“Compassion, empathy, dedication, courage and creativity are part of our DNA,” declared UFT President Michael Mulgrew to the nearly 1,800 UFT members packed into the ballroom at the New York Hilton Midtown on May 18 for the union’s annual Spring Education Conference.
These qualities, he said, helped the UFT thrive in a year of threats — including the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-union ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case.
“Janus was an existential threat to us,” he said.
Mulgrew praised the conference participants for educating their colleagues about the value of the union and helping to get new hires quickly signed up as UFT members. He said the percentage of UFT-represented employees who do not belong to the union stands at 0.18 percent today.
“That is the lowest number it has ever been in our history, and you all made that happen,” he said.
Mulgrew also commended UFT members for spearheading the successful union campaign for paid parental leave last spring and helping to negotiate a new contract with the Department of Education in the fall.
This year’s gala luncheon featured a musical interlude as Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza led a student mariachi company in a procession onto the stage for a performance. Carranza, in mariachi attire, serenaded the luncheon attendees with a number that brought everyone to their feet in raucous applause.
In his speech, Carranza praised UFT members for standing strong together against the enemies of public education. “What I say to all the haters: keep hating, we’re going to keep singing,” he said.
Carranza touted the DOE’s collaboration with the UFT on issues such as the Bronx Collaborative Schools Plan, created as part of the 2018 contract, and praised teachers “who have been there every year, making things out of nothing, with no funding, with no support.”
The luncheon was the culmination of a day that began with a morning “Stand Up and Run!” town hall and a surprise appearance by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Participants could browse in a bustling exhibit hall with groups of students from career and technical education schools across the city or participate in one of five workshops for CTLE credit or a sixth information session about the Student Debt Relief Program.
Kaitlynn Kelly, a teacher at PS 34 in Queens Village, took the workshop on advancing literacy skills. “There was a lot of focus on the New Generation Learning Standards,” Kelly said. “It’s interesting to see how students are changing with all the technological advances, and we have to keep up. As students change, we have to change.”
Alecia Robinson, a paraprofessional at PS 327 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, who recently completed her master’s degree in social work at Touro College, found the session on student debt relief, for UFT members only, full of information that could help her down the road.
“When it’s time to pay back the loan, I want to make sure everything is in line,” Robinson said. “Some people were told they were not eligible for debt relief. I want to avoid that runaround. Now I know where to go for support.”
Lucrecia Ruiz, a paraprofessional at PS 80 in South Jamaica, Queens, said the workshop on instructional technology gave her new insight about “how important it is to use computers to engage students and motivate them to want to learn more.”
Roxanne Knights, a special education teacher at PS 345 in East New York, Brooklyn, said she planned to attend again next year.
“The entire conference was well-prepared and put together,” said Knights. “I enjoyed everything, from the presentations to the call to do more and get involved.”