Solidarity — a commitment to stand together

UFT Vice President Anne Goldman (standing, left) speaks with (clockwise, standing from second left) Visiting Nurse Services Chapter Chair Cora Shillingford, Barbara Wisdom, Mary Leddy, Maria Cruz and Simone McGowan just prior to a VNS contract negotiating session in Manhattan on Jan. 7. The chapter’s contract expires on Jan. 31.

by Anne Goldman

I am honored to represent you, our union’s approximately 40,000 members who are not employed by the Department of Education, as the UFT’s first-ever vice president for non-DOE members. Although we are called the United Federation of Teachers, we are a union of professionals and encompass far more than just teachers and other DOE employees. We are family child care providers who care for children from low-income families in our homes; licensed practical nurses and registered nurses at private hospitals and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York; administrative law judges; and educators in a variety of private and charter school settings, to name a few.

Our union has vigorously represented us for many years, fighting alongside us as we have organized new members and demanded fair pay and better working conditions. Now, through the UFT’s new division for non-DOE members, we will have our own unique voice through which we can increase our fellow UFT members’ and the general public’s awareness of the hard work that we do every day.

The common theme that unites us across our diverse professions is our fight to shape the conditions under which we work so that we can better serve our patients, students and communities. Whatever our particular job, it is the voice we attain by belonging to a union that allows us to protect ourselves and those we serve.

Our union advocacy strengthens our voice in each area that we represent members. Our DOE colleagues benefit from our commitment to providing quality health care to them, their students and communities. Good health care is a basic civil right for all and is an essential part of quality of life. The early childhood education offered by our providers forms the basis for academic and social success for the children in their care. Our charter-school and private-sector members also contribute to the educational arena by strengthening our union voice and establishing standards that provide access and support to all our UFT members and the students they serve. That strength continues to grow with our union advocacy and raises the quality of life in our communities.

All UFT members are confronting the anti-labor union animus in our country. Just as UFT members in public schools were under attack from Mayor Bloomberg and his Department of Education, so we, too, are under attack in our respective areas of work, especially in the private sector. Our employers and the powers that be seek to divide us and destroy our union. But we stand united to hold our employers — whether the CEOs of hospitals or the boards of charter schools — accountable to us and those we serve.

We have chosen to join the UFT because we know we are stronger and better able to resist this assault against us and our professions if we stand together. Many of us know what it is like to work without a union and without the protections and the voice that a union provides. Together we are a countervailing force against our employers in their campaigns to drive down our wages and eliminate the benefits for which we have fought so hard.

The issues we face are various and unique to our specific workplaces. In our private and charter schools, we must fight for fair pay, better working conditions, more and better professional development and respect for our rights on the job. Our child care providers are engaged in a battle for better pay, fair treatment from child care networks and quality professional development. Meanwhile, our nurse members fight for better nurse-patient ratios and increased time with their patients so they can provide the highest quality care. Our nurse members also fight to preserve their benefits that are routinely on the chopping block.

Whatever our needs in our diverse workplaces, our union is committed to addressing them. In all cases, we must fight for strong contracts that protect us and for the correct tools — the newest technology for our health-care workers, quality curricula for our charter and private school teachers and more and better professional development for our family child care providers — that allow us to do our jobs.

And we must support each other and our colleagues who work without the benefit of a union. Solidarity is not just a word; it implies a commitment to stand together as we face the myriad challenges confronting us. If we are to be strong, we must also stand in solidarity with educators, health-care workers and others who seek the protection of a union and commit to organizing them and welcoming them into our UFT family.

I promise that as your new vice president, I will always stand in solidarity with you, whatever your fight. I know that you will always be there for each other as we work together to improve our lives, the lives of those we serve and the lives of those working people not in our union who seek our help.

I look forward to serving you. Know that my door is always open, whatever your questions or concerns.

Originally published in the January 16, 2014 New York Teacher issue