Every NYSUT Representative Assembly closes with the hundreds of delegates joining hands and singing the old union song “Solidarity Forever.” I unabashedly love that moment, and this year’s rendition was especially poignant for me, since it was my sixteenth and final RA.
NYSUT President Karen Magee gave her “state of the union” address on Friday night; her theme was “What a Difference a Year Makes.” She highlighted the many positive changes we’ve seen in the past year: a new Commissioner of Education; the SED firing of the test-maker Pearson; a moratorium on using test scores to evaluate teachers; a major change in the make-up of the Board of Regents; a new, far more teacher-friendly Chancellor of the Regents...to name just a few. Many of those changes are a result of lobbying efforts on the part of NYSUT, but those efforts would not have borne fruit if not for the grassroots activism of teachers on the local level in partnership with parents. Think of all the rallies we’ve attended...the letters we’ve written...the faxes we’ve sent...our children whom we’ve opted out. Thank you for everything you’ve done to heed NYSUT’s call to action for the last few years. Your activism is making a difference. We still have much work ahead of us, but we’ve certainly learned this: NYSUT is US.
Some of our members fear that our strength locally is compromised when we are politically active in state or national affairs. I would argue that there’s little distinction. Everything is political. Our Annual Professional Performance Reviews are dictated in large part by state laws and State Education Department regulations. Our budget-and thus our ability to negotiate fair contracts-is affected by the state tax cap. Our curriculum is influenced by the national Common Core. We can’t afford to sit back and leave it to others to fight against laws, regulations, and policies that harm our profession. NYSUT has 600,000+ members, but we’re only 600,000 STRONG if we raise our voices as one.
We have many challenges ahead. We will need to work hard to defeat the call in 2017 for a Constitutional Convention in New York that could compromise our pension rights...to fight the next Supreme Court challenge to our collective bargaining rights...to push our legislature to make changes to the tax cap law that will make it more viable for school districts. NYSUT will lead those fights, but make no mistake: NYSUT only succeeds when GNTA, together with all the other locals, uses our collective strength for action.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the many times you’ve elected me to represent you as a NYSUT delegate. I’ve been incredibly proud to identify myself as a GNTA member. I have one wish for all of you: that you’ll keep in mind-and put into action-the words of the song: “Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong!”