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Teacher Union Day

Cogen winner Pallotta a homegrown fighter

New York Teacher
Teacher Union Day 2019
Miller Photography

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta (center) receives the Charles Cogen Award from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Andy Pallotta doesn’t walk away from challenges.

From his days as the chapter leader at PS 32 in the Bronx to his current role as president of the UFT’s state affiliate, New York State United Teachers, Pallotta has continued to take on whatever obstacles he’s faced.

“When he gets angry, he’s unstoppable,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said before presenting Pallotta with the UFT’s highest honor, the Charles Cogen Award, on Teacher Union Day on

Oct. 20. “For Andy, it’s all about trying to do the right thing and not giving up.”

Mulgrew relayed a story about how Pallotta stood on the steps of the Capitol in Albany holding a rubber chicken to make his point. “Andy was screaming about how a certain elected official was a chicken and didn’t care about the kids,” he said. “That’s Andy’s way of trying to get a point across.”

Pallotta faced a challenge almost immediately upon becoming the chapter leader at PS 32 when he informed his principal of an upcoming UFT rally in lower Manhattan. She told him that none of the staff would be joining him.

Pallotta responded by going to each staff member individually to tell them they needed to go, and the UFT supplied a bus. “We filled the bus and the principal was there to watch us leave,” Pallotta said. “I waved to her very politely — using all five fingers.”

After becoming the UFT representative for District 10, Pallotta learned a quick political lesson. It was during the Michael Bloomberg era when the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, chose to close some schools rather than help them. Pallotta sought the aid of a Bronx City Council member to fight the closings, but discovered the Council member “couldn’t care less.”

Pallotta decided the Council member needed to go. “We went out of our way, ran a great race, and ran that person out of office,” he said.

After making the unusual leap from UFT district rep to political action director and a vice president for NYSUT, Pallotta quickly made his mark by spearheading the development of the online Member Action Center to facilitate cyber-lobbying on key state and federal legislative issues. The Member Action Center has successfully cultivated a growing and effective community of activists.

Pallotta was elected NYSUT president in 2017 and immediately faced the threat of an impending U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the anti-union Janus v. AFSCME lawsuit. He went back to the playbook he followed to defeat that smug principal.

“He said we were going to knock on every member’s door,” Mulgrew said. The technique was simple, yet effective, and Mulgrew realized it was a tactic the UFT should use.

“Andy says, ‘Let’s do the simple things even if they are hard work,’” Mulgrew said, “because if you’re talking directly to someone, you can better help them see what’s in their best interest.”

The result, Pallotta said, is that “the state of our union is very strong.”

Making magic happen

There was a powerful confluence of causes on Oct. 20 as more than 1,700 UFT members came together on Teacher Union Day to celebrate union activism past and present after many of them participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.