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President's Perspective

The joy of coming together

New York Teacher
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

UFT President Michael Mulgrew

On May 24, thousands of UFT members showed up at our simultaneous contract rallies in all five boroughs to make their voices heard. We joined together in a sea of blue with handmade signs, rallying cries and a determination to fight for more respect, more autonomy, fair raises and better working conditions. But there was something else present in the crowd on that day: There was joy. Joy in the act of coming together and joy in hearing the sound of our voices reverberate when we speak up at the same time.

In Manhattan, we filled the square in front of the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., State Office Building. In Staten Island, members fanned out along the boardwalk. The steps leading up to Brooklyn Borough Hall were covered in blue, while a ring of members surrounded speakers who called out chants and even led line dances. Drivers honked their support as they drove by the throng in front of Queens Borough Hall. And in the Bronx, as members rallied at the entrance to Virginia Park, the operators of the subway trains passing along the overhead tracks sounded their horns in solidarity.

In our negotiations, the presence of our activism that day was felt. The representatives from the city and the DOE that we see across the bargaining table know that our union negotiators have a strong and united membership behind them as they fight for what members need and deserve.

I have watched our activism unfold throughout our contract fight, and it’s been a constant reminder of what it means to be a part of this union. Each of our Days of Action this school year built on the one before: from wearing blue for a fair contract in October, to our teach-ins in late January, to bringing our grading and other paperwork to parks and other public places in March, to handing out fliers about excessive DOE mandates in April.

We started organizing inside our schools, activating each other and developing a common base of knowledge about contract negotiations. Then we moved outside to make our work visible to our communities and ask for their support. Then we came together on May 24 to show our strength and unity.

Our chapter leaders and Contract Action Team members met for hours planning and taking ideas back to their members before each of our actions. It was a true blueprint for what activism is and entails. We cannot forget this playbook — we will need to follow it to meet all the challenges that lie ahead.

We will have to stay mobilized and organized to make sure the DOE abides by the class-size bill signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul in September 2022. The DOE has five years to fully implement the new class size caps: 20% of classrooms must come into compliance this September and an additional 20% in each of the four subsequent years. By September 2028, all New York City classrooms must be capped at 20 students in kindergarten to grade 3, 23 students in grades 4–8 and 25 students in grades 9-12.

We know that reducing class size is the single most important thing we can do to improve teaching and learning. It’s a terrible inequity that New York City class sizes are so much larger than class sizes in the rest of the state. But we also know that the DOE cannot be left to its own devices to do what’s right. It will be up to us to hold its feet to the fire.

We were reminded of a few things on May 24: That even though we have a diverse membership, we have shared beliefs about what we need and deserve. That when we raise our voices together, we become impossible to ignore. That when we show up and ask for the support of our communities, they get behind us.

The stakes are high in our contract fight. The future of our city is in our schools: When we fight for ourselves, we are fighting for our students and our communities.

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