When attacks on public education, public workers and their benefits come from all sides, where do those who want to protect the public good go for help?
“We need to start with ourselves,” said Emily Sullivan, an elementary art teacher and part of a 5-member team from the Plattsbugh Teachers Association during a community engagement session at NYSUT’s Local Action Project. “Communication, trust, collegiality and support within the membership of our unions must be strengthened.”
Only then can unions work to strengthen the communities in which they work.
And that work is desperately needed, noted Eric Zachary, who directs the AFT’s human rights and community relations department. And it’s not just public education at stake. “Forces are also working to dismantle economic justice, educational opportunities and democratic voice,” said Zachary.
The community outreach session is just one of many being offered this week to nearly 150 members as part of NYSUT’s Local Action Project, a week of intensive union training in Saratoga Springs. Besides getting the latest on state and national issues, members will meet daily to network and discuss their own successes and challenges about what works locally.
The group cheered one success on the first day when Wayne White, president of the Bellport Teachers Association, noted his members’ success at electing pro-public education candidates to their Long Island school board.
The group also cheered the announcement that the Rockland County Teachers Association, a coalition of NYSUT locals in that county, had raised $3,670 for NYSUT’s Disaster Relief Fund. Debbie Kydon, president of the Rockland BOCES Staff Association, delivered the funds on behalf of the group to NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who oversees the union’s relief efforts.
Local Action Project participants are from 21 local unions, ranging from Western New York (Niagara Wheatfield Teachers Association, Kenmore Teachers Association) to Central New York (East Syracuse Minoa) to Long Island (Bellport, Half Hollow Hills, Sachem Central and Sayville) to the many local unions from the Capital District, North Country and lower Hudson Vally.
Other highlights of the week will include a discussion on challenges facing unions led by NYSUT’s top lawyer Rich Casagrande and a presentation by the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project on approaches to working with the community. Also, for the fifth year, participating locals from across the state have collected donations to help the Franklin Community Center Food Pantry get through lean summer months.
Donahue explained that locals selected for LAP make a minimum three-year commitment as the training becomes more specific each year to a local union’s needs.
Since 1997, LAP has brought together local unions to learn proven strategies developed to increase member participation, build community support, close the achievement gap and to achieve success in contract negotiations, political action, budget votes and other homegrown issues.