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Teacher Union Day

Turning peril into power

After a challenging year, UFT celebrates its strength and successes at Teacher Union Day

Members from PS 180 and other Brooklyn school chapters celebrate their Jules KolJonathan FickiesMembers from PS 180 and other Brooklyn school chapters celebrate their Jules Kolodny Awards. The other Brooklyn award winners were PS 41, PS 6, PS 75, PS 226 and Edward R. Murrow HS. Twenty-five school chapters received Kolodny Awards for their union activism.

New York State Teacher of the Year Alhassan Susso is presented with the Audrey CJonathan FickiesNew York State Teacher of the Year Alhassan Susso is presented with the Audrey Chasen Award by UFT Vice President Janella Hinds.

The union faced some of the gravest threats in its history over the past year. At Teacher Union Day, members celebrated how the UFT had emerged stronger than ever because they had banded together to face those challenges. Paula Albury, a UFT chapter leader at PS 57 in Manhattan attending her first Teacher Union Day, said the event had awakened her sense of union pride. “I want to go back and push even further at work and let my members know how important the union is,” said Albury, the leader of one of the 52 chapters honored this year with an Ely Trachtenberg Award this year.

More than 1,400 people gathered on Nov. 4 at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan to celebrate the founding members who built the UFT and to recognize the members who are leading the union into the future. The event is held on the first Sunday in November to mark the anniversary of the 1960 teachers’ strike that set the UFT into motion.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew spoke about what pride and purpose like Albury’s can achieve as he recounted the union’s accomplishments over the past year, including the defeat of a ballot proposal to hold a state constitutional convention, the winning of paid family leave in June and the UFT’s membership growth in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-union ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that same month.

The recipients of the Backer/Scheintaub Awards were honored for their work knockJonathan FickiesThe recipients of the Backer/Scheintaub Awards were honored for their work knocking on doors during the UFT’s membership drive this past year in the face of the threat to the UFT created by the Supreme Court’s Janus lawsuit. Manhattan’s PS 36 was among the Manhattan schools honored with a Jules Kolodny AJonathan FickiesManhattan’s PS 36 was among the Manhattan schools honored with a Jules Kolodny Award.

“Together, we have made our school system stronger,” Mulgrew said. “Together we have made our political climate better here in New York.”

Carmen Alvarez, the UFT’s vice president for special education from 1990 until her retirement earlier this fall, received the Charles Cogen Award — the highest honor the union gives to a member — for her decades of advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities and the educators who work with them.

UFT Political Director Paul Egan (far left) poses with winners of the Marsh/RaimJonathan FickiesUFT Political Director Paul Egan (far left) poses with winners of the Marsh/Raimo Awards: (from second to left) Angelo Scuccimarri, Deborah Fiallo, Chaitram Aklu, Farrah Alexander and Patricia Lockhart. The Albert Lee Smallheiser Award winners were: (from left, seated) Eliu Lara, PaJonathan FickiesThe Albert Lee Smallheiser Award winners were: (from left, seated) Eliu Lara, Parniece Richardson, Khiera Pena, UFT Vice President MaryJo Ginese, Marie Kallo; (from left, back row) UFT Secretary Howard Schoor, award presenter; UFT Assistant Director of the UFT Welfare Fund Joseph Usatch; Veronica Wilensky-Sorkin; UFT Vice President Anne Goldman, award presenter; Jessica Harvey; and Dennis Gault.

Alvarez ascribed the union’s successes to the people assembled in the room. “You’re the reason we’re able to attain these achievements,” she said. “This is a team that does not compete with each other but completes each other.”

“Carmen’s thing is to educate people at all times,” said Mulgrew. “Sit with them, listen, guide them through. She taught that to generations of union leaders.” The Audrey Chasen Award was bestowed on New York State Teacher of the Year Alhassan Susso. Susso, who emigrated from Gambia to New York State as a child, credits the teachers in his life for his journey from homelessness in Poughkeepsie to becoming a lauded public school teacher in the Bronx.

Middle school chapter leaders who received the Ely Trachtenberg Award pose with Jonathan FickiesMiddle school chapter leaders who received the Ely Trachtenberg Award pose with Vice President Rich Mantell (third from right). High school chapter leaders who received the Ely Trachtenberg Award pose with UFJonathan FickiesHigh school chapter leaders who received the Ely Trachtenberg Award pose with UFT Vice President Sterling Robertson (far left, standing) and Vice President Janella Hinds (third from left, seated).

“What happens when a teacher chooses to focus on a student’s promise rather than the challenges?” asked Susso, who teaches social studies at International Community HS. “I am what happens.”

The 20 UFT members who spearheaded the union’s successful paid parental leave campaign received the David Wittes Award, given for outstanding courage, dedication and commitment to the union’s ideals. The Backer/Scheintaub Award, recognizing new teacher union leaders, was presented to 14 UFT members who went door-to-door to educate their fellow members about the Janus threat and the value of union membership. Marsh/Raimo Awards were given to six UFT members for notable political activism. Albert Lee Smallheiser Awards went to 10 members and field staff who have improved their colleagues’ working conditions.

The team of rank-and-file members who spearheaded the union’s paid parental leavJonathan FickiesThe team of rank-and-file members who spearheaded the union’s paid parental leave campaign is honored with the David Wittes Award. right: Shelvy Young-Abrams, the longtime chapter leader of the Paraprofessionals Chapter, receives a shoutout from Anthony Harmon, the Teacher Union Day master of ceremonies.

Members with 50, 60 and 70 years of membership in the union were also recognized at the event, as were chapter leaders with 10, 20 and 25 years of service.

This year, the Jules Kolodny Award for extraordinary leadership and commitment to the labor movement was given to 25 #UnionProud school chapters that rose to the challenge of informing and mobilizing members in the months leading up to the Supreme Court ruling. The winning schools had strong membership teams as well as both 100 percent union membership and high levels of COPE contributions.

One of those chapters was PS 7 in Elmhurst, Queens, and Fredda Pichardo, a librarian and the chapter leader at the school, summed up why.

“We are a 100 percent union school,” she said, “because we 100 percent believe we are nothing without our union.”

See photos in the gallery »

Watch a video celebrating the UFT's paid parental leave victory »

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