning experiences at regional conferences hosted by NYSUT.
Unions have been in full gear hosting educational programs, training, and going door-to-door to have members sign cards and recommit to their unions.
“We’re a very strong, very caring, fighting union,” Andy Pallotta, NYSUT president, promised the new local union presidents. He told the leaders how, at NYSUT’s endorsement conference earlier in the week, the union withheld endorsements from every state senator who voted for more charter schools and against reforms to the state’s broken testing and evaluation system. He said NYSUT activists will work hard to elect the dozens of other candidates for state and federal office who have earned the union’s endorsement
NYSUT Political Director Melinda Person showed the new presidents the routes that big money campaigns are taking to detract from the labor movement, including email, advertisements, direct mail and canvassing roll-outs from organizations such as Mackinac, New Choice and Freedom Foundation — all backed by wealthy billionaires such as the Walton Family and the Koch brothers.
“The labor movement is the last line of defense between them completely controlling the economy,” Person said. “They need to see that being part of the union is being part of something bigger.”
At NYSUT headquarters for the first time, math teacher Cynthia Klein was elected president of the 240-member Cornwall Central Teachers Association last year after serving four years as treasurer.
“I’m always looking for ways to improve solidarity and to show the importance of the union,” she said.
Greece TA President Brian Ebertz, who now leads 1,050 members, took over his new role in March, following stints as a building representative and serving on negotiations.
“We’re a strong, united local,” he said. “We have motivated people and shared leadership.”
Ebertz attended both the endorsement conference and the event for new local presidents.
“We want to be assets to our members in all kinds of ways,” he said.
While many of this summer’s conferences are regularly hosted by NYSUT, there is more emphasis this year on member engagement in light of the recent Janus case.
At this week’s New Local Presidents conference, shiny new union presidents are being taught about all the ways that NYSUT can support them through technical services, communications, membership benefits, legal aid and more. Political action is a separate arm of the union funded through voluntary contributions made to VOTE-COPE. Political funds do not come out of union dues, Pecorale stressed.
“We have a tremendous cast of characters to move the labor movement forward,” Pecorale said of NYSUT staff.