March 2011 Issue
February 21, 2011

From the president's desk : Partners not pawns

Author: Richard C. Iannuzzi
Source: NYSUT United
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Workers can be partners

Our professions are under attack every day. Public workers are continually vilified in the press, and unions — especially public employees' unions — are blamed for everything from the deficit to taxes, from under-educating to over-educating, from providing too little expert medical care to providing it in excess. We only have to look at what is happening in Wisconsin and other mid-western states to see the extreme anti-union proposals being undertaken in the name of budgets.

So why talk about partnering?

The answer, of course, requires that you consider whom you will partner with, in what areas and why. The answer also requires a footnote (bold, in italics, underlined and with several asterisks): Partnering to continually improve performance does not require that you surrender benefits or abandon advocacy!

This issue of NYSUT United illustrates both advocacy and partnering: advocacy to maintain critical resources and preserve basic benefits, and partnering to advance our professions through individual professional growth and working with other stakeholders to continually improve our effectiveness.

The value of partnering was demonstrated just recently when 35 NYSUT locals (more than any other state) attended a Department of Education conference titled, "Advancing Student Achievement through Labor-Management Collaboration." The conference was coordinated through the efforts of our national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and associations representing school boards and superintendents. Our local in Plattsburgh, part of our AFT Innovation Initiative and led by NYSUT Board member Rod Sherman, presented at the conference. An article in this issue covers the conference and illustrates what can be done when real partnering and mutual respect exist.

Workers aren't pawns

Yet, while partnering with other stakeholders has increased our progress, much of what has been gained is being threatened. This NYSUT United issue also reports on our advocacy efforts to oppose proposed state budget cuts. Lobby days in legislative offices at home and in Albany; rallies; postcards; and print, radio and TV ads are all part of our effort.

Thousands of teachers, as well as other education and health care professionals, are receiving layoff notices while the governor, Legislature and local school districts offer limited solutions, playing a perverse game of "I dare you" with their livelihoods. Using public employees as pawns is unconscionable. The media has seized upon it, hoping to create a fierce battle that will boost sales and viewership.

But those being hurt — innocent workers — are the real casualties, along with the children and patients they serve. At the very same time, malicious politicians and ideologues are seizing the opportunity to try to undo basic worker and middle-class protections in the name of reducing deficits and enacting so-called reforms.

The underlying premise, that archaic rules and abuses by public employees and other working middle-class New Yorkers caused the deficit, is simply wrong. The deficit exists because politicians have allowed resources to be concentrated in the hands of a few at the expense of many. As to reform, real reform will only come from practitioners partnering with other stakeholders in crafting solutions.

Revenues, along with reasonable cost controls, can and will solve the budget crisis. Reforms developed through real partnerships will continue the process of ensuring a quality education for every child. But this will only occur if we control costs in a way that does not erase progress. And it will only occur when we value education over ideology and greed.

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