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‘Our destiny rests in our hands’

Mulgrew on impact of Janus case
New York Teacher
Seven people joined hands
Miller Photography

Carol Callwood (center), the president of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers, spoke at the Delegate Assembly about the condition of schools in the Virgin Islands nine months after Hurricane Maria.

With the U.S. Supreme Court possibly days away from issuing a ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case, UFT President Michael Mulgrew urged chapter leaders and delegates at the May 16 Delegate Assembly to make sure members in their chapters understand what is at stake for them in the case.

The organizations behind the lawsuit are trying, he said, to deprive workers of their ability to come together and have a voice in the political process and at the bargaining table.

“Once our members have the facts, they will make good decisions,” Mulgrew said.

Observers expect the Supreme Court to rule against unions and give government workers across all states the option of declining to pay union fees even though they benefit from that union‘s contract negotiations and services.

Mulgrew said the goal of the right-wing groups funding the case is to weaken unions economically and, as a result, politically so that “the 1 percent controls everything.”

The teacher walkouts that began in West Virginia and spread to Arizona, North Carolina and other states, he said, are a testament to how profoundly public school funding and teacher pay and working conditions have deteriorated in “right-to-work” states where unions have been shackled by unfair labor laws.

“Do we want to be like these teachers who have nothing left to lose?” he said. “Or do we want to be out there leading the fight saying what public education and unionism should be?”

Mulgrew said the union has set the goal of having a one-on-one conversation with every single member to explain the facts in the Janus case and listen to their concerns. Members representing the union have knocked on the doors of 33,000 UFT members so far, and membership team ambassadors in every school are approaching members at the workplace.

When the decision comes down, he said, “Our destiny rests in our hands.”

He expressed confidence that UFT members would stick with their union when they understand the consequences for themselves and public education if they don’t pay their share of the costs of having a union.

“You only have the rights and benefits you do and you only have people fighting for you every day because you have a union,” he said. “If you take the union away, everything goes away.”

Delegates also heard from Carol Callwood, the president of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She thanked them for the donations that UFT members made to the UFT Disaster Relief Fund in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria last fall.

Callwood said students in the Virgin Islands are now packed into overcrowded schools after a number of schools were destroyed in the hurricane.

“We have 13 schools now being housed in eight buildings in St. Thomas, and they are on double sessions,” she said. “In St. Croix, it’s even worse, with 13 schools in five buildings, where they are running triple and even quadruple sessions.”

The union is even more important now to its members, she said.

“Solidarity is what we are built on,” she said, “and solidarity is what we will continue to stand on.”