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by Suzanne Popadin | published November 7, 2017
The UFT has your back.
That was the common thread running through the Teacher Union Day celebration on Nov. 5 as everyone from President Michael Mulgrew to honoree Elizabeth Perez to first-year teacher Mariah Claudio shared the same sentiment.
“Everything we have started on this day 57 years ago,” Mulgrew said in opening remarks at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan. “We had nothing,” but “we had each other.”
The annual event, always held on the first Sunday in November, honors leaders past and present and marks the anniversary of the 1960 strike that launched the newly formed UFT on its course to becoming the strong activist organization it is now.
“We stand on the shoulders of many,” Anthony Harmon, the UFT director of parent and community outreach and the event’s master of ceremonies, reminded the more than 1,000 people in the grand ballroom.
“We are the front line against injustice, the front line for hope and aspiration,” proclaimed Brooklyn Borough Representative Elizabeth Perez, the winner of the Jules Kolodny Award for her 25 years of outstanding leadership and commitment to the trade union movement. “We fight and we care. We have each other’s backs.”
Claudio, a brand-new UFT member, proved she is a quick study.
“Today I learned a lot,” said the special education math teacher at the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Staten Island. “The union really fights for you. It fights for your family. It fights for your rights. It fights for health care and salaries and pension. It fights to make sure you’re good for life, even after you retire.”
She paused. “What’s the word I’m looking for? Security. It makes sure you are secure.”
Claudio attended with her stepfather and grandfather — both retired teachers named John Amato — with more than 75 years of union membership between them. Her grandfather, who was a chapter leader in Queens, said the UFT was like another “member of the family.”
Fifty-seven years after its inception, that family has grown to include more than 200,000 members. This year’s Teacher Union Day paid tribute to some of its most committed members.
“You represent the best of us,” Mulgrew told the honorees.
The Charles Cogen Award for outstanding service by a veteran leader — the highest honor the union gives to a member — went to Arthur Pepper, who led the UFT Welfare Fund for more than 20 years.
Special Public School Proud Awards were presented to PS 36 in the Bronx; Mindy Rosier, a teacher at PS 811 in Manhattan; Brooklyn’s District 20; PS 56 on Staten Island and its Chapter Leader Susan Pulice; PS 370, a District 75 school in Brooklyn; and PS 135 in Queens. These members, chapters and the Brooklyn district were honored for embracing the union’s #PublicSchoolProud campaign, launched in the wake of the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary.
“The one thing I want people to truly understand is that teachers care,” said PS 135 teacher Kathleen Rivera about the video her school created to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” for the #PublicSchoolProud campaign on social media.
Fifty-seven chapter leaders received Eli Trachtenberg Awards for building strong and vibrant chapters, the backbone of the UFT.
“My second hardest year was my first as a chapter leader,” Mulgrew told them. “You are the ones who make this union run.”
The David Wittes Award, for outstanding courage, dedication and commitment to UFT ideals, was presented to Jeff Goldstein, the UFT administrator for pension, health and 401(k) benefits, who retired in August after 29 years of service.
Paraprofessional Paula M. Thomas of PS 4 in Queens, a fierce advocate for special needs students and a champion for the rights of UFT members, received the Sidney Harris Award.
The Backer-Scheintaub Award, recognizing new teacher union leaders, was presented to teachers and chapter leaders Trisha-Lynn Arnold and Timothy Evans.
The Audrey Chasen Award, given in memory of a teacher mentor who was killed on the job, went to Suzanne Ribeiro, a teacher and chapter leader at East River Academy on Rikers Island and the Bronx HS for the Visual Arts, who fulfills her union responsibilities in a difficult setting.
Marsh/Raimo Awards were given to six members for their political activism. Albert Lee Smallheiser Awards went to 10 members who improve the working conditions of their colleagues.
Also recognized were members with more than 50, 60 and 70 years of teacher union membership; chapter leaders with 10, 20 and 25 years of service; and members who advanced to new titles.