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President's Perspective

The power of unity

New York Teacher

It’s June, and the forces of corporate greed are putting forth a barrage of misinformation about unions and union membership. There is a lot at stake: Our profession, our public schools and our ability to take care of ourselves and our families.

It’s been a year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus ruling, and the UFT has weathered it remarkably well. But we can’t grow complacent.

If any of our colleagues seem to be weakening on the importance of their membership in the UFT, let’s remind them of the facts.

Because of the UFT, we have access to premium-free health insurance with low out-of-pocket costs — a rarity these days. In addition, the UFT Welfare Fund provides supplemental health benefits, including dental and optical care and prescription drugs, to 400,000 people.

We have all read about families going bankrupt because of devastating illnesses or people with chronic medical conditions raising money for medication on GoFundMe. Without a union, people are at the mercy of the market and their employer.

How many stories have we read about companies that file for bankruptcy, while workers expecting a pension find that shareholders have first dibs on that money? Our defined-benefit pension plan — a benefit that the union fought for and diligently protects — ensures you can retire comfortably.

Premium-free health insurance and a defined-benefit pension were neither gifts nor handouts. We earned them by coming together as a union and making it clear that these benefits were what teachers and other members of the municipal unions deserved as workers and residents of New York City.

Who are the people who want our members to quit their union and are flooding mailboxes with fliers and Facebook with ads?

The Janus ruling was part of a coordinated strategy to gut workers’ rights and benefits, funded by the Koch brothers, the DeVos family and other right-wing billionaires. These are the people, using supposedly independent intermediaries, who are now trying to convince public employees to act against their own interests and quit their union.

These billionaires know that labor unions are a powerful countervailing force that can challenge them and help ensure that the voices of ordinary people are heard. They want to weaken unions because we pose an obstacle to their goals of privatization and deregulation and an unfettered market that puts shareholder interest above the common good. And of course, these are the same people who are pushing charter schools and private-school vouchers at the expense of public schools.

Unions set the standard for how working people should be treated, protected and compensated. A strong union lifts all boats. It’s up to us to make sure that our fellow UFT members and the new hires in September know these facts.

The anti-union forces would like to take away our union protections and benefits under the guise of “freedom” and “choice.” When a billionaire makes that argument, it’s time to check your wallet.

Our power is a product of our unity. We can protect what we’ve earned only by standing together.