Iannuzzi: We must use our voice
NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi told delegates that union members - at the polls and through protests, petitions and pens - have been heard on a range of issues, from the need for equitable education funding and disaster relief to demanding an end to the state's testing obsession.
Iannuzzi reminded members that, despite their success, "our enemies are powerful." He noted the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the land. Mark Citizens United case "gave billionaire bullies unfettered access to the media to spread their lies with a greater degree of extortion than has ever existed."
Yet, while that may provide them a pulpit, Iannuzzi - quoting Ghandi - added that "the human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the voice of conscience."
He said "our collective voice is that collective conscience - and it speaks loud and clear."
As he did a year ago, Iannuzzi again stressed that the union's voice not be "wasted or depleted frivolously through unbridled passion," but instead be "used efficiently and effectively by balancing reason with passion." Iannuzzi said the public educators' voice "speaks for students in rural, suburban and urban districts suffering from poverty ... for dreamers seeking access to affordable higher education ... for minimum-wage earners and the middle class" and for public service professionals in education and health care.
Unlike our enemies, who seek to amass power through dishonorable means, he said the union's collective voice "speaks for finding solutions, not placing blame."
"We've used our voices well, and we've raised our voices. But to complete the journey, we must continue to use our voices," Iannuzzi said. "There is much more to do."
Pallotta: We made a difference at the polls
NYSUT's ability to productively channel anger over state budget cutbacks allowed union voters to make election history last November.
"Most of our progressive candidates were told they would lose," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta reminded convention delegates. "We were told that they would be outspent, that they were tilting at windmills." Instead, union support elected four new state senators - Ted O'Brien of Rochester, Terry Gipson of Rhinebeck, George Latimer of Rye and Cecilia Tkaczyk of Duanesburg - and re-elected Joe Addabbo Jr. of Queens. Tkaczyk won a razor-thin victory in the 46th Senate District, which had been designed specifically for then-Assemblyman George Amedore, a Republican, to become a senator. "It took 75 days to count the ballots, but she won by 19 votes," Pallotta said.
NYSUT supported pro-labor candidates with a formula Pallotta out. Lined at the 2012 RA - resilience, resources and respect. The union won hard-fought appreciation from lawmakers because "we were resilient when we got knocked down ... and we were resourceful with nearly $9 million in VOTE-COPE contributions." That respect means lawmakers "can no longer pass a bunch of one-house bills attacking us and not expect something in return," he said.
Neira: Time for commonsense solutions
NYSUT will continue to make the case that this year's Common Core tests must not be used for high-stakes decisions involving students and teachers, NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira told delegates.
"SED insists they hear what we are saying ... but it's clear to all of us they are not listening," Neira said. "They have turned a deaf ear and rushed implementation of the new Common Core tests even though they are fully aware of the uneven rollout of the Common Core standards throughout the state ... All educators know you don't test students on material that hasn't been taught!"
Neira thanked the thousands of members who have attended region.al "Tell It Like It Is" forums and have written compelling personal letters to the commissioner and the Board of Regents using NYSUT's online letter campaign. She's read thousands of those 10,000 powerful emails. "I hear you and I am listening," Neira said. "NYSUT's campaign is spreading its wings, with parents and community members signing the union's online petition.
"Let me be clear. We are not calling for an end to accountability," Neira said. "We are calling for common sense and fairness. We know learning is more than a test score and teacher effectiveness is much more than a composite score."
Donahue: We do extraordinary things
From School-Related Professionals to retirees to professionals in health care, BOCES and higher education, NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue noted the important and unique contributions of the union's constituencies.
The SRPs - bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and many others who provide for the daily needs of students - all work hard to tackle and solve problems head on. "I couldn't be more proud of the work they do," she said.
Donahue asked delegates to get to know the retirees - "the daytime union" - in their region and learn from them. "Retirees preserve our past while protecting our future," she said. "Every person in this room owes an enormous debt of gratitude to our retirees."
And while health care members devote their lives to the care of their patients, they know how to fight. "These members go toe-to-toe with legislators to advocate for safe patient handling and to ensure quality patient care," said Donahue.
She also noted that while wide. Spread geographically, BOCES members "are the greatest advocates for some of our neediest students," said Donahue. She also saluted the union's higher ed professionals who have stood up to many challenges.
"We are all ordinary NYSUT members doing extraordinary things," she said. "Together, we can change the world!"
Cutler: NYSUT is meeting fiscal challenge
NYSUT is being strategic in its response to "an all-out coordinated assault on public education and unions," NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler said.
Just as former leaders under the stewardship of Tom Hobart pulled NYSUT through some dark financial times, Cutler said current NYSUT leaders would bring the statewide union through the fiscal crisis that has been dominating the economy for five years. NYSUT has lost 30,000 full dues equivalent members, which translates to $10 million in lost revenue, due to lay. Offs in districts that have lost state funding.
"Every one of those jobs is a human face," he said.
He said the organization has strived to be a role model in fulfilling its mission to streamline expenses, and support members and provide services without laying off staff.
"We are practicing shared sacrifice," he said. "We are leaner and meaner."
Cutler said NYSUT expects "substantial progress toward a balanced budget in our next fiscal year." He said NYSUT is investigating new ways "of doing our core work" to serve members, build membership, fend off attacks against labor and unions and balance budgets. He also praised the work of the union's Leadership Institute and Local Action Project.
Weingarten: Call out wrong, do what's right
AFT President Randi Weingarten shared her vision of solution-driven unionism: "We call out what's wrong and do what's right."
Weingarten, a former UFT president, spoke of the "disastrous way New York state has implemented Common Core," noting the state "took something that has tremendous potential to transform the DNA of education and led with testing first, not teaching."
But union activism is making gains in countering bad policy, she said.
"You are leading the way for change - in the labor movement and in public education," she told delegates.
"We are changing the climate and more and more people are listening," including members of the media who used to give so-called reformers like Michelle Rhee a "free pass" but who are now starting to challenge the status quo.
She praised NYSUT's "Tell It Like It Is" campaign and looked to the future. "Yes, that June 8 rally is important, and we have to get the Truth About Testing bills passed," she said.
Van Roekel: We need to switch to offense
Unionists need to start playing offense if we want to change the game and beat back attacks on public education, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told delegates.
"When you fight with defense, you stay where you are," Van Roekel said. "The truth is we are losing ground, and our response must be strong and bold."
Those seeking to blame unions and tear down public education are well-funded and relentless. "We're not being paranoid," he said. "If they're actually after you, you're not paranoid."
Van Roekel said reporters are incredulous when he explains how a Florida teacher, a state Teacher of the Year, was rated "unsatisfactory," based on the test scores of students in another elementary school down the road because she taught students too young to take a state assessment.
"Yes, sadly they do that," he said. "It's insulting." That's why it's time to create a strong offense, he said. It's time for the practitioners to take the lead and improve public education from within and use their voice to bring about change.