Teams of NYSUT members who made a commitment to the three-year NYSUT Local Action Project are able to increase the strength and effectiveness of their local unions and improve their communities.
During a week-long summer training session, teams learned leadership and communication skills, how to rally their local members around social justice causes and political issues, and how to raise awareness about the work they do.
"LAP gets people energized and motivated and cranked up to go back to their locals and do serious work," said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner, who oversees the project.
NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale spoke with LAP participants about how to make a mark on social justice issues. Pecorale is a former teacher in Patchogue-Medford, where the Congress of Teachers was one of the first local unions that participated in LAP.
Pecorale recalled how LAP was created in the 1990s to counter the emergence of TAXPACS formed during the national economic downturn. TAXPACS around the state organized to defeat school budgets and worked to elect anti-union school board candidates who supported cutting staff and programs. LAP was formed to combat that movement with positive union action; since 1997, 133 local unions have completed the program.
By the time a LAP local has reached its third year and graduates, it can boast a long list of successful activities that engaged their members and their communities.
Susan Kirby-LeMon, a school librarian and third-year LAP team member from Shenendehowa Teachers Association, said her local hosted frequent family activities, the biggest hit being a movie night.
The STA learned how to get more politically active, hosting a barbeque on school budget vote night. The union organized a sign-up session for NYSUT's Member Action Center, or MAC, giving members a quick and easy way to send faxes to lawmakers on important issues. On a school level, the LAP local brought middle and high school teachers together for pizza and then attended a school board meeting as a group.
Betsy Pierce, president of the 86-member Fabius-Pompey Education Association, said the local union created a medley of new events since joining LAP in 2015.
They educated their colleagues about Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which would have allowed workers to receive the benefits of being in a union without paying dues, and about the damage a Constitutional Convention could cause. The Friedrichs decision was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in a split decision.
They also bought matching EA shirts for members, who started wearing them on the school's regular dress-down "Jeans for Kids" days to raise money to help students who have financial needs. "We got a lot of recognition," said EA member Julia Harrod.
"Students had a ton of questions." Many were unaware of the EA.
The local also increased its political activism. "We did a big VOTE-COPE push," said Pierce. "We went from zero to $2,000." VOTE-COPE is NYSUT's voluntary political action fund, which provides money to support pro-education, pro-labor candidates.
For more about NYSUT's Local Action Project, visit www.nysut.org.
Locals in LAP
Six new locals joined the program this year: Copenhagen Teachers Association, Guilderland TA, Newburgh TA; Poughkeepsie Public School TA; Spencerport TA and Watkins Glen Faculty Association.
Second year LAP locals are: Clarkstown TA, Cleveland Hill TA, Fabius-Pompey Education Association; Frewsburg FA; Mahopac TA; Salmon River TA, and Wappingers Congress of Teachers.
The 2016 LAP graduates are: Associated Teachers of Huntington, Chittenango TA; Hicksville Congress of Teachers; Horseheads TA; Mexico Academy Central School FA; Queensbury FA and Shenendehowa TA.
Join a walk-in to reclaim our public schools
Twenty local unions, so far, are organizing community school walk-ins on Oct. 6 in conjunction with the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which includes NYSUT and the AFT. Locals can use the event to set their own agenda, based on their needs. Walk-ins, for example, offer the opportunity to help voters take the Pledge to VOTE in November. In Hoosick Falls, where water quality is an ongoing issue, the walk-in will include special guests from Flint, Mich., where residents have endured a horrific water quality crisis. Local presidents can contact their regional political organizer through their regional office for help.