Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Report from a First Time Union Delegate
By: Chris Willems
“We are fighting a battle of immense proportions that threatens to destroy all we and others in the labor movement have worked for.  This battle is ultimately over who holds power in our economy and our democracy.  It is a battle to reclaim the promise of America.”
                  -AFT CT Resolution on Member Engagement


I am a science teacher in New Haven, CT and am thrilled to have an active role as a national delegate within our local union #933, the New Haven Federation of Teachers.  Eric Maroney and I are first-time delegates, and our responsibilities include attending state and national conventions as the representative voices of our brothers and sisters in the New Haven Federation of Teachers.  It has been a fascinating and energizing experience.  I am going to share an update on what I learned this summer, and I challenge you to engage in the dialogue.
On Saturday May 21, 2016, AFT CT hosted the annual business convention at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville, CT.  Our business involved recognizing affiliates who represented the approximately 30,000 AFT CT members in attendance, approving the minutes from the last convention, amending our constitution, and passing resolutions.
The theme “Reclaiming our Solidarity” rippled through the presentations and celebrations.  AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier spoke of how firefighters have aligned with paraprofessionals to strengthen local unions. I was inspired by the stories Lori told and began to think about ways in which our own union can partner with others in the New Haven community to benefit those we serve.
On a more sobering note, we were reminded to prepare for more legal cases targeting labor unions for elimination.  A Supreme Court case from this past spring that many of our members may have heard about in the national press, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, would likely have been decided against unions had Justice Antonin Scalia not died unexpectedly.  The case was decided 4-4.  This means unions will be able to continue to automatically charge members the agency fees.
With regard to issues specific to education, AFT National president Randi Weingarten celebrated the new federal education law, “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA), and said it promises to decouple high stakes standardized tests from teacher evaluation.  Ms. Weingarten encouraged us to get involved in the implementation of ESSA in CT.  She said the “starve and privatize” strategy of 20 years ago is dead and we are now in a new era.  She spoke of the power of community schools and the potential under ESSA to adopt the practices of the Performance Assessment Consortium of NYC.  http://performanceassessment.org/
Ms. Weingarten spoke of the pain caused by the job-killing 2016 CT state budget.
There are over $830 million dollars in cuts:  Education Cost Sharing was cut by 34 million (5.7% cut); $7 million was cut from the Technical High School System; higher education and Medicare are also facing deep cuts.
She suggested we turn our legitimate anger against Governor Dannel Malloy to action.  She suggested we “fight the really bad things and fight harder for the good things”.   Specifically, she suggested we call out the legislators who voted for Malloy’s harmful budget.  To that end, AFT CT is interviewing politicians before giving endorsements for the fall.  Visit http://aftct.org for opportunities to get involved.
As AFT CT delegates, we passed very powerful, worker-centered resolutions on climate change, community engagement, member engagement, teacher leadership, and teacher diversity.  This year, we plan to focus on supporting these resolutions and making them come alive in New Haven.  Our first event will be joining AFT CT on Thursday, October 6 for school “Walk Ins” as part of our Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS).  http://www.reclaimourschools.org
The last exciting news at the AFT CT meeting was seeing NHFT leadership learn about the powerful online “Toolkit” for membership and training.   These web tools are available on mobile devices and will allow our local to more efficiently communicate and organize!
The AFT National Convention was held in Minneapolis from July 18-21, 2016 and was a HUGE event!  Eric and I knew it was going to be big, but we were blown away by the amazing diversity and the passion that members brought to the presentations and debates. There were 2,600 delegates representing 1.6 million teachers and healthcare workers.  We had the opportunity to hear from giants of union activism such as Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers, as well as Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton!   Each day, the convention center was filled with passionate workers from all over our country, and most notably the red-shirt wearing Chicago Teachers Union delegates!  CTU represented unified teacher resistance in action.  Next time, we will have NHFT tee shirts!
I chose to serve on the Labor and the Economy Committee.  At the convention, we moved three resolutions: Attacking Income Inequality, Opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Achieving Tax Fairness by Cracking Down on Offshore Tax Havens.  My fellow first-time delegate, Eric Maroney, served on the Organizing and Collective Bargaining Committee.  All passed resolutions are at http://www.aft.org/about/resolutions.  We will be following the legislative and organizing actions AFT takes to advance these critical issues.  Before the next convention in 2018 in Pittsburgh, we will have the opportunity to propose new action resolutions.
When I first arrived at the convention, I was thrilled to see a table announcing the formation of a new caucus.  Our AFT-BATs caucus will collaborate to advance our work as pro-public education teacher activists.
At the convention, Badass Teacher leaders, Marla Kilfoyle and Jamy Brice-Hyde, shared the results of this year’s BATS/AFT Quality-of Worklife survey of 30,000 educators http://www.aft.org/news/survey-shows-need-national-focus-workplace-stress.  These distressing survey results are a powerful reminder that a teacher’s work environment is also our students’ learning environment.  We need to be kind and take care of one another – all our school colleagues and students!
Please contact me or any other member of the NHFT Community Action Now committee.  NHFT CAN is excited for the Thursday, October 6 “Walk Ins”.
I look forward to continuing to serve as a delegate.  I’m closing with another quote from the AFT CT Resolution on Member Engagement:
“Our soul, our heart, our courage and our power lie with our members and our communities, and always have.”
I believe our solidarity with one another and our New Haven community is more important in these uncertain times.  There are powerful forces jockeying for influence and money.  We must support one another and be supported, so we can continue to provide direct support to our students.

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