Randi Weingarten encouraged activists at the 2018 NYSUT Leadership Institute to have a vision, to take risks, to listen, to lead, to collaborate and to build trust. “People want to know who you are and what you plan to accomplish,” said Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, explaining that direct engagement with members and the community about issues that matter is key.
“(The Janus vs. AFSCME case) gave us the opportunity to change our culture and our strategy; and it’s not about fighting the enemy, it’s about rebuilding trust,” she said, advocating taking risks and being unafraid to stand up for personal beliefs.
Weingarten thanked the leaders — who received training at NYSUT headquarters in Albany this week — for their work and encouraged them to make time for themselves and to view joy as an act of resistance. “The other side wants to see us cower and be defeated, that’s why they tried to break us with Janus. Show them they can’t — and take some joy from that.
“You’re doing things in this moment that none of our leaders have been called to do,” she continued. “We’re not just saving ourselves, we’re saving the country.”
In remarks during the Institute’s closing session, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta noted that out of more than 600,000 members, only 17 have disaffiliated since the Janus decision. “That’s very good, very powerful,” he said, crediting the work of the NYSUT Member Organizing Institute for highlighting union value for members.
“One of the hardest things I do is knocking on doors, but that person-to-person contact is crucial,” he said. “It’s like any relationship; if we don’t invest in it it falls apart.”
Pallotta pledged to continue holding the feet of state politicians to the fire, noting that VOTE-COPE, NYSUT’s voluntary political action fund, is at nearly $11 million.
“We try to influence people, but if we can’t influence people, we change people,” he warned.
Pallotta saluted Leadership Institute participants for their hard work, saying, “I’ve enjoyed this event — I feel good knowing there are leaders like you out there working hard!”
Other highlights of the NYSUT Leadership Institute included a Wednesday rally in Troy in solidarity with an embattled member of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3343 and a presentation by Jane McAlevey, author of No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, who detailed member engagement strategies.
Since 1997, the NYSUT Leadership Institute has prepared new and emerging union activists to assume greater leadership roles within their locals and the statewide union. All four of the current NYSUT statewide officers are institute graduates.