Three years ago, I left the 2014 NYSUT Representative Assembly as your newly elected president. I had a singular goal in mind for the subsequent three years, and I repeated it as often as I could, to as many people as I could: to establish NYSUT as a voice that could not be ignored.
As I took office, it was in the face of a hostile governor, an unresponsive Board of Regents and an education commissioner who all acted as co-conspirators in the attempt to shackle students and teachers to the dubious results of flawed standardized tests. Our battles in this arena are not entirely won, to be sure; but three years later, the Board of Regents has been transformed into a regulatory body standing strong for public education; the commissioner is now a lifelong educator with a much better understanding of what New York State students and teachers need; and even the governor has found his voice in praise of New York's educators!
All such victories are temporary, of course. As unionists, as parents, as educators, we need to remain vigilant and energized to ensure that misguided and harmful policies are not resuscitated and reinstated, the proverbial fresh coat of paint on the outhouse. We do that by remaining the voice that cannot be ignored. We do that by staying focused … by staying ever-watchful … and most important, as unionists, by staying together.
In a union of 630,000-plus voices, we are unlikely to ever form a choir in perfect harmony. Yet, this extraordinary diversity of opinion, these differences in approach to problem-solving, are not an impediment to our success. Far from it! They form the backbone of an organization whose respectful posture of listening to and learning from each other leads us to a stronger, more unified place.
Make no mistake: Our resolve will be tested in the months and years to come. Our enemies are well-organized, extremely well-funded, unlikely to ever give up, and their numbers appear to be growing, not shrinking, one election after another. As I write these words, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously to uphold the legality of agency fee payments in the case, Janus v. AFSCME, that appears destined for the U.S. Supreme Court. If this has a somewhat familiar ring to it, it should. The Janus case is the next, and certainly not the last, in a legal onslaught against workers' rights. Last year it was the deadlocked Supreme Court decision in Friedrichs v. CTA. Now, as then, an adverse decision will present an existential threat to public sector unions in New York State and across the country.
Agency fee is the tip of the iceberg. Nationally, Congress has already proposed "right to work" legislation that would cripple the union movement on a nationwide scale. Despite legislative minorities on the left in both houses of Congress, we must nevertheless fight to ensure that such legislation never reaches the president's desk. With the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, every American's access to affordable health care is now under attack as well.
In New York State, a proposed constitutional convention in November presents a very real threat to the right to organize and collectively bargain, fundamental rights currently enshrined in our constitution. Our efforts need to be focused on voting down this convention, and keeping our constitution as it is.
Unions have provided a blanket of security for every American, union member or not, in the areas of economic well-being, access to affordable health care and a general quality of life.
Our enemies make it clear: They will eradicate unionism once and for all, given the chance. Given this stark reality, it is incumbent upon us, as unionists and as Americans, to ensure that their efforts bear no fruit. It is imperative that we stand together, as one collective voice that cannot and will not be ignored, in the tradition of every great unionist whose legacy we celebrate.
I am proud to leave NYSUT in a condition that positions us well for these great and necessary battles. And I urge every NYSUT member, in the strongest possible terms, to join your voices and continue our great collective battle cry of SOLIDARITY FOREVER.