Abraham thanked his staff for their work noting that NYSUT Member Benefits, in particular, offers significant value for union families. “In the coming months, NYSUT Member Benefits plans to launch, on a pilot basis, a no-cost legal program to help members who fall in the lower portion of the salary scale, which make it hard for them to afford quality legal services,” he said explaining that making quality legal advice available to members is important during contentious times.
Abraham also highlighted NYSUT’s Many Threads, One Fabric social justice initiative, which he leads. “Our sticks and stones implicit bias workshops, funded through a $1 million state grant, have opened the eyes of many to the consequences of bias affecting many of our students and colleagues,” he said.
Under his leadership, NYSUT has helped mitigate loss throughout the year, both through direct union efforts, such as purchasing and distributing personal protective equipment at the height of the pandemic, serving as a flagship sponsor for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks and providing funding through the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund.
“The union was there for members who experienced great personal loss because of the flooding brought on by tropical storms during the summer of 2021,” said Abraham who encouraged members to continue donating to the NYSUT Disaster Relief donation site. “To help the people of Ukraine, NYSUT is also partnering with international relief agencies to collect funds during this humanitarian crisis.”
Gross said the pandemic, and different approaches to tackling it, have reinforced that “we have to listen to those who wish to be heard and show that we care even if we don’t always agree.”
The NYSUT Legacy fund, formed at last year’s virtual RA to allow members to receive recognition for their dedication to their union by their peers, has recognized 20 such leaders and collected more than $12,000.
“They have been asked to do Herculean tasks with little time to prepare and many times without necessary resources. We are indebted to them …we must stand with them to secure better wages to attract more professionals to end their staff shortages.”
NYSUT will continue to pressure SED to address the looming mental health crisis by funding appropriate staffing of nurses, psychologists, social workers and counselors in hospitals and schools.
And for members, the union will be launching NYSUT LIFELINE, with trained peer counselors staffing the phones 5 days per week to take confidential phone calls.
“This investment in our membership is needed now more than ever.”
“For some of you, you’ve heard these words a lot over the past two years for the awe-inspiring work you’ve done to serve New York’s students and patients,” DiBrango said. “For some of you, you haven’t heard those words nearly enough.”
While this year has been the most difficult in decades for public education, DiBrango said members showed the world what public service looks like. “You kept showing up sometimes broken … sometimes because you had no other choice,” DiBrango said. “You never quit on a student or a family even when the situation seems insurmountable.”
DiBrango thanked members for embracing the union’s Take a Look at Teaching initiative, which aims to diversify the profession and encourage more people to consider careers in education. She said more than 35 local unions have received NEA/NYSUT grants to launch Grow Your Own programs across the state.
“For years you and NYSUT and our higher ed siblings fought against the edTPA, a test that did nothing to improve the quality of teaching or support aspiring educators,” DiBrango said. “Now because of your collective efforts, the edTPA will no longer be a requirement for state certification.”
At a time when some critics are trying to censor books and control what’s taught in classrooms, DiBrango said it’s crucial for students to learn a complete and honest history of our state, nation and world — and that all people, their contributions and gifts must be taught and celebrated.
DiBrango praised members of the NYSUT Women’s Committee, under the leadership of member co-chairs Aisha Cook and Leslie Rose, for making it a priority to create female empowerment clubs in our schools, on our campuses and in our communities. “NYSUT women are working to ensure that all students learn about girls and women in their coursework and the impact women have made in our society,” she said.
“Christopher Reeve once said ‘A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles,’” DiBrango said. “Because of you, today the image of a NYSUT member is that of a hero.”
NYSUT is ready to resume its retiree tours, which have been on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will be visiting Retiree Councils and finally getting a chance to really be with you,” said Ron Gross, NYSUT second vice president whose office handles the Program Services department, speaking to retirees at a Saturday morning RA meeting. “We’re ready to do the tour wherever you want us to be.”
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta thanked retirees for sharing their stories on the new historical documentary premiered at the Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference. “This is something we’re going to continue to work on,” he said.
While NYSUT celebrates its 50th anniversary at this RA, the Retiree Councils are celebrating 30 years of existence.
“When I think of retirees, I don’t just think of the past, but of your central roles in building the future,” NYSUT executive vice president Jolene DiBrango told the roomful of retired members.
“Thank you for building it. You built what we have today,” said J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer.
NYSUT retirees continue to find ways to get and stay involved in communities, elections and labor. Florence McCue, ED 51-53 at-large-director, encouraged retirees to become involved in central labor councils and in Area Labor Federations.
Loretta Donlon, one of first three people to represent retirees on the NYSUT Board of Directors, encouraged retirees to get involved in local school board elections and in overturning the state’s Tier 6.
Thomas Murphy, UFT retiree chapter leader, shared with the gathering that the UFT reached out to more than 60,000 retirees during the pandemic by phone calls, texts or e-mails to personally ask: “How are you doing?” Many of them said, “You’re really just calling to ask how we are?” he reported.
“It was a good project for all of us,” he said.
Murphy said that while the last two years have been stressful, the question is “Do you look at problems or at opportunities? How could we not be optimists? We go into the classroom and see the future!”
An example of opportunity is with the change in meetings since the pandemic. UFT retiree meetings in the past have had 200-350 people, he said, but the last meeting on Zoom drew 4,500 people.
“It defies geography, time and place,” Murphy said. “Now, our opportunity is, how do you both?
This content was originally published here.