September 07, 2018

New members embrace union - and vice versa

Author: Liza Frenette
white plains teachers
Caption: These new members of the White Plains Teachers Association are union proud! Photo via Twitter.

One hundred.

It’s a perfect test score, as students returning to school this past week know full well.

This week, many local unions are scoring 100 in the test against unionization brought on by the June U.S. Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME case, successfully signing up new members.

Union leaders used historical and current facts, personal talks, videos, presentations, posters and music in signup events held at the start of school.

Edgemont Teachers Association president Kathleen Fox signed up all 10 new teachers after meeting with them as a group.

“I talked about the advances we’ve made, and about law cases. I ask them ‘Can you show me one case where a workplace was better without a union? Because I can’t find one,’” Fox said. One new teacher said she has a friend in a school in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, who now has to work Saturdays.

Edgemont TA has 186 existing members, all of whom recommitted to the union this past summer when visited by TA members. “We had volunteer ambassadors. It was a really great experience,” said Fox, who received training from her NYSUT labor relations specialist Joan Deem, a member of the Professional Staff Association. “They said our goal was to get in the house – I couldn’t get out! People were so warm. They really wanted to talk.”

In Brentwood, TA President Kevin Coyne kept the successful sign-up going strong with 100 percent of the district’s 65 new teachers coming aboard. At new teacher orientation, Coyne displayed a large poster made of the cover of the July-August NYSUT United, featuring an aerial photograph of some of the 1,400 BTA members who recommitted to the union. He also displayed “Sticking with the Union” posters on easels, and gave union t-shirts to new members.

The BTA used “homegrown” videos to share union- moment stories with the new teachers. One teacher who faced layoff 10 years ago due to budget cuts recalled how union members gave up $900 each to save new teacher positions. Another had a baby who required a long hospitalization, and she shared how union colleagues donated a sick day each, providing her with 45 days to be with her baby in the hospital.

“They get a real sense of who we are,” Coyne said. “We win together, we lose together, but the best part is that we’re all together.”

The BTA displayed photos set to music showing union members at rallies, book giveaways, reading to students, marching in parades, donating food, meeting with elected officials and taking part in other community events.

“We talk about what it means to be a union member, from daily working conditions to mentoring; the teacher center that an executive board member runs, and the teacher evaluation system that a union vice president is chief information officer for. We’re able to demonstrate what a stakeholder we are,” Coyne said.

Beth Chetney, president of the Baldwinsville TA, reported another 100 percent score with 37 new members joining the union out of 37.

"Our youngest teachers needed some education. Unfortunately, due to the loss of many unionized factory jobs, for instance - particularly in the Syracuse area -- many of our newest teachers don't come from union families, unlike their veteran colleagues. Even some of our mid-career teachers were unaware of the benefits of their union. Unfortunately, many believed the main role of the union was representation. My leadership team learned a lot about not taking the education of any of our members for granted," Chetney said.

In the Putnam County suburb of Cold Spring, the 95-member Haldane Faculty Association is led by Andrea McCue, who signed up the district’s three new members during orientation.

“We went through the new member packet together, and I gave each of them an HFA t-shirt. Besides questions regarding benefits, many of their questions were regarding Janus – how it will affect teachers, how do faculty members at Haldane feel about the decision, and should they be worried,” McCue said.

“We believe that we are all ‘the union,’” she said. “By electing to join the union, they are now part of a group that will support, advocate for, and offer opportunities for them.”

John Kuryla said all 68 newcomers signed up to join the North Syracuse Education Association during orientation.

“We have a long history of a true partnership with the district for new employees,” Kuryla said. They were joined by the superintendent and board members. “We talked about the importance of family, and this is a union family.”

The NSTA Teaching Assistants chapter also signed up all of its new members.

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