The Retired Teachers Chapter continues its extensive outreach to its 70,000 members across the country to help ensure their health and safety in the pandemic.
“In times of crisis, member engagement is most important,” said RTC Chapter Leader Tom Murphy. “It is about personal well-being and, in some cases, survival.”
The chapter has mounted an ambitious campaign to call every UFT retiree, starting with those over age 80, to make sure each one is safe, being cared for and coping with the social isolation that the pandemic requires.
The phone call initiative, started in Florida, was immediately seen as the best way to help retirees in the present crisis and was expanded to include the oldest retirees everywhere.
Calls are being made daily by RTC staffers and volunteers to reach the 6,748 retirees who live in New York City. RTC coordinators in sections across the country have set up their own calling networks. Puerto Rico reported that it has reached all 100 of its retirees over age 80 living there.
“The phone calls we are making are the lifelines of camaraderie,” said Murphy.
While most retirees have told the union that they are safe and cared for, when a caller finds a UFT retiree with a problem, the retiree is referred to a social worker in the UFT Retiree Social Services Department, headed by Christopher Chin. Some retirees need help getting food while others need information about their health benefits related to coronavirus testing and treatment, Chin said.
A good number of the retirees have taken the UFT up on its offer of once-a-week, follow-up phone calls. But no matter what their situation, retirees appreciate the call, Chin said.
“Retirees appreciate the human contact and most just want to talk,” Tampa Bay retiree activist Christine Rowland said.
An email was sent on April 1 to all retirees encouraging them to call the union’s Retiree Social Services Department at 212-598-6880, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., to speak to a social worker about any individual concerns.
The email also encouraged retirees to check out the resources created by the UFT Member Assistance Program to help manage stress and anxiety at www.uft.org/coronavirus-self-care.
A special Florida edition of the RTC newsletter was sent to 2,000 West Coast Florida retirees and was posted on the Facebook group for East Coast retirees. The newsletter listed contact information for UFT resources plus Florida resources and hotlines. It also informed retirees about the senior hours established at local grocery stores and the home delivery of prescription drugs now offered by many local pharmacies.
Murphy offered words of encouragement and hope. “We union members of a certain age have been through many struggles,” said Murphy. “If we all reach out to one another in solidarity, we can overcome this.”