All I can say is: What a difference a year makes!" NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta exclaimed to RA delegates.
NYSUT's scorecard is self evident: record-breaking turnout at rallies and educational events; coalition building; shutting down Campbell Brown by air, land and water; and taking a stand for education at the State Fair. Online activism at NYSUT's Member Action Center generated 663,694 faxes — an increase of 60 percent. More than 60,000 people a week respond to requests from the MAC to take action.
"We've created a culture of activism," Pallotta said. "It's what we do. ... Some might even say we taught some people a lesson."
Most notable is the four-year moratorium on using state test scores to evaluate teachers; gaining $1.5 billion in school aid; ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment; and stopping what Pallotta called "a potentially treacherous Education Tax Credit bill that is really a voucher program in disguise."
NYSUT created more good news by preventing several destructive proposals, including a devastating cost shift for CUNY that was stopped with the "relentless activism of Professional Staff Congress members," Pallotta said. Lawmakers also rejected tuition increases for SUNY and CUNY students and performance-based funding for campuses. The union's activism also stopped a plan to cut state reimbursement for Medicare premiums.
NYSUT is celebrating what Pallotta calls "the strongest paid family leave bill in the country." The state Legislature passed 12 weeks of paid family leave that ensures "working families have access to this long-overdue benefit."
Lawmakers also approved an increase in the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, thanks to the strong advocates in the Fight for $15 campaign. "This will make a difference for tens of thousands of NYSUT members," Pallotta said.
He stressed the need for members to vote in national and local elections, school board elections and school budget votes. This year, NYSUT members are being asked to make a Pledge to Vote. The November elections, Pallotta said, are also critical to the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court and will likely determine the balance of power in the New York State Senate.
And next year, voters will be asked whether to hold a state Constitutional Convention. NYSUT's position is clear: A convention poses great danger to retirement security, collective bargaining rights and access to a quality public education for all New York State students, among other rights.
"We have the people; it is time we fully realize the promise that our democracy offers us — the people have the power," Pallotta said.