The union faced some of the gravest threats in its history over the past year. At Teacher Union Day, members celebrated how the UFT had emerged stronger than ever because they had banded together to face those challenges. Paula Albury, a UFT chapter leader at PS 57 in Manhattan attending her first Teacher Union Day, said the event had awakened her sense of union pride. “I want to go back and push even further at work and let my members know how important the union is,” said Albury, the leader of one of the 52 chapters honored this year with an Ely Trachtenberg Award this year.
More than 1,400 people gathered on Nov. 4 at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan to celebrate the founding members who built the UFT and to recognize the members who are leading the union into the future. The event is held on the first Sunday in November to mark the anniversary of the 1960 teachers’ strike that set the UFT into motion.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew spoke about what pride and purpose like Albury’s can achieve as he recounted the union’s accomplishments over the past year, including the defeat of a ballot proposal to hold a state constitutional convention, the winning of paid family leave in June and the UFT’s membership growth in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-union ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that same month.
“Together, we have made our school system stronger,” Mulgrew said. “Together we have made our political climate better here in New York.”
Carmen Alvarez, the UFT’s vice president for special education from 1990 until her retirement earlier this fall, received the Charles Cogen Award — the highest honor the union gives to a member — for her decades of advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities and the educators who work with them.
Alvarez ascribed the union’s successes to the people assembled in the room. “You’re the reason we’re able to attain these achievements,” she said. “This is a team that does not compete with each other but completes each other.”
“Carmen’s thing is to educate people at all times,” said Mulgrew. “Sit with them, listen, guide them through. She taught that to generations of union leaders.” The Audrey Chasen Award was bestowed on New York State Teacher of the Year Alhassan Susso. Susso, who emigrated from Gambia to New York State as a child, credits the teachers in his life for his journey from homelessness in Poughkeepsie to becoming a lauded public school teacher in the Bronx.
“What happens when a teacher chooses to focus on a student’s promise rather than the challenges?” asked Susso, who teaches social studies at International Community HS. “I am what happens.”
The 20 UFT members who spearheaded the union’s successful paid parental leave campaign received the David Wittes Award, given for outstanding courage, dedication and commitment to the union’s ideals. The Backer/Scheintaub Award, recognizing new teacher union leaders, was presented to 14 UFT members who went door-to-door to educate their fellow members about the Janus threat and the value of union membership. Marsh/Raimo Awards were given to six UFT members for notable political activism. Albert Lee Smallheiser Awards went to 10 members and field staff who have improved their colleagues’ working conditions.
Members with 50, 60 and 70 years of membership in the union were also recognized at the event, as were chapter leaders with 10, 20 and 25 years of service.
This year, the Jules Kolodny Award for extraordinary leadership and commitment to the labor movement was given to 25 #UnionProud school chapters that rose to the challenge of informing and mobilizing members in the months leading up to the Supreme Court ruling. The winning schools had strong membership teams as well as both 100 percent union membership and high levels of COPE contributions.
One of those chapters was PS 7 in Elmhurst, Queens, and Fredda Pichardo, a librarian and the chapter leader at the school, summed up why.
“We are a 100 percent union school,” she said, “because we 100 percent believe we are nothing without our union.”