September/October 2013 Issue
- Labor Issues
September 13, 2013

Social justice efforts critical to unions mission

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler with Shabana Basij-Rasikh who established a school for girls in her native Afghanistan. She spoke to delegates at NYSUT’s 2013 RA.
Caption: NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler with Shabana Basij-Rasikh who established a school for girls in her native Afghanistan. She spoke to delegates at NYSUT’s 2013 RA. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Social justice. It stands proud and tall — and involves you. Your family. Your union. Your neighbors.Every year, NYSUT members across the state spend time, energy and resources to focus on social justice causes, for both long-standing concerns and newer issues that clamor for attention, for causes near and far.

"Our overarching approach to social justice is to really engage our students, our members and our communities," said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler, who oversees the union's social justice mission. "We are very active. Social justice is one of NYSUT's five frameworks, and it's always been an integral part of what a union does."

Educators can tap into social justice lessons on, an online lesson-sharing site created by the AFT and TES Connect. Educators have also uploaded lessons on human rights defenders, including a Common Core lesson on Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old education activist from Pakistan who survived an assassination attempt. As co-partner of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, NYSUT is taking action and working with students throughout the state to support workers' rights and improve conditions in garment factories.

Many educators awaken students to societal problems through community service projects. The Malone Federation of Teachers, for example, hosted community dinners because the community's most important concern was poverty. In South Jefferson, the local teachers' union, students and community provide funds and toolpower for ongoing projects making wooden beds, dressers and desks for students in need. In Western Sullivan and many other places, school nurses, educators and students buy food to fill backpacks for students who don't have enough to eat.

Domestic violence education and victim advocacy are also part of NYSUT's agenda. The union supports the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which recently added the student-created grassroots organization Transgender Students Rights to its roster.

"We have members and students who are transgender; how they are treated should be of great concern. We need safe learning environments," Cutler said.

NYSUT is again promoting the Speak Truth to Power student video competition, which highlights the efforts of human rights defenders. The high school contest has been expanded nationally in conjunction with the American Federation of Teachers. The Tribeca Film Institute will provide workshops for teachers throughout the state on narrative and documentary-making techniques, and the winning video will be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival next spring.

Supported by its locals, the union coordinates the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund for individuals harmed by natural disasters.

NYSUT is also co-sponsoring the student-run Adirondack Youth Climate Summit hosted at the Museum of Natural History in Tupper Lake Nov. 6-7. Last year, students from 28 high schools and colleges attended the summit searching for ways to reduce the environmental impact of schools and reduce their own carbon footprints.


Hispanic Heritage Month — NYSUT's 2013 poster features Librada Paz, a farm worker-turned-activist and human rights defender. To order, email

Student video contest — Kickoff for the third annual, now national, Speak Truth to Power student video contest. For contest info and resources, visit or

Sept. 21 — International Day of Peace. Visit


National Bullying Prevention Month — Visit, for resources; or

Oct. 11 — National Coming Out Day. Find lesson plans, books, films and poetry at

Oct. 16 — World Food Day. Resources and fact sheets at

Domestic Violence Awareness Month — To find shelters, visit Emergency hotlines: National, 800-799-7233 (SAFE); New York state: 800-942-6906; Spanish, 800-942-6908. Post the numbers in your workplace!


Nov. 11 — Veterans Day. Students can connect with Honor Flight programs to write letters to veterans, donate money and get involved with a regional flight to help transport heroes to Washington, D.C. Visit

For veterans and their family members in need of services, contact NYSUT's Social Services at 800-342-9810 to speak with a social worker.

Nov. 20 — Transgender Day of Remembrance. Memorializes those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred.

Nov. 25 — International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, a United Nations-led effort;

Nov. 28 — On Black Friday, encourage shopping at venues that sell Made in the USA products, at Union Label online sites and at Fair Trade festivals ( around the state today. For info, visit


Dec. 1 — World AIDS Day. Resources are available at

Dec. 10 — Human Rights Day. The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights,, highlights the work of international human rights activists and offers lesson plans created in conjunction with NYSUT members. Also, visit, a watchdog organization for human rights.

Dec. 18 — International Migrants Day, established by the United Nations. At find information about migrants, their economic impact and justice issues, humane and orderly policies in the movement of persons across borders, migrant health protections and more.


National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month — Educates people about forced labor and debt bondage, forced commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary domestic servitude. The 2013 winning Speak Truth to Power video, "Modern Slavery and Sex Trafficking," can be viewed at Students from the Young Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn created the video.

Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Many service opportunities are available in communities today to honor Dr. King. Visit for more information. Also, the AFL-CIO hosts an annual conference and regional events; check


African-American Heritage Month — NYSUT members can order 2013 posters of singer Marian Anderson by emailing Watch for announcement of the 2014 poster.

Feb. 1 — Deadline for Speak Truth to Power student video contest.

Feb. 14 — Teach students about child labor in the chocolate industry and sweatshop issues in the flower industry. Visit


Women's History Month — The 2013 NYSUT poster recognizes Gloria Steinem. Watch for announcement of the 2014 poster.

March 22 — World Day for Water. Visit to learn how to help protect and preserve fresh water around the globe. The UN offers teaching tools. Visit

March 31 — Cesar Chavez Day and anniversary of the founding of United Farm Workers. A teacher's guide is available at


April 22 — Earth Day. Learn about clean water, cleaning up hazardous waste sites, community cleanup days and how it fits into science, geography and social justice. Students can get involved in the Green Schools Campaign to reduce their schools' carbon footprint, earn money and reduce environmental impact through recycling and energy reduction. Go to

April 28 — Workers Memorial Day. A day of remembrance for workers killed, disabled or sickened by the work they do. Events throughout the state hosted by central area labor councils, NYSUT and local unions.


Labor History Month — Explore the rich history of the labor movement in America. Find resources from the American Labor Studies Center,

May 1 — International Workers Day. Recognizes the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement. To learn more, visit

May 3 — World Press Freedom Day. According to Reporters Without Borders, 88 journalists were killed in the line of duty last year; seven media assistants were killed. For more, visit

May 10 — World Fair Trade Day promotes the Fair Trade market. Visit


LGBT Pride Month recognizes the impact of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals on local, national and international history. To learn more, visit the Library of Congress site — — for resources. June 12 — World Day Against Child Labor. Information and resources available at


Send your ideas for social justice lessons, activities and events to