“We can either be the greatest group of unionists
or the last group of unionists.”
The Wappingers Congress of Teachers has a new Home! After years of searching, on Tuesday March 31, 2015 the WCT closed on 280 New Hackensack Road, Wappingers Falls. The office is centrally located within our District, across from the airport for easier accessibility and to better serve the membership. The new facility substantially lowered the monthly expenses and vaunts many amenities for our members. I hope you took the opportunity to attend the open house: Thursday, October 22nd between 2:30-6:00 and enjoyed the free tour and refreshments. The new office is intended to be a professional and social gathering place for the members to share concerns and ideas and to make the WCT a stronger organization.
From July 19th to July 24th, the WCT was afforded the opportunity to participate in NYSUT’s intensive Local Action Project (LAP) conference in Saratoga N.Y. Jim Marrinan (Director of Political Action), Diane Di Chiara (Secondary-at-Large), Rena Finsmith (Senior Building Representative), Kerri Roger (Building Representative) and I spent a week working together along with our LRS Steven Berman and NYSUT leadership to align our Local’s activities with the program’s four pillars: member involvement, political action, community engagement and communication. The workshops and the tasks were demanding and required total concentration. We were also informed of the latest updates, critical to the labor movement and public education. Jim, Diane, Rena and Kerri worked rigorously to develop goals, a timeline of events to better educate and engage our members in positive interactive activities with our students, parents and community. Their passion, convictions and vision for the future of our union is truly valued and appreciated.
As one of the outcomes of the LAP program, the WCT should not be viewed only as an organization that a member turns to if in trouble, or as the protector of benefits and rights, contracts negotiations or a provider of services. Yes, we do and need all of the above because they are extremely vital and important to our members. However, to stop there, is to shortchange ourselves and slowly begin our demise. With this way of thinking, the WCT has become an “insurance policy” and the members its customers. We become passive instead of active partakers, event participants instead of fostering ongoing activities. I have also been guilty of promoting this philosophy. We have to change the rhetoric and the culture of our organization in order to endure the test of time. A shift in paradigm is needed! We must form and nurture relationships, create a positive experience and connect with our colleagues. Living in a world of “social media,” we often forget the importance of face to face interaction with the members. To further improve communication, LAP strongly recommends that our newsletter, The Commentator must be in print for every member to enjoy. Our goal should be to “Create a community working together to make the workplace and members lives better.”
On August 26th, we had the opportunity to welcome twenty-four new teachers to the district. We need to ask ourselves, do we want these new members to become customers of the WCT or lifelong unionists? Do we allow them to become idle members or activists with the integrity to take a stand for what is right in education and advocate for our students?
The attacks on labor unions, especially in the public sector are relentless and the scrutiny that we endure is unparalleled. A court case aimed to destroy labor unions is presently being argued in the United States Supreme Court. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association poses a potential threat to the strength of public-sector unions nationwide. What's at stake is the principle of “fair share.” Since 1997, unions largely have been allowed to collect dues from all private or public employees they represent. In New York State, the law says that if you choose not to be a union member, you must pay your "fair share” for the union’s work that benefits you. Those who object don't have to contribute to political or lobbying activities, but they must contribute for the unions' efforts in negotiating higher competitive salaries, benefits, working conditions, health and retirement benefits etc. in other words, contribute their fair share. In this session, the Court will render a decision that could send shockwaves in every public sector of employment. It will destroy a well-balanced “eco-system” that has been effective and productive in this Country for decades.
Can anyone of us be part of any organization in our community without paying dues? How would the organization survive, serve or address their members’ needs? Yet, this is what the United States Supreme Court is deciding. If the Court sides with Friedrichs, the outcome could be disastrous! Our members clearly understand the importance of BEING the union and the atrocities that our brothers and sisters bear in “right to work” states, where negotiated agreements are rarely respected.
Higher competitive salaries in unionized workplaces.
Health benefits, paid time off and retirement security are significantly better.
Unions have achieved due process and basic job protections non-existent in non-unionized workplaces.
Through unions, employees have a voice in safety, in working conditions and in ensuring high standards for their professions and in the services they provide.
Able to advocate for their students without fear of reprisal. ( NYSUT)
This is the final year of our contract, and we are hoping to commence negotiations as soon as possible. We invite the district to sit with us and work together as a team. Knowing the professional integrity of the WCSD leadership, I am confident that we will be able to reach an agreement that is both educationally sound and fiscally responsible to meet the needs of both the district and the members. We have put together a well-balanced negotiating team; the members are: Raymond Koretsky Flip Gertler, Michelle Ross, Brian La Susa and me with the able guidance and expertise of Steve Berman, NYSUT’S LRS. We are presently reviewing the surveys that will help us formulate a proposal that is reflective of your varied concerns and suggestions.
The leadership of the WCT and the WCSD have already met numerous times to address the inequities of the new proposed APPR to no avail. Both the district and the union have agreed to apply for a “hardship waiver” developed by SED, which allows the district to extend the November 15th deadline. The hardship waiver will be submitted by the district by October 30, 2015 to be approved by the November 15 deadline. A four month waiver will be provided to all districts bargaining in good faith. Waivers can be renewed until September 1, 2016. It is our intent to work towards this goal and to avoid a mid-year implementation in order to have adequate time to provide the members an evaluative instrument that is equitable and fair to be implemented in the 2016-2017 school year.