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Bringing retired paras into the UFT fold

New York Teacher

The UFT has initiated an outreach program to determine how the union can best support retired paraprofessionals. The Retired Teachers Chapter includes approximately 7,600 paraprofessionals.

Shelvy Young-Abrams, the former Paraprofessionals Chapter leader and a new retiree herself, is thrilled that the UFT is connecting with retired paras who may have felt overlooked by their union. “Our outreach will help these members understand that the union is a valuable resource for them,” she said. “Even when you retire, you are still part of the UFT.”

Retired UFT vice president Carmen Alvarez, who is leading the initiative, believes that the UFT can fill pressing needs, both practical and social, for retired paraprofessionals. “We know that our paras were hit hard in the pandemic, and we want to make sure that they know the union is there to support them whether they’re in-service or retired,” she said.

In March and April, the union hosted a series of focus groups to ask retired paraprofessionals and paraprofessionals approaching retirement about the support that would be most useful to them in this stage of life.

Participants in the focus groups reported needing help navigating retirement paperwork and health challenges as well as wanting more opportunities for social activities and continued involvement in their communities.

Based on these answers, the UFT developed a survey, which was sent to retired paras over the summer, to further assess retirees’ needs. In the course of developing this survey, the outreach team discovered that about 2,200 retired paras were not receiving email communications from the UFT.

These paras received a letter with instructions on how to sign up for UFT emails. The team also created a special hotline for those retirees who needed one-on-one support to create a UFT website account, sign up for email from the UFT or fill out the survey.

The survey was completed by 735 retired paraprofessionals. The UFT will use the survey results to re-tool its approach to serving paraprofessionals near the end of their careers and in retirement.

Tom Murphy, the chair of the Retired Teachers Chapter, echoed Alvarez’s message of inclusion. “The UFT should be a seamless union in which all the constituent parts are as important as the whole,” he said. “So the paras are as important as the teachers, and the retirees are as important as the in-service.”

Roseann Fauci, who retired in 2022 from IS 204 in Queens, was among those who completed the survey.

She said she appreciates the outreach from the union, because earlier this year she was struggling to navigate the application process for Summer Rising. After filling out the survey, she called the hotline, and UFT staffers helped her secure a summer job near her home. “It’s an excellent program,” she said of the outreach initiative. “The UFT has been wonderful.”