About 350 local and retiree leaders packed informational workshops on topics from school accountability to engaging School-Related Professionals during the annual Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference that precedes NYSUT's Representative Assembly.
Before the workshops, participants discussed opt-out and other hot–button issues — and heard behind-the-scenes details of recent union victories — during a wide-ranging conversation with NYSUT's officers at the opening luncheon.
In one of the most popular sessions, 150 local union presidents examined how the twists and turns in legal challenges to unionism affect everyday business and all members. The Supreme Court's recent split decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association — which, had it succeeded, would have allowed free riders to enjoy the benefits of union rights and advocacy without paying dues — has provided a landing pad for unions to strategize against further attacks. Anti-union forces have four other cases in the pipeline.
Additionally, the prospect of a New York State Constitutional Convention could threaten basic rights. A referendum in November 2017 will determine whether the state holds a convention in 2018. It must be defeated and the threat has already proven to be a stimulus to the union's voluntary political action fund, VOTE-COPE.
Educating people about just how damaging a constitutional convention could be "must be one of our primary attacks," said Annie McClintock, president of United Teaching Assistants of Harborfield.
Some leaders got so much out of the first session on state budget, accountability and APPR, they stayed to attend a repeat session to see what other tips they could pick up.
The APPR portion of the work session was of utmost interest as districts must have a new plan in place by Sept. 1, or lose state aid increases for both this year and next. The plans must include new assessment measures that will replace growth scores tied to grade 3–8 state assessments, after the Regents approved a four-year ban on linking grade 3–8 assessment results to teacher evaluations.
NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale encouraged retiree leaders to "keep doing what you're doing" by advocating on issues important to union members. Retiree leaders also heard from the presidents of both the state Alliance for Retired Americans and the national organization.
Moving beyond assumptions (even survey results) and finding out what your members care about was the message in a workshop for for more than 30 School-Related Professionals. Participants also discussed using good old-fashioned leadership techniques, such as having one-on-one conversations and meeting members where they are.
At a breakfast session, Kerry Broderick of White Plains TA and Dante Morelli of the FA Suffolk CC presented on NYSUT's new Women's Steering Committee, which is focusing on member engagement around women's issues.
"I want to get more women involved in elections and elected office," NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said. "Given the context of our world, these issues are especially important."