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‘Post-election tough days ahead’

New York Teacher
Former chapter leaders are honored at a morning reception.
Miller Photography

Former chapter leaders are honored at a morning reception.

Tom Murphy, the leader of the UFT Retired Teachers Chapter, called on the union’s most recent retirees assembled for the luncheon in their honor on Nov. 22 to stay active and united in the face of “the post-election tough days ahead.”

New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee urged the retirees to “organize, educate and mobilize” in the upcoming fight to protect public schools and to keep the rights and benefits that union members have fought so hard for.

“They will come at us any way they can,” she warned the 850 UFT members gathered to celebrate their retirement at the New York Hilton Midtown.

At a morning breakfast to honor newly retired chapter leaders, the focus was on an impending threat at the state level: the possible consequences for public employee pensions and public schools if voters approve an initiative on the ballot in November 2017 calling for a special convention to revise the New York State constitution. Murphy and Sandra March, a former Teachers’ Retirement System teacher trustee, pointed out that such a convention might eliminate the present constitutional guarantee that public employee pensions may be neither “diminished nor impaired.”

March told the retired chapter leaders they will be called on to participate in a campaign to vote “no” to a constitutional convention once we “get into high gear.”

Tina Puccio, the coordinator of the UFT’s Member Assistance Program, outlined another way that the retirees can stay active in the life of the union. MAP has a new volunteer program, Partners Through Experience, which pairs new teachers with recent retirees in an informal, nonjudgmental support program. She invited the new retirees to become part of the program by emailing or calling 1-212-701-9620.

Throughout the day, there was lots of talk among the new retirees of days past. Rena Liad said she enjoyed the collaborative atmosphere at PS 130 in Little Italy, Manhattan, where she was a chapter leader for 24 of her 32 years at the school. But she was not as happy about the data-driven Bloomberg years “that took all the joy out of teaching.”

“And God bless the union,” she added. “I would not have the life I have without my union benefits.”

Eileen Paradiso, a special education teacher for 30 years, remembered her tech-savvy husband asking her, “What kind of system is this?” as she labored hour after hour at home on the Special Education Student Information System, which the Department of Education is now in the process of revamping.

The chapter leader for 10 years at PS 153 in Coop City, the Bronx, Paradiso said that after trying for months to get the DOE to correct her pension payments, she turned to the UFT and within two weeks the correction was made and the money owed was paid. “The UFT is right there for you,” she said.

Even after he was no longer a chapter leader at George Westinghouse Technical HS in Brooklyn, where he spent 30 years as a guidance counselor, Martin Gahagan said he still acted like one, reassuring senior teachers worried about harassment. “You are safe, protected by the contract,” he said he would tell his colleagues. He remembered UFT President Michael Mulgrew, then a chapter leader himself, as “an informative and passionate instructor” at chapter leader training.

During lunch, retirees shared their plans for the days ahead. Lisam Ryan and Nancy Wagner, who were colleagues at PS 71 in Ridgewood, Queens, are enjoying 8-mile bicycle rides daily to Jones Beach. Edward Trerise, who taught at PS 17 in Astoria, Queens, said he plans to finish a fantasy novel he has in the works.

Congratulating and thanking the new retirees for their years of service, Murphy cited the 123 UFT retirees who are over 100 — including one who is 106. He quipped, “If you get out of the classroom alive, you can expect to live forever.

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