In the first gathering of its kind in the Mid-Hudson region since 2015, hundreds of supporters packed the parking lot outside the administrative building where the Poughkeepsie Public School Teachers Association was locked in fierce bargaining with the district on Wednesday night.
The showing of solidarity from dozens of local units was such that the scheduled board of education meeting was canceled, and negotiations continued until at least 3 a.m.
“By being here, your presence is moving more than you know,” PPSTA President Kim Popken told the crowd of an estimated 500 during a brief interlude from a full day of talks with the district and state-appointed mediator. “And we are so incredibly appreciative, and we love you and we support you. And we're going to keep working and get back in there.”
PPSTA has been working under the terms of an expired contract for six years. The progress made during Wednesday’s marathon mediation session was proof that the intensity of PPSTA’s push in recent weeks has been making a difference, Popken said.
PPSTA has been increasing the pressure on the district with phone banking, informational picketing and by lining the streets of Poughkeepsie with signs reading SUPPORT PPSTA and #FAIRCONTRACTNOW. Last month the unit opened a special center for its Crisis Committee to operate.
NYSUT president Melinda Person congratulated the PPSTA Crisis Committee on its outreach and promised support in the days and weeks to come.
“You’ve built support in this community and the community is with you,” she said Wednesday night. “And it’s about time that the leadership of this district and the school board hears your voice.”
“Your union has your back,” Person said. “All of NYSUT – the almost 700,000 members of NYSUT – has your back in this fight and we will be with you every step of the way.”
The crowd included members wearing union colors representing locals across Ulster and Dutchess counties and beyond, as well as area members of other labor unions. Many carpooled in groups after the school day – the Highland TA showed up with about 30 members, for example – to express their support and frustration alongside PPSTA.
PPSTA’s Crisis Committee Chairperson Samantha Rosario said that the turnout sent the right message to the district leadership – who could look down from the building’s windows to see hundreds of PPSTA supporters – that “proud members of PPSTA are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to end this crisis bargaining.”
“Tonight is about members lifting one another up,” Rosario said. “This evening is about union families supporting one another to make a difference. Tonight is about making sure the board of education and central administration understand once and for all, that we are mad as hell, and we are not going to wait patiently.”