From the AFT CT Blog

From the AFT Connecticut Blog
- Matt O'Connor

It was a shooting at a high school in Michigan in 2021 that compelled union activists to co-found Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence. Together, they sought to elevate stories of gun violence in schools and communities in order to change policies. They additionally committed to making resources and support available to educators, support staff and students who face the possibility of gun violence daily.

Co-founders and activists with the organization gathered last month in Washington, D.C., for our national union’s biennial TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) conference. There they led a workshop titled, “Speaking of Gun Violence: How Do We Ensure Educator Voices Matter?,” and shared their stories of organizing and empowering educators to raise their voices.

Click here to learn more about, join and support Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence.

Abbey Clements (second from right, in photo), a veteran elementary school teacher and survivor of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, told attendees that surviving that fateful day was just the beginning. She and her fellow survivors had to deal with the repercussions.

“The aftermath is trying to figure out what your path forward is in this new normal,” Clements, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Newtown Federation of Teachers, said. That meant bringing educators into the discussion around gun violence because, in her mind, they were the “missing piece.”

The increasing number of school shootings motivated Clements to connect with educator colleagues and encourage them to start a national organization for teachers, by teachers, focused on ending the violence. That led to co-founding and eventually serving as Teachers Unify’s executive director.

Click here for our local Newtown teachers union president’s letter in response to last year’s Uvalde, TX school shooting.

“Gun violence has affected every single one of us in this room, directly or indirectly,” said Teachers Unify co-founder and New York City high school history teacher Sari Beth Rosenberg (right).

“My son was in first grade when Sandy Hook happened. You never think that something like this will happen to you…and then it did,” said Sarah Lerner (second from left), a 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor.

“When the news cycle changes, your school isn’t front and center anymore. There’s just so much that schools and communities need, but no one asks us what those things are,” added Lerner, also a Teachers Unify co-founder and an English teacher.

Click here for an on-demand webinar featuring Clements, Lerner and others aimed at supporting victims of gun violence.

La-Shanda West (left), a social studies teacher in Miami and a Teachers Unify ambassador who is also a survivor of gun violence, encouraged attendees to have the “uncomfortable conversations.” As a candidate for school board in a recent election, she used her voice and platform to tell her story and to make sure that her community understands that gun violence is unacceptable.

“You have a right to live in a community where you’re safe and secure,” said West. “And we need to hold policymakers accountable at all levels; not just local, but state and national, as well.”

Elevating educator stories is an integral part of Teachers Unify, added Clements. “If people don’t know what’s going on in your classrooms, what your students are dealing with, even in a broad way, then they can just normalize this,” she said. “Or they can just pretend it’s not happening. But you are the experts, you know what’s happening.”

Click here for recent press reporting on Clements’ policy advocacy with Teachers Unify.

Photo credit: Sari Beth Rosenberg

Editor’s note: includes contributions by Adrienne Coles, AFT

The post Speaking Out on Gun Violence first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- Matt O'Connor

The combination of solidarity, persistence and patience is a potent formula for fueling labor-management negotiations aimed at substantially moving the needle for union members. That has proven to be the case for several recent contract wins featuring significant economic gains. Our latest collective bargaining report spotlights a victory rooted in unity and tenacity by paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRP) union members.

In late May, members of our affiliated Westbrook Federation of Non-Certified Personnel gathered at the High School to vote on a tentative agreement with district officials for a new contract. Local union leaders and AFT Connecticut Field Representative Mike Ozga (in photo above, seated second from right) presented the terms of the five-year pact won after more than six months of challenging negotiations.

“We fought for all, not just some, of our members,” said local president and treasurer Maggie Vincent (seated at far left). “This whole process really proved the importance of being patient and not giving up,” she added.

Vincent’s remarks refer to progress made at the negotiating table for the entirety of their diverse membership, which includes nearly 70 district employees with over a dozen different job titles. The local, which she spearheaded in organizing 27 years ago, represents nearly all non-certified personnel supporting student learning in the community’s three schools.

“I think this contract showed that our union is for all,” added vice president and negotiating committee member Nancy Guindon (seated in middle). “We look out for the best interests and the betterment for everybody, not just one particular group,” she added.

Across the board gains that Vincent, Guindon and their committee colleagues secured include annual general wage increases for each year of the contract. They also reached agreement with district officials to keep employees’ medical benefit contributions well below the expected rise of market costs, including three years without any hikes.

“I think we did an amazing job and members are thrilled with how we held the line on insurance,” added Vincent, who works as the Westbrook High School principal’s secretary.

The new contract also included historic pay raises for paraeducators and school nurses, two positions plagued by high turn-over due to low wages and challenging conditions.

“We were losing paras and people weren’t coming here for para jobs; our students were hurting,” said Guindon, a paraeducator at Daisy Ingraham Elementary School. “That’s why these wage increases were so important,” she added.

Committee members additionally won boosted homework room coverage stipends and additional family sick and bereavement leave for all.

Members overwhelmingly ratified the tentative collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which was then formally adopted by the district’s board of education (BOE) the following week. Its provisions went into effect on July 1 when their previous contract expired.

Click here for our announcement of the agreement’s final approval by the BOE.

Since our previous quarterly report in late April, 14 additional collective bargaining victories have been announced on our state federation’s social media platforms. One additional settlement remains in progress to be publicized once final.

Click here for the announcement of our Municipal Unions Coalition’s pension reform legislation signed into law.

Click here for a graphic promoting our West Hartford Federation of Residential Counselors’ new contract.

Click here for the kudos to our Milford Federation of Paraeducators on securing their new agreement.

Click here for the announcement of our Norwalk Federation of Teachers’ agreement on a new health plan.

Click here for our American School for the Deaf (ASD) teachers’ contract win announcement.

Click here for the graphic celebrating our Avon Educational Support Personnel’s new CBA.

Click here for our Winchester Federation of Paraprofessionals members contract win announcement.

Click here for the announcement of our Vernon Federation of Paraprofessionals members securing a new agreement.

Click here for photos of Newtown Federation of Education Personnel members ratifying their new contract.

Click here for the announcement of Newtown Schools Custodians and Maintenance Federation members securing their new agreement.

Click here for a graphic celebrating final adoption of our Hartford Federation of Substitutes’ new contract.

Click here for the announcement of contract wins for two of our Prospect-ECHN Workers United’s bargaining units.

Click here for photos of our Simsbury Federation of Education Personnel members ratifying their new contract.

The post Standing Up “For All, Not Just Some” to Produce Big Returns first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- Matt O'Connor

While AFT Connecticut’s annual convention is an opportunity for state federation leadership to take action on priority policy initiatives, it’s also a time to lift up members. The 2023 event’s agenda included a return to the announcement of scholarship program winners as well as the presentation of citations, recognitions and awards. The theme of the event – “Charging Up!” – perfectly captured the engagement, energy and enthusiasm of this year’s well-deserved honorees.

The announcement of our state federation’s scholarship recipients featured remarks by George C. Springer, Jr., who presented the grant named after his father and longtime AFT Connecticut leader. Before introducing grant winner Emily Benson, he shared one of the most valuable lessons he learned growing up in a union household; “nothing changes unless we change it.”

Click here to watch highlights of this year’s scholarships presentation.

Local unions and state federation staff celebrating milestone anniversaries were also recognized, in addition to the many delegates who engaged in grassroots legislative action during the General Assembly’s 2023 session.

Click here for photos of delegations presented with commemorative citations.

Click here for a photo of legislative activists gathered at the convention.

Both recipients of Connecticut’s statewide educators of the year are members of affiliated local unions and their presidents were asked to speak to their respective accomplishments during the awards program. Our Bristol Federation of Teachers’ Carolyn Kielma and our Meriden Federation of Teachers’ Don Askew were each praised for their collective commitment to “helping youth become better humans.”

Click here for a press interview with Askew following the announcement of his selection.

Click here for recent news coverage featuring Kielma’s views on challenges facing her profession.

Our Hartford Federation of Teachers’ second vice president, Stuart Beckford, was presented as 2023 “Unionist of the Year” for consistently “seeking out ways to further the labor movement’s vital work.” Among the many contributions cited by local president Carol Gale was his recent work to establish and grow a Black Caucus within our state federation.

Click here for a photo of Beckford with his award and fellow delegates.

The 2023 Joseph H. Soifer Award was presented to Chad Cardillo, who currently serves as our Meriden Federation of Teachers vice president for secondary schools. His extensive engagement in AFT Connecticut’s political program was among the numerous examples of labor activism that local president Lauren Mancini-Averitt credited for his nomination and eventual selection.

Click here for a photo of Cardillo receiving our annual Soifer award.

Longtime labor activist and local leader Leslie Blatteau (left, in photo above) received the 2023 President’s Award in recognition of her extensive union service, social justice advocacy and political engagement. In addition to her role heading our New Haven Federation of Teachers, she serves on AFT Connecticut’s executive committee and our national AFT’s Program and Policy Committee for PreK-12 educators.

In her presentation, state federation president Jan Hochadel (right, in photo) credited Blatteau for her “upbeat, can-do nature” and devoting seemingly “boundless” energy to her activism.

Two additional union leaders each received a “Special Recognition Award” during the program. Hochadel thanked our state federation’s outgoing PreK-12 divisional vice president, Mary Yordon, for embodying what it means to apply “solution driven union” principles to our policy advocacy.

Click here for a photo of Yordon receiving her award.

AFT Connecticut’s departing secretary-treasurer, David Hayes, was also recognized for his steady oversight and guidance during uncertain times.

Click here for the full “Awards” report provided at the event to convention delegates.

The post Recognizing Activists Who “Further the Labor Movement’s Vital Work” first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- webadmin

The 2023 General Assembly session ended on June 7th with the passage of a biennial state budget that included legislation aimed at unsafe staffing in hospitals and health facilities. The provisions were initially included in a proposal supported by AFT Connecticut-affiliated union activists, as well as workplace safety and patient care advocates. Governor Ned Lamont signed the package into law on June 12th, empowering bedside health professionals to achieve safer care in their facilities.

“For years, healthcare workers in our union have demanded that the owners of hospital corporations put patients over profits and end short staffing,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “Our healthcare workers are exhausted and frustrated trying to do multiple jobs at once, and they are leaving the profession – making the situation even worse. As these workers courageously called out, this crisis is not inevitable. It is a choice the hospital corporations are making. That is why I was proud to cast a vote to help east the ‘Code Red’ crisis in care. It is good for healthcare workers; more importantly, it is good for the patients they serve,” added Hochadel, who also represents the 16th district in the state Senate. 

Click here to read our press release following Gov. Ned Lamont’s signing of the state budget. 

The original bill, An Act Concerning Adequate and Safe Health Care Staffing, faced stiff opposition from both the health industry lobby and Republican state legislators. Revisions negotiated by key lawmakers on the General Assembly’s joint public health committee gained strong, bipartisan support before being included in the 2023-24 state budget implementer. 

Click here to watch the top Republican senator on the legislature’s public health committee praise the updated legislation. 

“These provisions in the state budget will help recuit and retain bedside caregivers,” said Sherri Dayton, RN, president of our Backus Federation of Nurses and AFT Connecticut Vice President of Healthcare. “As conditions at the bedside grew worse, more and more healthcare workers left the profession. By empowering hands-on healers to help set care standards and removing mandatory overtime language from union contracts, our patients can expect the level of care they deserve,” added Dayton, a registered nurse at the Plainfield emergency care center. 

The new statutory language requires hospital staffing committees to be made up ofa majority of clinical care providors who will propose and vote on their facility’s staff-to-patient ratios. Those will then be reported to the state health department – and if not met 80% of the time, administrators will face fines. Additionally, it strengthens the prohibition on mandatory overtime (OT) while allowing voluntary OT for health professionals.

In mid May, activists from several healthcare local unions took to the State Capitol in Hartford to urge lawmakers to support the original proposal. In one-on-one conversations they shares personal stories of working at the bedside inside of Connecticut’s hospitals.

Click here for a collage from our “Safe Patient Limits” lobby day. 

This action allowed weeks of members’ online outreach to their elected representatives in which they provided critial insight into their daily struggle to meeting patients’ needs. The letter-writing efford was preceded by a hearing in late March on the initial bill where an unprecedented number of caregivers testified to the public health committee. In their brief statements, nurses and health professionals made emotional and compelling arguments, setting the state for an overwhelming majority of lawmakers to eventually embrace safe patient limits. 

Click here for our video ad with highlights of members’ powerful testimony. 

Union activists kicked-off this latest grassroots legislative action with a new briefing at the State Capitol in late January, where they were joined by AFT’s national president and legislative leaders. They collectively committeed then to what has become a successful effort to dramatically improve their work lives for the better.

The post Securing “Safe Patient Limits” with a Strong New Law first appeared on AFT Connecticut.

- webadmin

Despite a record state budget surplus, Governor Ned Lamont’s proposed fiscal blueprint calls for destructive cuts to public higher education. Louise Williams (middle, in photo below), the president of our affiliated CSU-AAUP in a recently published opinion piece warned of the consequences; faculty and staff layoffs, student tuition hikes, program cuts and campus closures. She urged action so that “Rome does not have to burn in 21st-century Connecticut:”

As a teacher of history, I often hear that “history will judge.” My students know the legend of the Roman Emperor Nero, who set fire to his capital city and played his fiddle unconcerned as he watched it burn around him. Gov. Ned Lamont is on the verge of earning a similarly unflattering reputation.

The two-year budget that Lamont unveiled in January appears magnanimous on the surface. Shiny pennies in the form of income tax cuts are thrown from the Capitol building to all the residents of the state. These cuts will cost the state $450 million per year. But their impact will hardly be momentous. Individual residents will save a mere $300-600 dollars.

Click here for recent press reporting on the debate over the governor’s budget proposals.

Certainly, lower income families will benefit; the extra money clearly will help those who are living paycheck to paycheck in a state with the worst inequality in the country. But what about Fairfield County’s multi-millionaires? An extra $300 buys a nice lunch at a restaurant in New York City. But will this stimulate Connecticut’s economy? And will this be what the people of Connecticut remember about Lamont in years to come? Probably not, because these tax cuts result in inadequate funding of – and even cuts to – K-12 and public higher education.

Because of the spending cap, we aren’t supposed to touch the $3 billion surplus. So after $450 million in the governor’s tax income giveaways, only $57 million are left to pay for everything else in the budget. Apparently, Governor Lamont has decided that the popularity he may gain from tax cuts is more important than ensuring a brighter future for Connecticut’s children and young people and is preferable to contributing to business success and the economic strength of the state.

What happens when our elected leaders prioritize popularity over people? I can give an example from what I know best, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU). Under the governor’s budget it has been estimated that the system will have to lay off 600-800 faculty and staff, close programs, cut courses, and increase class sizes just to make ends meet.

​​Click here for reporting on threatened cuts to CSCU’s higher education services.

Even that wouldn’t be enough to close the gap: tuition could be raised by 10% each year for the next three years —an increase never seen before in our state. All of this will have a devastating impact. Many students will not be able to afford to go to college or university. Those who do manage to attend will find hollowed out institutions, stripped of the support students need to complete their degrees. A generation of Connecticut working- and middle-class young people will be denied the higher salaries, health, and happiness that higher education is proven to deliver. And once the destruction of the system starts, there is no ending it. Declining enrollments will lead to further cuts and shrinking opportunities.

This is especially devastating now, when students have suffered so much educationally and emotionally under the virtual learning conditions of the pandemic. Now, more than ever, they need additional support and faculty attention, not less. It is uncertain that this generation of students will be able to overcome these obstacles without a stronger and better-funded education system.

Click here for photos from a recent press conference unions organized to expose the cuts’ harm.

Moreover, Governor Lamont’s short-term popularity grab also does not consider the future economic well-being of most people in our state. Every day we hear cries of workforce shortages in key industries that require employees with education and training. There is a desperate need for teachers, nurses, engineers. But this workforce is trained in our public colleges and universities. Our students are Connecticut residents, almost 90% of whom stay in the state. Without an adequately funded public higher education system, this skilled workforce will never grow to meet the need. Connecticut businesses will not be able to compete with those in other states with stronger educational systems. Why did Lego, like so many other big companies, leave Connecticut and move to Massachusetts? They left in search of a better trained workforce in a state with a superior public education system.

Click here for reporting on the recent “moral budget” rally featuring union activists. 

We ask that legislators help Governor Lamont rethink this budget. He must put Connecticut’s future first, before his own popularity. He must invest in public education so that our young people can recover from a devastating pandemic and so our businesses can be competitive.

And Governor Lamont should remember that history not only judges, it also does not forget. He could build a legacy as the “Education Governor,” not the education destroyer. Rome does not have to burn in 21st-century Connecticut. But Governor Lamont must act before it is too late.

Click here for Williams’ original published commentary in CT Viewpoints.

The post “Ensuring a Brighter Future” through Equitable Investments first appeared on AFT Connecticut.