When Jolene DiBrango attended NYSUT’s Leadership Institute several years ago, she was initially focused on learning new ways to strengthen her local union, the Pittsford District Teachers Association.
But by the time she completed her “life-changing” week of study, DiBrango —now NYSUT executive vice president — realized she and her local union were part of a much larger labor movement with a more sweeping mission.
“Unionism doesn’t just mean focusing on collective bargaining and the bread-and- butter issues like retirement security,” DiBrango told this year’s crop of Leadership Institute participants in her keynote speech. “It means that we are social justice warriors, too. That we show up, we stand up and we speak out.”
DiBrango said some might question why the union fights for issues like women’s rights and equality, civil rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, equity in education, student debt relief, loan forgiveness, and access to higher education.
“We must be the truth tellers. We must correct misinformation, lies and call out hate speech," DiBrango said. "And when your members ask, ‘Why are we doing this work?’ You tell them that union solidarity is bound by a system of shared values centered on fairness and equal opportunity.”
Setting the stage for the week ahead, DiBrango said NYSUT is focused on three key areas to build the union from the inside out.
“Service, advocacy and stewardship — all wrapped up in the warm, fuzzy blanket of solidarity,” DiBrango said. “You are the face of NYSUT. And you are not alone. By the end of this week, you will have your own tribe of sisters and brothers who will have your back... The relationships you build this week will be with you for years to come.”