March 2017 Issue
February 28, 2017

Magee: Looking back ... and looking forward

Author: Karen E. Magee, President
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT President Karen Magee

Women's History Month resonates with me this year on a personal level. It is my honor and privilege to be NYSUT's first woman president. I serve with deep gratitude for the pioneering women leaders who have preceded me and have done so much to make our union great. And I serve with an equally deep commitment to leave our union stronger and better for the women and men who follow in my footsteps.

Early in my presidency, I convened a group of NYSUT members dedicated to advancing women's priorities through our democratic union process. The inspired work of this ad hoc Women's Steering Committee bears fruit March 3–4 with our first-ever statewide NYSUT conference focusing on women's priorities: "Speak Up, Stand Up, Step Up!"

This conference is designed not just to educate, but also to organize and mobilize around women's priorities. It is one of the countless ways a union empowers members. In fact, if I had to sum up in one word what the union means to me, it is contained in this simple, yet powerful, concept of voice. As NYSUT's president, I am dedicated to amplifying our members' voices — making sure they are heard loud and clear in the media and in the corridors of power in Albany and Washington. As I reflect on the almost three years since my election, I know that these are some of my proudest moments:

  • Establishing NYSUT as the "voice that can't be ignored." We took a change-making stand against then-Education Commissioner John King's failed approach to testing and evaluations. With fierce resolve, we "called out Cuomo" for his test-and-punish messaging and actions. As a result, working in partnership with parents, we derailed policies that were bad for students and bad for educators. By expanding our member communications, I had the opportunity to ensure members heard from me each week on our progress in these and other fights.
  • Standing strong in supporting parents' rights to "opt out" of inappropriate testing — a groundswell I was proud to support and one that has since become a movement.
  • Taking on the tough legal fights in a commitment to aggressively defend our members and students against threats to their rights and to quality public education. We made inroads against unacceptable gag orders, bad receivership policies and more.
  • Pressing for equal treatment and equal opportunity for every member and local, regardless of ZIP code, and holding accountable any who would undermine those rights.

My grandmother's pioneering example as a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union inspires me in this work. So, too, does the support of my family, especially my three wonderful children: Caitlyn, Max and A.J. Their constant support empowers me to be fearless — to speak truth to power, to hold individuals accountable and to take on the tough fights.

This is my passion and my avocation.

Now, I have the opportunity to carry forward the mission of the labor movement in a new role. I will be working closely with AFT President Randi Weingarten and the New York State AFL-CIO on an exciting new initiative to advance economic opportunities for women. I embrace this opportunity to carry forward at the national level the causes near and dear to my heart: advancing opportunities for women and empowering positive change through the labor movement.

It will be hard to move on from the work I love to do as NYSUT president, yet this new direction is made easier by the realization of all we have accomplished together. In deciding not to run for re-election this April, I am sustained by the knowledge that our union is stronger and more powerful than it was three years ago. Our members' voices are being heard.

I am proud of what we have accomplished together and can say with confidence that I worked every day to the best of my ability and with utmost integrity to establish NYSUT as the voice that cannot be ignored.

Today, NYSUT is, without question, a force to be reckoned with. Our members are organized, energized and mobilized for the fights ahead. I thank each and every one of you for the honor of serving as your president, and look forward to partnering with you as I take on new challenges in the days ahead.