May 28, 2024

After decades as an independent union, Dutchess CC educators and professionals affiliate with NYSUT

Author: Kara Smith
After decades as an independent union, Dutchess CC educators and professionals affiliate with NYSUT
Caption: After nearly 20 years unaffiliated, the Dutchess United Educators joined NYSUT in April. From left, DUE President Laura Murphy and Leah Akins, DUE grievance officer.

One of NYSUT’s newest locals has been around nearly as long as the statewide union has. Dutchess United Educators, representing 170 full-time and 110 part-time educators and professionals at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, is 50 years old. But for the last 17 years, it’s been unaffiliated. That changed in April when the group voted to join NYSUT. “There was a feeling among some of us in leadership that we were missing out by not being a part of a larger labor cause,” said DUE President Laura Murphy of the group’s affiliation. “We wanted to get involved in the many important issues facing public higher and K-12 education today.”

Since 2006 DUE has not been affiliated with any state or national union. It became independent in 2006 after its former affiliate, the National Education Association of New York, merged with NYSUT. A small group of members formed an advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors in 2016 to gain insight into broader higher education issues. When the AAUP merged with the American Federation of Teachers in 2022, forming the nation’s largest higher education alliance with over 300,000 members, interest in affiliation grew.

“We’ve done a decent job representing members, but felt having broader legal representation, more higher education specific input and a closer connection to other community colleges would be helpful,” said Murphy explaining that increased attacks on teaching and academic freedom and chronic underfunding of public higher ed also influenced their decision.

DUE’s affiliation journey began in 2021 when Leah Akins, the local’s grievance officer, and past DUE President Werner Steger, held preliminary meetings with AFT and AAUP. Later meetings in 2023 with Richelle Fiore, AFT’s director of higher education organizing, and Mark Bostic, AAUP’s director of organizing and services, included Murphy, Akins and the DUE Executive Council. DUE leaders met with NYSUT President Melinda Person in January 2024 to consider a draft agreement; weeks later they held general membership meetings and distributed information to address member questions. “A big question was how do other community college chapters feel about [being part of NYSUT] and people were so generous ,” said Murphy of ED 39 members who took the time to share their experiences. “They said they couldn’t imagine doing their work without NYSUT.”

After a resolution amending their constitution to allow for affiliation was approved by the DUE Executive Council, it went before the general membership in early April and was approved by an overwhelming majority. “Leah did the majority of the member outreach,” said Murphy explaining that Akins and other executive council members logged member contacts on a spreadsheet to reach as many as possible. “We didn’t proceed until we knew we had support.”

DUE leaders are eager to learn about other higher ed unions, and to access the many services NYSUT provides, from legal assistance to bargaining help, although their current contract runs through Aug. 31, 2025. They’re also ready for activism. “We’re very interested in trying to get equitable funding for community colleges and public education in general,” said Murphy.

NYSUT is committed to bringing more workers into the union fold and it’s chalking up big wins across the state. Murphy was one of four new local presidents who spoke at the 2024 NYSUT Representative Assembly in New York City in early May. Murphy joined presidents Alisha Tenbus, Horseheads Association of Professional Support Staff; Joe Hendrickson, Commack Security Guards Association; and Peter Keller, Albany Leadership Charter School Union, to share why they chose to join NYSUT.

“One year ago, we pledged to make organizing a priority and we’ve kept that promise,” said NYSUT President Melinda Person explaining that over the past year, the statewide union hired 10 new organizers through a grant from the AFT. “We’ve welcomed hundreds of new members into the NYSUT family over the past year and we’re just getting started. Everyone deserves a voice in the workplace, everyone deserves to be a NYSUT member!”

Do you know someone who’s interested in forming a union? Contact NYSUT Organizing for information.