May 05, 2019

RA 2019: Remarks of Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham

Author: RA 2019: Remarks of President Andrew Pallotta

Following are the complete remarks of NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham at NYSUT Representative Assembly 2019, Saturday May 4, Albany.

Thank you very much. It is my pleasure to be here with you today.

I stand here with great respect and admiration for all of you who take such pride in this great democratic process that we call the RA.

I am once again honored to serve as your Secretary-Treasurer, and am pleased to report to you that NYSUT continues to be financially strong.

A financially strong NYSUT sends a clear message to those who wish us harm, and to our friends as well: NYSUT will thrive in the face of the relentless attacks we face!

I offer my sincere gratitude to an incredible leadership team, including my fellow NYSUT officers and the NYSUT Board of Directors, for making this a reality.

Collectively, NYSUT governance, NYSUT management and NYSUT staff, identified the forces that were straining the finances of the organization, and came together to institute measures to address these challenges head on.

This would not have been possible without the assistance of the rank-and-file members and the leadership of NYSUT’s three staff bargaining units: CWA, LSA and PSA.

Together, we fought back against those who wish to see the demise of unions by remaining true to our core values, and keeping focused on the mission of the organization, and the members we serve.

In every financial decision, we keep a keen eye on the need to maintain the level of services to our members, while at the same time acting as a responsible employer, and managing with union values.

We have strategically replaced staff as vacancies occurred through attrition so as to not have to lay off any of our employees.

We achieved that goal: not one of our employees was laid off!

There are not many employers who can say that!

This was done through the great work of an amazing management team, and with one simple directive from the officers; and that is, always keep the best interest of our dues paying members and our staff in mind.

Collectively, we were able to come up with some extremely creative, but fiscally sound, ways to stretch your dues dollars.

It was the essence of Solidarity that brought this organization together to stand side-by-side and member-to-member to make sure that the anti-union antagonists got it all wrong.

And wrong they were.

Let me say it again.

They were wrong.


Because of this strength, I am pleased to announce that the NYSUT officers and Board of Directors are keeping dues flat again for 2019-2020.

As Andy mentioned in his remarks, we are just entering the woods.
While we are stronger than anyone could have anticipated, we must remain vigilant, and be financially ready for any possibility.

Number one, there is always the possibility that we may face a loss of members.

Second, we are just beginning our fight to ensure all new hires decide to join the union.

Third, the funded status of our employee pension and health plans are still far below pre-recession levels.

And fourth, those who wish us harm and their billionaire friends will continue their extremely well-funded attacks. We know that, and we are prepared.

But we must remain vigilant.

A year ago, we may have been looking at our financial picture with the mindset that the glass was somewhat empty.

A year later, we are looking at things much differently. The glass is more filled than empty, but the glass is still not up to the brim.

We will continue to be good stewards of your dues dollars.

What do you say we get the glass a little fuller next year?

I am counting on each and every one of you present today and the rest of this great union to make that a reality in 2020!

And let’s be clear: one of the reasons we have been able to remain so strong is the tremendous benefits and services we provide to our members.

Think about this: More than three hundred thousand (300,000) of your colleagues participate in NYSUT Member Benefits-endorsed programs.

The value these programs provide to our members is profound.

It helps build a lasting bond between our members and their union.

When you picked up your lunch this morning, you also received a printed copy of the NYSUT Member Benefits 2019 RA Report.

There isn’t enough time today to detail all of the great work they do, so I would like to focus on just a couple of points.

The first is our commitment to always listen to what our members want and need.
Most recently, we heard about the need to offer assistance with the student loan debt crisis.

It would be hard to overstate the devastating impact student loan debt can have on our members’ lives. In an effort to assist those impacted by the crisis, we have engaged with a non-profit service to create our Cambridge Credit Counseling program.

The goal is to help members reduce student loan debt, and address general debt issues, by offering professional advice and guidance.

Continuing with the theme of helping our members save money and manage debt, we have a newly-endorsed Mortgage Discount Program from Mid-Island Mortgage.

For members purchasing homes, this program offers very real savings on lender fees and closing costs.
NYSUT members also requested more choice when it comes to selecting auto and homeowners coverage.

So, just a few days ago we launched our new SnapQuote program from MetLife Auto & Home.


This digital platform will offer NYSUT members more choice …  more competitive prices … and more savings.

These are just some of the ways we are providing real value, and real benefits to our members.

But, we all know that membership in our union is about more than dues dollars or benefits programs. It is about our values.

This includes our work in the area of social justice.

Let me be clear: Social justice is union work.
When we talk about building the bond between the union and our members — especially younger members — a major element of that bond is the sense that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.
Our members want their union to fight for the values we all share:

Good jobs that pay a decent wage …

Affordable, accessible health care …

Strong public schools …

A vibrant democracy that defends the voice of everyone in our communities…

And a commitment fighting discrimination, hatred and bigotry wherever we see it.

Those are the values we fight for every day.

During my Social Justice report at last year’s RA, I mentioned the very generous donation of my friend, past NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino. With her donation, we established a grant program focused on LGBTQ issues.

Specifically, these Beloved Community Grants are intended to help educate the our members and the general public on LGBTQ issues, and to help build a more robust and vibrant LGBTQ community.

I am pleased to announce that we are supporting groundbreaking work all over the state.
In Western NY, our LGBT committee members have proposed a day-long conference on creating a positive and supportive workplace for LGBTQ union members and community members.

In the Capital Region, we are kicking off a year-long project to sign up educators to participate in the Human Rights Campaign-NEA reading day in February 2020.

And the UFT has proposed expanding professional development opportunities and training, developing new lessons, and creating a resource library.

These are just a few examples of the terrific work happening all across our union.

These are just  a few examples of our social justice programs at work.

Now, if you will take a moment to look at the screens, we have prepared a short video celebrating some of the Social Justice programs from this past year.

Now allow me a minute to send a special note of appreciation to the remarkable Secretary-Treasurer Department staff with whom I am so honored to work on a daily basis.
The staff of all three units that I oversee: Member Benefits, Facilities, and Finance, are incredible individuals with whom I have the privilege to work every day.

Their member-focused approach, service-driven manner and fiscally-responsible mindset have all contributed to NYSUT’s ability to fight back and remain a strong union.

But more so, they are caring and compassionate individuals who come to work at NYSUT every day looking to make a difference in our members’ lives.

I am so proud to be a part of this incredible team.