Solidarity is contagious. That’s how it seems in public schools across New York City where UFT chapters are proudly proclaiming they have 100 percent union membership in their schools. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in the anti-union Janus lawsuit that sought to starve public-sector unions of the funding they need to provide services to members by having individuals opt out of paying their dues, educators are saying loud and clear that the value of union membership is priceless.
At PS 135 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, two new staffers signed up for the union in September to make that school 100 percent union. Chapter Leader Eileen Cohen and her membership team of six spoke one-on-one to each of the school’s 63 staffers last school year about their union benefits and the trickle-down threat to those benefits posed by Janus.
“It was amazing how appreciative veteran members were to be reminded of just how much the union has won for us,” Cohen said.
“We are all on high alert right now to ensure we protect all we have.”
On Staten Island, where every public elementary school has 100 percent union membership, educators at PS 60 in Graniteville spent the pre-Janus-verdict days last spring discussing the role the union plays in their work and personal lives.
“We had several meetings where people talked about the need for a union,” said Chapter Leader Dara Retig, who noted that the lone new hire in the school this year quickly signed up. “One of our members who has a son with a lot of medical problems spoke about the importance of our health benefits and how much having them has helped her family.”
Retig said there is security in knowing “the union is there to back us if we have a problem.”
Union-initiated benefits such as paid parental leave and consultation committees were among the reasons the staff at PS 88 in Ridgewood, Queens, has perfect UFT membership.
“Knowing we have security and backup when we have a problem like safety issues is comforting,” said Chapter Leader Susan Stark. “So is being able to bring issues to consultation.”
But Stark’s chapter, which added two new hires to the union ranks this fall, sees not only UFT members as key to the school’s success, but the school employees represented by other unions as well. That’s why they included the administrators and support staff who work in their building — also 100 percent union — when they took their celebratory photo.
“The UFT members here want to make everyone feel welcome and know we will support each other,” Stark said. “That’s why we felt it was important to include everyone. We all have to work as a team.” A union-proud team.