Stephan DiFlorio teaches technology at PS 66 North Park Academy and is a member of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. He was a first-time delegate at NYSUT's 2016 Representative Assembly.
1. How has the BTF put unionism in action, especially over critical issues, such as receivership and years of working without a contract?
Unionism is represented in many ways within my union. (The local union is led by Phil Rumore and has almost 3,700 members.) Rallies and solidarity events and monthly meetings are open for all members to discuss issues within the district. Frequent meet-and-greets give members a chance to mingle and meet the elected officials. With so much at stake, it is good to know we have people representing us who are fighting for our rights while we work every day to educate Buffalo's youth.
2. What prompted you to become a delegate and attend your first RA?
The RA offers a great chance to network with fellow educators and to meet people with similar interests.
3. Looking back at it now, what did you take away from the event?
Since it was my first year as a representative for the BTF and first time attending the NYSUT RA, it was more about learning how things work at the conventions and within my own union. I was able to learn about the interests being pursued by NYSUT and about the supports that are out there.
4. How does attending conferences help you network about workplace conditions, education issues or unionism?
For one, it helps to see that you aren't alone. When you see more and more districts dealing with the same problems, then you can work together on solutions. There is strength in numbers, as they say, and it's evident to anyone who has seen what happens at the RA. Also, sometimes, by meeting someone from another place, you may learn about the ways certain things are done in one district and realize it could be done better in your own.
5. As a technology teacher, health and safety issues are more evident to you than some other teachers. How does this motivate you to act on behalf of your students?
It is something I constantly have to deal with and sometimes is forgotten in the grand scheme of things.
Since I deal with situations that can cause physical harm, I look at things in a different way. As is evident in my lesson planning, I incorporate practices to help maintain safety. I try to express concerns about things that might affect people negatively. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears. When I am trying to create change I always think of safety first. A health and safety committee within a school is a very good idea. (Editor's note: The State Education Department requires every district to have a health and safety committee with union representation.)
Having union participation on the committee is extremely important so that issues are addressed and handled the right way.