Karen Baker, a third-grade teacher at Moreau Elementary School in Saratoga County, is a member of the South Glens Falls Faculty Association and serves on her local's negotiating committee.
1. What do you value most about your union?
I really enjoy the solidarity of working with other teachers, and being an advocate for students. I also value the protection my union membership provides. Five years ago, I was laid off due to budget constraints. It was heartbreaking, both for me and for my students. But I had tenure, so thanks in part to our union's preferred eligibility list, I was hired back after a year.
2. How are you involved in your union local?
I serve on the SGFFA negotiations committee. I'm a former business major, and I took a lot of courses in contract law, so I thought negotiations would be a good way for me to contribute to my local. I encourage everyone to find a union committee they feel passionate about and to volunteer.
3. A vote to hold a constitutional convention is slated for Nov. 7. Staging the convention could cost more than $340 million, and representatives could radically alter the New York State Constitution. What are your concerns?
It's an outrageous waste of tax dollars, particularly as class sizes swell and educators are asked to do more with less. And, constitutional convention representatives would most likely be state legislators. Why do we need to pay them two salaries?
I also worry about losing guaranteed pension protection and the right to bargain collectively, as unionists in so many other states have. My parents, both educators, walked picket lines in the 1970s to ensure that teachers had the right to health insurance, a living wage and safe working conditions. The middle class was built through unionization and a constitutional convention puts that in jeopardy.
4. How will you, and how can others, educate voters about the dangers of a constitutional convention?
I wanted to do something to educate people about the dangers of the constitutional convention so I started a Facebook group, "Vote No to Opening the NYS Constitution." We now have more than 18,000 members and are gaining daily. We have a duty as educators and as New York State citizens to fight back against those who are trying to push for a constitutional convention.
And in today's politically charged environment, I consider it equally important to give generously to VOTE-COPE, NYSUT's political action fund. Those contributions allow NYSUT to lobby on our behalf.
5. Any parting advice for union members about the Nov. 7 vote?
Get informed! All New Yorkers need to educate themselves about the dangers of holding a constitutional convention. Look beyond the scare tactics of those pushing for it. We could wind up wasting millions in tax dollars and jeopardizing our public schools, pension protections and collective bargaining rights. After seeing what's at stake, I hope New Yorkers will vote "no" on holding a constitutional convention when they see the question on their Nov. 7 ballot. We work hard for our tax dollars, and our rights are priceless; let's not waste them.