May 05, 2019

RA 2019: Remarks of President Andrew Pallotta

Author: RA 2019: Remarks of President Andrew Pallotta

Following are the complete remarks of NYSUT President Andrew Pallotta at NYSUT Representative Assembly 2019, Friday, May 3, Albany.

Good evening fellow unionists …

It is my honor to stand before you once again as your President.

Most importantly, I’d like start by thanking my family - my incredible wife Martha who supports me every day, my son Stephen, my daughter Andreanna and son-in-law Jose.

And I can’t forget my new grandson, baby Andrew, who inspires me every day to help create a future worthy of him.

I also want to thank our incredible NYSUT staff —

Melinda Person, our Executive Director and Political Director and my right hand …  I like to say, she’s a good “person”.

And the Directors of other departments that I oversee — Chris Black, our Director of Legislation,  Donna O’Leary, our Chief Information Officer, Bob Reilly our General Counsel, and Jonathan Rubin, our Director of Field and Affiliate Services.

To our lawyers, organizers, labor relations specialists, all of our support staff and legislative reps — you are there — day in and day out — keeping this union strong.

Thank you to ALL of our great staff.

Lately as I’ve been traveling around the state you may have heard me talk about and use the phrase “NYSUT’s next 50 years”.

NYSUT is 47 years old … only slightly younger than me.

And despite what the gray hair might indicate, I was not involved when NYSUT was founded.

To borrow from an old proverb, I like to say that “I am standing in the shade of trees I did not plant.

Those that formed this great union almost 50 years ago put down some strong roots … roots that have enabled us to weather this storm.

We look around our country right now and we see educators who’ve been on strike … from West Virginia to Los Angeles.

For our newest members these strikes may seem foreign, but they built the foundation of this great union.

Sadly, NYSUT lost two of our foundational members this year — former Officer Ken Deedy and one of the original founders of the UFT Ray Frankel.

I remind you of our roots, our founders, lest we forget where we came from and what it took us to get here.

They led strikes in New York City, in Nyack, Orchard Park, Eastchester, there are too many to name ... but I’d like to tell you a story about one particular strike that happened in 1976 in North Syracuse.

It was led by our powerful NYSUT sister Sylvia Matousek who we lost this year.

It’s a story of sacrifice, of the blood, sweat and tears of our foremothers and forefathers … a sacrifice that enables us all to sit in the shade of this great union today.

Please draw your attention to the screen for one such story out of many …

So moving.

We aren’t going to take anything for granted.

And we’re going to continue to grow stronger.

The last 2 or 3 years have been challenging for all of us.

We’ve worried about the future of this great union, of the labor movement.

But I am happy to report that the state of our union is STRONG.

Anti-union forces wanted to destroy us, but this challenge made us stronger!

Stronger because we did the right thing. 

We organized. 

We knocked doors. 

We built relationships.

I believe in surviving your losses and celebrating your victories!

We did lose our fee payers, but we also gained thousands of new members.

Our overall dues income this year is expected to be down less than 2 percent.

But it’s not about money.

Our membership is what drives the organization.

And our membership numbers are up, our members are more engaged than ever … and they’re sticking with our UNION.

But before we sit back and take a breather …

We’re not out of the woods …

in fact, we’re just entering the woods!

Keep your boots on!

In looking at what has happened in other states that transitioned to “Right to Work for Less”, those states tended to fare ok for year one.

They then dropped off in membership more significantly in years 2, 3 and 4 before stabilizing again.

We’re focused on signing up our new hires.

While the majority of our locals are seeing over 95 percent of their new hires join, some locals are seeing as little as 50 percent join the union.

That impacts us all.

The ultimate survival of public sector unions will depend not on merely preventing dropouts but on our ability to convince new employees that union membership is important.

This is so important I’m going to say it again.

The ultimate survival of public sector unions will depend not on merely preventing dropouts but on our ability to convince new employees that union membership is important.

We have avoided significant drops so far here in New York — less than 500 statewide so far — but our enemies are just getting started.

They’ve spent a relatively small amount on their drop campaigns — significantly less than is being spent elsewhere, especially on the West Coast where they are spending millions.

Our time will come and we’ve got to stay vigilant.

Unfortunately, there is no “WE HAVE WON”, our opponents are in this for the long haul  BUT SO ARE WE.

As leaders we’ll be eternally focused on making strategic choices about people, time and money.

We have the utmost respect for and are forever dedicated to stewardship of the dues resources entrusted to us by our members.

We want to grow our membership and also grow our power.

We do that by winning on issues that matter to our members, their students, our communities.

We are fighting to protect and defend our voice, our values and our union.

And we are winning.

Nowhere has that been more clear than this past election season.

When politicians in New York State turned their backs on parents, students and teachers by refusing to fix the broken teacher evaluation system, we said, “No way!”

Can we say it together?


When they called NYSUT members — who day-in and day-out serve the public with selfless dedication — “forces of evil,” we said, “Are you kidding me?”

We stood together. We organized.

And we sent them packing — dramatically changing the face of the New York State Legislature.

And I just have to say something here about our retirees, in particular our retirees on Long Island.

This past election season, the retirees on Long Island got together every Tuesday and Thursday for 10 weeks and made over 30,000 calls!

Long Island’s retirees made over 25% of the entire calls made statewide!

Can I get a round of applause in gratitude for these incredible retirees!

Beyond elections, we also grow our power by fighting for social justice.

We push back against the social and economic inequalities that get in the way of our members, their students and our communities thriving and having full access to opportunities.

Our Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham is leading in this fight!

Thank you Philippe!

While the State Budget this year was largely a disappointment in terms of funding, we did get the APPR bill passed …  FINALLY

In the state budget we also got some very useful Labor language for the post-Janus world we’re living in.

But the overall shortage of school aid and higher ed funding, including the Governor and Legislature’s failure to address the TAP-GAP, was a stark reminder that there are no permanent “friends”.

We get from our elected officials what we MAKE THEM give us.

So … what is next for us?
What about our next 50 years?

I know this!

We can’t stand still, we need to lean in to these challenges … we need to think long-term, beyond the latest crisis.

And we’re doing that.

At every turn, we’re reminding our members what we stand for.


Our union fights for good jobs that provide a decent wage, a voice in the workplace and a secure retirement — not just for our members, but for all New Yorkers.
Our union fights for great public schools that are safe and welcoming, and offer all students an opportunity to succeed.

Our union fights for affordable, accessible and high-quality health care for everyone.

Our union fights to ensure the voices of working people are heard in the halls of power — whether in your workplace, your community, or our state government.

And our union fights back against discrimination, hatred and bigotry, wherever we see it.

These are our values.

They are the values that built this union over the last four decades, and the values that will keep us going strong and united for our next fifty years.

We also have several new initiatives in various stages of implementation:

First is something we’re calling “Next Generation NYSUT”, an initiative that will focus on intentional engagement with the next generation of NYSUT members and future leaders.

By engaging these new members, we aim to destroy the myth that the labor movement’s best days lay in the past.

We’re targeting our organizing efforts to support areas where we see the greatest challenges.

Through face-to-face contact, RELATIONSHIP BUILDING, we’re building lifetime loyalty.

Early in my teaching career I experienced that loyalty first hand.

I was teaching in Brooklyn at the time and I had some issues with my paycheck …

I thought I was getting paid too little.

Go figure.

I went to the Board of Ed, they didn’t help me.

Go figure.

I spoke to my Chapter Chair, and I’ll never forget this, Bernice Schmidt.

She went and fought for me.

She got me back pay with interest.

She had my back … and a unionist for life was born!

We are looking into other ways we can support our newest members, such as:

Expanding access to full-service student debt relief

Creating a student membership/Aspiring Educator program, and

Expanding professional supports tailored to our new members’ interests

We’re doing the same with our SRPs.

Demanding safe workplaces.

Launching an SRP member organizing institute.

And above all, fighting for the RESPECT our SRP's deserve.

Are there any SRPs in the house tonight?
We’re looking at how we can be RELEVANT to ALL segments of our membership.

Through the “Take A Look At Teaching” initiative we are taking on the looming teacher shortage head on, and engaging in straight talk around the real diversity issues that exist in our professions.

Our Executive VP Jolene DiBrango has led this fight.

She is also continuing the fight to #CorrectTheTests … and protect students.

Thank you Jolene!

In the Field, our focus on year-round organizing and furthering a culture of organizing — is built into each of these initiatives ….

We’re thinking about new and smarter ways to engage at the table when we’re bargaining — methods that bring more member voices to the table and engage the rank and file in the magic that is collective action.

UFT just engaged in one such process where they brought over 400 members to the table and empowered those members to negotiate.

We’re taking action WITH our members instead of always doing FOR our members.

I also want to give a shout out to our legal department — Since the Janus decision, there have been 75 cases across the country filed against public sector unions raising a myriad of challenges to fees, terms of membership and dues payment agreements.

Here in NY we’ve got the Pellegrino and Side-e-man cases and our lawyers have been doing amazing work defending our rights.

These initiatives will ensure that we have a strong foundation from which to defend and protect our members and public education long into the future.

All that we’re doing … Planning for NYSUT’s next 50 years ….

We’re not just sitting in the shade sipping lemonade … although that sounds nice right about now!

We’re planting trees for the next generation of NYSUT members ...

My grandchildren and yours ...

And I want to thank YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for all that you do for our members, this great organization and the powerful labor movement.

Thank you.