President, GNTA Retired Educators Chapter
As warmer temperatures prevailed and icy Lake Erie became liquefied, again, about 2,000 delegates from all over New York State descended on the Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center for the 43rd Annual New York State United Teachers Representative Assembly. They were elected by their local unions to discuss and to debate 46 resolutions which would be the legislative program and agenda for NYSUT’s lobbyists. The delegates were also present to network and to learn. This was the first convention for the new slate of officers who were elected in last year’s contentious election. Karen Magee, NYSUT’s new president, began her first state of the union address with “ A year ago you made it clear you wanted a fighting union--well you’ve got it!…We are truly a union driven by the rank and file.” She said that NYSUT will continue to work closely with its allies: parents, community groups and other groups in the AFL-CIO. The fight must continue on many fronts to expose and to fix the test-and-punish agenda of Governor Andrew Cuomo. She attributes the governor with being the greatest union organizer in modern New York State history due to his senseless, vindictive anti-teacher and anti-public education stands. Magee's new positive vision for public education in New York State respects students, parents and teachers. It is a vision that rejects privatization and profits, focusing on what students need to learn-from preschool through college. Finally, she exhorted those present to BE the union.
Speakers are always an important part of the Representative Assembly. Randi Weingarten, AFT president, applauded NYSUT’s staunch activism against Gov. Cuomo’s attacks on public education. She rejected the notion that linking student test scores to teacher evaluation will foster improvements in teaching and learning. Regarding the battle for sanity in education with the governor and his test-obsessed allies, President Weingarten stated, “You didn’t pick this fight, but it’s not a fight you intend to lose--and we [the AFT] are with you 1,000 percent.”
When New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was introduced, the delegates gave him a prolonged standing ovation. His office now examines how charter schools spend taxpayers’ money. “To me, it’s always been common sense to demand the same level of transparency and accountability from charter schools as we do from every other school receiving public dollars,” DiNapoli announced. He then went on to discuss the state’s pension plans and how they have recovered since the economic recession. He concluded, “You are part of well-run and well-funded pension plans. That’s the reality…There is simply no reason to replace the defined-benefit pension system with defined contribution.”
Before a final decision is determined concerning resolutions submitted by local unions and retiree councils, a specific process is followed. They are placed in seven categories prior to the convention which become seven committees at the convention. Delegates choose to attend one committee where the resolutions in that category are debated and resolved for the first time. All resolutions with each committee’s recommendations are then presented to the entire delegate body in plenary sessions for final decision-making. Supporting legislation for pension credit for veterans, school safety, overturning Citizens United and Hobby Lobby decisions, opposition to more charter schools, calling for Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s resignation from the Board of Regents, supporting the "I Refuse" movement to oppose high stakes testing, greater focus on students’ social and emotional needs, boycotting Pearson publishing and NYSUT’s Continued Engagement Plan to Fight for Public Education are just a few of the varied resolutions which were presented for deliberation.
This year’s convention can be summed up as one in which NYSUT members were praised for their efforts fighting the governor’s toxic plans and fighting for students, public education, and staying the course. “We are one,” and “Solidarity Forever” were consistent themes pervading the two-day meetings.