I grew up in a home that valued education.
Both my parents were teachers, and later my father became a Superintendent.
During my tenure as 2nd VP, I have had the opportunity to serve thousands of members that worked for my dad.
One would assume that a son of a Superintendent would grow up being conditioned to dislike all "those unionists."
Instead, I have heard stories from students, employees and colleagues that considered my father fair, respectful, empathetic, tough son of a bitch at times, - in fact one of you in the audience may have even sued him, but in the end always truly a champion for public education.
As a student at SUNY Plattsburgh, a fellow classmate heard my last name and asked if my father was Dr. Pecorale.
When I said "yes" he told me that my father was responsible for him being there in college.
See, he was a troublemaker in Lindenhurst- tough home life — hung with a rough crowd.
He sat at a Superintendent's hearing, truly on his last chance in high school, expecting to be expelled or quit high school with a big FU to the administrator he was going to have a meeting with.
It was my father who gave him that one more chance.
He believed in Kevin Fox as he did all students.
He believed people can disrupt the systems, but still belonged in them.
In February, my father passed away after years of dealing with Alzheimer's.
During his wake and funeral, and the days following I was overwhelmed with the countless stories, many of which my family nor I had ever heard.
Stories were always about how my father was their champion in a personal time of struggle.
It was then that I realized that yes, my father valued public education, but above all else, he valued people.
He valued their differing perspectives or opinions.
He loved a good debate.
He entertained and implemented ideas that were not his own because after really listening — really giving someone the respect and attention he or she deserved — he did what was right for the greater good and for people with grace and gratitude.
He often said that his biggest professional adversaries were what made him a better leader, so he actively sought opinions and ideas — engaging in conversation with the people who worked with and for him because it was what was good and right for his district.
Even though he was an administrator — he would have union leaders over my house when I was a kid for dinner or cocktail parties because that's how people operated.
They may not have always agreed on everything, but respect, and decency, and valuing each other as human beings was always paramount.
This was the kind of leader that I envisioned myself to be as our campaign ran on the idea of "change" 6 years ago.
As I walked through the doors of headquarters on my first day, I was filled with optimism, enthusiasm, and a lock step team that was ready to lead the charge in the name of public education.
I already knew that it was people like Sonia Basko in the Rochester area, Ron Smith from Long Island, Pat Puleo in Yonkers, Phil Cleary in Syracuse area, Tom McMahon in Tarrytown region, Scott Dolan in Capital region, amongst many others who made our union unstoppable.
I was now in a position to advocate for them and with them, travel around the state getting to know the unique qualities that make each region, each community, and each local stronger.
I envisioned a team that would stand up for reform and stand up to administrators/politicos who were self-serving and making our members dread going to work.
I imagined helping the total NYSUT membership reclaim their purpose so that they would be equipped to feel like they were making the difference that they set out to make.
My sights were high.
I think we can all relate that when you start your career in education or healthcare, you believe that you are going to change the world.
Most of us have a teacher, or mentor, or coach that was a game changer for us.
They were the person that saw something in you that no one else saw.
They helped you become the best version of yourself.
I believed that sitting in the VP's position at NYSUT, I could bring renewed energy to you. I tried.
I have traveled over 225,000 miles to all corners of this state to be and see you all in action.
I have eaten a garbage plate in Rochester, wings in Buffalo, had Heid's hot dogs in Syracuse, poutine in the NoCo and Hand and foot in the Southern Tier and lots of heroes along the way, but certainly never drank a pop in my life.
I have heard your stories, your struggles, your accomplishments, your sacrifices and your victories as individuals and as a collective local.
Not only have I heard them, but I have listened.
I have made them a part of my story and with that knowledge I have questioned and I have challenged leadership at every level.
We have all heard that we can no longer be the NYSUT that we have been.
The question is — Who are we going to be in 50 years from now because we know it has to change in order to support all of the hard work that you do every day.
Janus has taken the ability to be complacent right out of the equation.
It is absolutely fundamental that we know you, know your story, know your members, know your history …
It is critical that we put (250,000?) miles on our cars to learn about the membership and its' values and work.
Work like what Drew Beiter does in WNY with the Educator's Institute for Human Rights and why it is important to make that a part of NYSUT.
Work like Andre Mathis in the Southern Tier and how all he wants is his SRPs to be respected in the workplace from his BOE and Administration.
Work Like Mary Wills and the St. Lawrence People's Project by making a more beautiful, economically strong North Country.
Work like Seth Cohen in the Capital region trying to make educational justice for all regardless of your skin color.
Work like Tom Dodd did in Lake Placid region explaining why environmental justice is critical to all of us.
Work like Marcus Latham, in WNY region showing off why it's important to honor those entering the world of retirement.
Work like Loretta Donlon in the Syracuse region reminding us the importance of knowing our past and why retirement security is so important and to not forget such.
Work like Rosemarie Thompson from UFT reminding us why mental health is such a critical part of the development of the whole child.
Work like Diana Zuckerman in MH region and why we should care for farm worker's rights.
And simply the work like Nicole Brown and Anita Reynolds in Hempstead using Arbor Day on their week off to help beautify the community working with local coalitions.
This is all great work and moves our mission forward, but it is not enough.
There is more work to be done.
We need to be shoulder to shoulder with you.
This is what I want from my Union.
And this, unfortunately, is where I have found myself out of alignment with some, at times.
I grew up in an Italian American immediate family of 7.
A game of dominoes can quickly become a game of thrones minus the blades.
We yell, we question, we debate, we speak our minds loudly in the name of our opinions and who we are and then it ends.
We are a family where questioning each other, challenging ideas and confronting problems is the norm, and I believe it makes us a stronger one.
We are forced to examine other perspectives all the while knowing that the goal is to be better.
To understand each other better, to deepen our knowledge of something, to challenge our own convictions and patterns.
It is in this same vein that we should and will grow as an organization.
I believed the team that we assembled would operate like a family.
I have risked many times by questioning how we operate.
My intention was not to make sweeping changes but rather reflect and re-evaluate in an effort to be the best support system that each and every one of you deserves.
After all, we may not be connected biologically, but we are all in this together, and if we are going to survive and thrive for the next fifty years then we need to make room for voices that don't necessarily echo our own all of us.
Abe Lincoln said, “Power doesn't corrupt — it reveals.”
I have come to believe truth in this statement.
I've learned your title should not dictate the degree of importance that is placed on you.
Where you work as a bus driver, teacher, nurse, cafeteria worker, higher education, or custodian should be irrelevant.
We talk to our students about treating all human beings with respect; your union and all unions should be the same — where your voice is equal to your brother or sister who will inevitably have your back should you need it.
With this, I will not waiver on who I am as an educator, union leader, brother, father, and son and because of this, I will not be seeking re-election for 2nd VP in the next election.
I will, however, continue to advocate for you in the only way I know how - by listening, challenging my own perspectives and opinions, and making myself accessible to better understand your stories, challenges and victories.
I believe in unionism.
I believe that you can have knock down drag out fights internally but when the rubber meets the road, you are an impenetrable force and you go out unified and belittle some.
I want this for you.
So here is my challenge, my ask, as I relinquish the reins to my successor, whoever that may be:
Keep asking tough questions, challenge ideas, make your voices heard in the name of what you know to be right for your members, and sit at the table.
Each and every person in this room should have a seat there and by being present, you make NYSUT a family you can be proud to be a member of.
Sadly, I'm not quite there today, but I remain hopeful.