News stories

Preparing for Janus

Door-knocking efforts crucial because ‘this is our fight’

Jonathan Fickies

Paraprofessional Marsha Desanges (left) talks to teacher Tabatha Figueroa at her home on Jan. 20.

Jonathan Fickies

When members aren’t home, UFT members leave door hangers.

Gloria Winograd goes out on cold winter evenings to knock on doors of fellow UFT members. Her mission: to alert them that their rights and benefits are endangered by the Janus v. AFSCME case, now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Door-knocking is demanding work, but it’s worth it,” said Winograd.

Winograd, a music teacher and chapter leader at PS 6 in Manhattan, is one of the UFT members who is reaching out to fellow union members to make sure they are aware of the danger ahead.

The Janus case, funded by billionaires, threatens to deprive public employee unions nationwide of the ability to collect agency fees from workers who opt not to belong to the union but nonetheless benefit from union contracts and services. Oral arguments in the case are slated for Feb. 26, and the high court is expected to issue a decision in May or June.

The door-knocking campaign began in November and by mid-January UFT members had rapped on more than 11,000 doors to start a conversation about what Janus means and how members can protect their hard-earned rights and benefits by recommitting to the union.

Jasmin Hunt, a teacher at PS 153 in Co-op City, the Bronx, is training UFT members who have joined the campaign. “You can use a flier, but when someone actually comes to your door it makes a big difference,” Hunt said. “People get to ask questions, and it’s more memorable.”

Elizabeth Zapata, an art teacher at the Life Sciences Secondary School in Manhattan, was one of the UFT members who opened the door on the evening Winograd came calling in January.

“We connected by discussing our experiences with the union,” Zapata said. “Last year, I was on medical leave and I had a lot of support from the union. I had to take a year off and in a different kind of job that would not have been possible. I was able to focus on getting better — not the costs of prescription drugs and medical fees.”

Zapata, who comes from a union family, was aware of Janus and its significance. But she worries that other members are not. “Sometimes you don’t realize what the union is doing and what it’s there for,” she said. “If people decide not to opt into it [after Janus], that can be a dangerous thing.”

Zapata says her colleagues at Life Sciences Secondary School cherish their union benefits but may not understand the gravity of the situation. That, she said, led her to ask herself, “How can I be more active in the union?”

Those who have joined the corps of door-knockers say they’re all in to reach as many members as possible over the course of this school year.

“For me it was important to do it because a lot of members are uninformed about their rights and benefits,” said Duane Edmonds, a paraprofessional representative at CS 55 in Claremont Village in the Bronx.

Daniel Holstein, a math teacher at Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day HS, estimates he’s knocked on close to 200 doors since November.

“I really feel this is our fight,” he said.

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