Sept - Nov Issue
September 22, 2014

Magee: Your vote is your voice

Author: Karen E. Magee
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee

If you've turned on the TV lately, you've surely heard the ominous music and seen the menacing images flash across the screen.

It's not the latest reality show coming into our living rooms. No, the scary commercials and direct mail pieces inundating our mailboxes are, instead, a dead-sure sign that Election Day is rapidly approaching.

Election Day affords us the perfect opportunity to use our political power to change the climate and reshape the dialogue in Albany and in Washington. Our vote is our voice, and our voice must call out for respect.

I personally am tired of not feeling respected. As I travel the state, I know you feel the same way.

Whether you work in a public school, at SUNY, CUNY or a community college, a nonprofit or in health care, budget cuts and the property tax cap have had a devastating impact on your workplace and on the people we serve. We must elect officials who respect public institutions and those who provide vital public services.

In many places, you also bear the burden of inequity in how the state funds its poorest and most vulnerable school districts. The broken teacher evaluation system and the overreliance on standardized testing and data speak to a lack of respect for the heroic work teachers and paraprofessionals do in the classroom every single day.

And, Campbell Brown and others who are attacking tenure don't respect fairness and due process, and the highly politicized environment in which teachers work. We know tenure is an essential safeguard that ensures good teachers can speak up for what students need.

When the membership elected me as president in April, I declared that NYSUT would be the collective voice they cannot ignore. We have made great strides toward that goal.

Without question, NYSUT and its political activists played a major role at the state AFL-CIO endorsement conference, securing labor's support for a slate of pro-education candidates. Your contributions to VOTE-COPE have provided a much-needed lifeline to NYSUT-backed candidates. And, in aggressively working phone banks, talking to members and going door to door for votes, thousands of grassroots activists helped many of the "right" candidates score major victories in the September primaries.

What do I mean by the "right" candidates?

No matter the political party or office being sought, what's important is how a candidate views public services — and the important role played by NYSUT members in moving our public institutions forward.

The "right" candidates regularly seek out and trust the opinions of teachers, paraprofessionals, college faculty and health care workers and engage them in constructive dialogue. They stand shoulder to shoulder with us and speak out publicly in support of our issues. And, when bills come up on the floor, they vote consistently in the interests of NYSUT members and the constituencies we serve.

In a word, it's about respect.

NYSUT members deserve elected leaders who respect organized labor, the vital role public institutions play in our society and the work we do on behalf of all New Yorkers.

Respect won't be handed to us. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, "Power cedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

When we go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4, our vote is our demand. It's our opportunity, as a union of professionals, to be heard. We must elect leaders who will stand up for students, parents and educators and for the essential public services our members provide every single day.

Those candidates who have respected teachers, public education and organized labor will find that respect is a two-way street. And those who take public education for granted will learn a hard lesson.

NYSUT's list of endorsed candidates can be found on the MAC; in mid-October you will be mailed NYSUT's Voters' Guide that provides important information about the candidates and their positions on issues.

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As part of my commitment to highlighting our many constituency groups, you will find a small but important addition in this issue. A new feature — Retirees in Action — will mark our continuing, expanded coverage of stories focused on the tremendous activism by our retirees.