September 2010 Issue
August 22, 2010

Pallotta: Politics is union work

Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, shown with Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Monticello, oversees NYSUT’s legislative department. Photo by Michael Weisbrot.

Q: Why does the union get involved in endorsing candidates for political office?

A: In this country we have the incredible privilege and opportunity to be part of the political process, and that includes the ability to weigh in on candidates for office, the very people who make many of the decisions that impact our working lives. If we don’t get involved in that process, we lose our voice — and our power to protect those we serve. As an organization, we have two overarching political goals: securing legislation beneficial to our members and the institutions in which they work, and fighting against laws that would be harmful to public education, health care, working families and society at large.

Part of my job in securing our voice at the table is to make sure we elect officials who will fight for fair funding for our students, a health care system that serves its patients and laws that protect all citizens.

Q: What criteria does NYSUT consider when making endorsements? Who makes endorsement decisions?

A: Endorsements are made by the NYSUT Board of Directors acting on the recommendations of the union’s statewide political action and executive committees. Those decisions follow the statewide endorsement conference, where local presidents come together and discuss candidates’ positions on issues important to the union. We take into account a candidate’s advocacy on our behalf — not just an incumbent’s voting record on education, labor and social justice issues.

NYSUT supports candidates who support our positions, regardless of political affiliation. This year we endorsed less than half of the state Senate because there were so few true champions of our cause. Those who did earn our endorsement will benefit greatly.

Q: What does a NYSUT endorsement mean?

A: While an endorsement can include campaign contributions, it literally means feet in the street. We never tell our members how to vote, but we do give them information, and that knowledge is powerful. At the local level, political action teams work phone banks for candidates, distribute literature and — maybe most important — spread the word to their colleagues, family and friends.

Q: The union has an experienced legislative department. What role can individual members play?

A: It goes back to the saying all politics is local. Throughout my career teaching in the Bronx it became clear that there are situations that come up when you really have to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as an educator and union member. One of those responsibilities is making sure our representatives — from school board members to elected officials in Albany and Washington — are working for us so we have the resources and safe working environments to do our jobs.

One of my goals as executive vice president is to encourage more members to flex their political muscle. Just voting is not enough. There are so many ways to get involved. You never know how much power you really have until you get out there and use it.