More than 400 students from 20 high schools across the city gathered at UFT headquarters on March 9 for a different kind of college and career fair: In addition to exploring colleges and universities, students learned about jobs with strong union representation — and the better incomes and benefits that go hand in hand with those jobs.
UFT Vice President for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds, the event organizer, spoke to the students about the importance of a union for workplace rights and benefits, but also for the sense of community it fosters when union members unite to fight for a cause.
“Our voices together are more powerful than a single voice,” said Hinds, who is also secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council, the event co-sponsor.
Denise Ortiz-Wasilewski, a teacher at Leon Goldstein HS in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, said the 19 students in her group were impressed and inspired by what they learned. “The job and career fair really opened their eyes,” she said. “They were like ‘Wow!’”
The fair was a revelation for Ortiz-Wasilewski as well. “There are so many careers and apprenticeships open to our students,” she said. “I didn’t even think about these other careers.” She gave as an example the backstage theater jobs showcased by a representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees that interested two of her students.
Representatives from 24 unions — from the American Federation of Musicians to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters — spoke to the students about their work as well as the benefits of a unionized job. Students also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from area colleges and universities and ask questions of college students in a panel discussion that touched on everything from choosing a college major to financing tuition.
Deborah Caquias, the chapter leader at the Cultural Academy for the Arts and Sciences in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, said the event gave her the chance to answer her students’ questions about teaching and union representation. “I was explaining to them that you become a union member when you become a teacher,” she said. “Some of them were confused about what happened first.”
IIce McKoy, a junior at the Cultural Academy, said she had gained a better understanding of how to become a New York City public school guidance counselor: “I spoke to a UFT member about the programs and internships I should take — and how after you get a job, you contact the chapter leader.”
Another Cultural Academy junior, Davon Clarke, was impressed with the presentation by a Service Employees International Union Local 246 representative about maintaining a fleet of vehicles for city agencies.
“I’m really interested in fixing automotive machines,” Davon said. “I was interested and intrigued.”