NYSUT President Karen E. Magee praised delegates for their "leadership, activism and courage" in fending off attacks on multiple fronts, and called upon them to now "grow the union" to ensure NYSUT remains ready to confront the many challenges ahead.
"We have made tremendous progress in the last year, and we've done it for one reason and one reason only: because you answered the call to 'be the union,'" Magee told delegates. "You weren't content to just pay your dues and let someone else handle the heavy lifting. No — you showed up and you put in the hard work of making our union great again!"
The battles were many.
Wealthy extremists set out in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, to destroy public sector unions. Students and parents suffered under the most punitive 'test-and-punish' era the state has ever known. And attacks on collective bargaining rights and tenure were relentless.
Magee detailed how NYSUT fought back.
"You protested! You rallied! You turned out at forums and spoke out in the press and you flooded social media with the union message!" Magee said to applause. "You called out [Gov.] Cuomo and you called in reinforcements! Thousands of parents stood with us against a test-and-punish regime. Thousands of our union brothers and sisters stood with us in our fight for workers' rights!"
While, at times, it may have felt like having "sand kicked in our face by the bullies at the beach," Magee said, members banded together and said: "Enough! And together, we drew a line in that sand!"
NYSUT is leading the way in revitalizing the labor movement in New York State, she said, noting members are mobilized from one end of the state to the other:
- In Northern New York, the Massena Teachers Association fought against a plant closing to save 500 jobs.
- In the Big Apple, the Professional Staff Congress mobilized members, labor and the community to build support in its fight for a fair contract.
- On Long Island, local leaders mobilized to support parents in what became the largest testing opt-out movement in the nation.
- In the Southern Tier, the Binghamton TA mobilized a coalition that courageously stood up to a toxic administration and won.
- And, in Buffalo — one of the frontlines in the battle to defend public education — members are mobilizing the community for positive change.
"At protests and rallies, in community events and school board meetings, NYSUT members and local leaders showed time and time again that we are a fighting union," said Magee. And it is because of this statewide commitment that "our union is bolder and healthier and more effective than ever before."
Still, Magee warned that, despite the reprieve granted by a favorable Friedrichs decision and a far-better state budget outcome for public education than in recent years, "major work remains on every front."
As such, the president said NYSUT will continue to make the case for the value of union membership, with locals statewide working closely with NYSUT staff to engage members on the issues that matter most to them. She also said the union is fighting in the courts like "never before," defending collective bargaining, due process, seniority and tenure. NYSUT legal staff, she said, is also working to mitigate the state's receivership law, overturn obscene "gag orders" on teachers, defend members against the state's "warped" growth formula and fight for the right of every child statewide to receive a quality public education.
"Now, let's take it to the next level," Magee said. "Let's grow the union!"
The president asked delegates to talk to new members about the value of their union's work. She urged them to invite members to participate in get-out-the-vote phone banks, rallies or events, such as a regional heart walk or First Book initiative. And she called upon members to stand in solidarity with workers across the state wherever labor rights are threatened.
"When we educate, organize and mobilize, we grow our union in every way possible," said Magee to a standing ovation. "Despite the threats against us, this much is clear: NYSUT will not only survive, we will thrive."