After a two-year pandemic hiatus, NYSUT held its first in-person Local Action Project conference in mid-July. Participating LAP locals make a three-year commitment to learn proven strategies to boost member engagement, build community support and achieve better results in homegrown issues such as contracts and school budget votes.
This summer, 15 first-, second- and third-year locals traveled from cities and towns statewide to attend workshops on topics ranging from membership recruitment and retention to team building, strategic planning, communication and political action.
“It’s great to meet again in person with these dedicated locals,” said Ron Gross, NYSUT second vice president whose office coordinates the program. “It’s a testament to the strength of this program that they were able to continue their LAP work through a two-year hiatus.”
The Tri-Valley Teachers Association, one of two third-year locals attending, met the demands of COVID-19 by tweaking its existing LAP initiatives, including shifting an in-person First Book giveaway to a drive-up event, starting a meet the candidates dinner for local members after a community meet the candidates night fell by the wayside and organizing an educator caravan to greet students during the shutdown. “We decorated our cars, had banners and drove by students’ homes — the families and students really appreciated it,” said Matt Haynes, TVTA president.
The Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Educators Association also continued its advocacy, shifting the union’s LAP focus from health to combatting community food insecurity during the shutdown. “We hosted a food drive and our BOCES students in the security program helped us out,” said NYSUT Board member Sandie Carner-Shafran, a SABEA retiree and LAP team member, noting that the students selflessly moved boxes, directed traffic and lent a hand.
Other SABEA initiatives included a Christmas Eve morning walk to honor service members who couldn’t make it home for the holiday, and a wreath-laying event to commemorate deceased veterans.
Two other third-year locals — Middle Country Teachers Association and Erie 1 Professional Education Association — worked independently with their labor relations specialists to complete the final year of their LAP commitment, explained Gross.
Charting a new course
First-year members from the Teachers Association of Cheektowaga-Sloan, near Buffalo, signed on for LAP following a leadership change. “It’s been a heck of a past few years and we’re trying to get our members unified,” said TACS Secretary Tim Murray, an elementary band instructor. “We’re getting some great new ideas for how to become a stronger local.”
Moving beyond having transactional relationships with members, to having transformational ones is important, explained TACS member Sarah Boroweic. “We want members to feel connected to the union and not just view it as who they turn to when problems arise.”
Once the pandemic hit, the Ardsley Congress of Teachers, a second-year local, put the communication skills they’d learned at LAP to good use. “We had all new administrators that year, so they didn’t really know the staff yet,” said Alyson Tina, ACT president, explaining that the local tapped into its newly created communication network to keep members in the loop. “Our emails had a 90 percent open rate — we were isolated, and that communication really strengthened our union.”
Second-year local attendee Alison Rhoades values the “energy boost and focus” she and fellow Croton TA members receive after attending LAP. She advises newer LAP locals to find achievable goals, and gradually work toward them.
“Don’t try to do everything at once,” she said. “That’s the beauty of the LAP planning process, it teaches you how to set goals and move through them.”
NYSUT’s LAP program takes place annually in mid-July.