School-Related Professionals who drive buses, serve food, clean buildings, and serve as secretaries and security personnel will gather this weekend in Albany for NYSUT’s statewide professional development conference, at which they will welcome 59 newcomers and another 150 returning members.
And when they do, they’ll learn about a new state law providing them with enhanced employment protections that aim to prevent unfair terminations. The legislation ensures workers now receive due process, and have the right to union representation, as well as written notice of all charges brought against them.
Covered under the new law are members working in transportation, clerical, food service, buildings and grounds, and other SRP titles. Previously, public-sector labor-class employees only had these rights if they were included in collective bargaining agreements.
Those attending this weekend’s conference will also be reflecting on NYSUT’s successful summer and autumn campaigns to keep members in the union and attract new hires. Since the Janus Supreme Court decision allowing people to opt out of paying mandatory dues despite enjoying the benefits of union membership such as collective bargaining, NYSUT members have been out visiting colleagues and explaining to them why it’s worth sticking with their union. It’s this type of grassroots organizing that leads to stronger workplace rights, such as the new legislation guaranteeing due-process protections.
“I had great experiences talking with members. It was almost life changing. We are a phenomenal group of people,” said Claudia Leone, a member of NYSUT’s SRP Advisory Committee and a Brocton TA who knocked on doors in Chautauqua County this summer to speak with fellow SRPs.
“I met a lot of hardworking SRPs. Some single moms, some working two jobs to make ends meet,” she said. “I met a cafeteria worker raising her grandchildren. It was very emotional for me talking with these women.
“It’s tough for a lot of people. We have to bring everyone up.
Being in a union helps workers have a collective voice to call for being paid a living wage, workers’ rights on the job, and job security,” said Leone, a teaching assistant who learned Braille to help a visually impaired student with homework assignments, review sheets and testing.
Leone said the experience of going out and speaking one-on-one with members this past summer was not her first rodeo: she also did so before the 2017 Constitutional Convention vote.
“I keep wearing out shoes,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s a good cause we’re fighting for. It’s our livelihood. We’re fighting for our union. And we’re connecting with our members.”
“Never forget,” said Kimberley McEvoy, chair of the NYSUT SRP Advisory Committee, “that being in a union secures a safer working environment, benefits, salary, how many hours a day we work, and workers’ rights.”
A member of the Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and SRPs, McEvoy said, “I’m proud to say we’re a 100-percent local, including all 9 new SRP’s who became union members.”
McEvoy, who works in her district’s business office, said this weekend’s conference — providing important professional-development credits and resources such as coursework through NYSUT’s Education and Learning Trust — is just another example of what the statewide union offers its members.
SRPs also will be donating books this through this year’s conference to the Syracuse City School District, as well as raising money for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, which helps members in need.
“Overall,” said McEvoy, “the conference is a chance for union sisters and brothers to share strategies, education and community.”