New York State United Teachers’ Representative Assembly in Albany on April 1-2 was a celebration in more ways than one. The delegates commemorated 50 years of working together to elevate educators and health care professionals, and they reveled in being together in person for the first time since 2019.
“It is absolutely great, fantastic to see all of you together in the same place,” LeRoy Barr, the UFT secretary, told the UFT delegation on the first day.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said going through the COVID-19 pandemic together has made the union stronger, and it has strengthened the union’s resolve that education policymakers must listen to the people doing the work in schools.
“We have had it, completely had it with people setting policies and telling us what we should be doing when they have never stepped foot in our shoes,” he said. “It is over.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul, State Attorney General Letitia James and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli were among the prominent elected officials who addressed NYSUT members. They congratulated the state union on its anniversary and affirmed their support for educators and the need for strong funding for public schools.
The governor said it was great seeing everyone together “after what you had to endure for so many years,” adding she wasn’t just referring to the pandemic. “You have not been appreciated or celebrated or elevated or given the respect you are due,” she said, prompting thunderous applause.
NYSUT’s annual RA is the 600,000-plus-member union’s highest policymaking body. Delegates adopted resolutions on topics that included support for LGBTQ+ teachers and students, community schools and aid to Ukraine.
NYSUT President Andrew Pallotta said pandemic-related health and safety, a recent doubling-down on standardized testing and large class sizes are a few of the challenges that NYSUT members are now facing.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said the second year of the pandemic was harder than the first as students returned to in-person learning with enormous academic and social-emotional needs. Teachers are helping them recover and thrive, she said, but “extremists” are “exploiting two years of anxiety and uncertainty and using it to wage culture wars in our schools.”
Four UFT members received NYSUT awards at the convention.
UFT Treasurer Debra Penny was honored with a Not for Ourselves Alone: the Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award for her advocacy on behalf of UFT members and their families during the pandemic. She lobbied for providing a new accidental death benefit for public employees who died of COVID-19 as well as for automatic enrollment of UFT-represented paraprofessionals in the pension system. Both measures have become state law.
UFT School Counselors Chapter Leader Rosemarie Thompson received a School-Related Professionals Member of the Year award. Federation of Nurses/UFT member Sandra Nin, who works at NYU-Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, was named a Health Care Professionals Member of the Year. Barbara Waldmann, who retired in 2003 after a 38-year career in teaching, received a Retiree Members of the Year award.