Andrew Pallotta, a longtime union leader and a former Bronx elementary school teacher, has been elected the new president of New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT), the statewide affiliate of the Professional Staff Congress. Outgoing NYSUT President Karen Magee announced earlier this spring that she would not be serving a second term. Magee, NYSUT’s first woman president, will be heading a multi-union state and national effort that will focus on women’s issues in the workplace. Pallotta, who is a Kingsborough Community College and Brooklyn College graduate, will serve for a three-year term.
“I believe in being relevant, resilient and, above all, relentless,” Pallotta, who was most recently the union’s executive vice president, said in a speech to delegates at the union’s annual representative assembly (RA) in New York City. “We will never quit fighting for those we serve, or for each other.”
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
With more than 600,000 union members, NYSUT is a powerful force in state politics. Union members have successfully beaten back vouchers, fought against the state’s overreliance on standardized tests and successfully elected members to public office and to the Board of Regents. Pallotta told the education news site Chalkbeat that he expects a warmer relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, saying the rhetoric of Cuomo’s education reform agenda has been “toned down.” In his speech to union delegates, Pallotta recognized the tough road ahead, and said that member involvement is more important than ever in light of legal and political threats to public-sector unions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s agenda of promoting school choice and privatization of public schools.
In addition to the elections, the representative assembly is where convention delegates set NYSUT policy for the year ahead. The PSC sent more than two dozen delegates to the NYSUT RA, and they introduced several resolutions, including “ending the rank exploitation” of contingent faculty, support for members’ demands to designate schools and colleges as sanctuary institutions, opposing attempts to deny public funding based on constitutionally protected speech, eliminating the cap on Social Security wages, lobbying for federal legislation for paid family leave and seeking legislation so that Medicare can negotiate drug prices. All the resolutions were approved by RA delegates and become NYSUT policy.
The NYSUT RA also overwhelmingly approved a special order of business calling for a grassroots campaign to increase union membership in case of a possible Supreme Court decision that would invalidate the collection of fair share fees by public sector unions. PSC President Barbara Bowen, who introduced the resolution at the RA, talked about the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court with the recent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.
“His presence on the Supreme Court will lead to a ruling designed to attack public-sector unions, especially teacher unions,” Bowen told the assembly, as reported on NYSUT’s website. She talked about how losing the ability to collect fair share fees will affect public-sector unions. “If you have enough free riders, pretty soon you have nothing left to ride.”
Serving alongside Pallotta for the next three years are Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president and a sixth grade teacher in the Pittsford District in upstate New York; J. Philippe Abraham, first vice president and past director of career services at SUNY Albany; Paul Pecorale, second vice president and a Long Island teacher, and Martin Messner, secretary-treasurer and a teacher from Schoharie in upstate New York. RA delegates also elected members to NYSUT’s board of directors, and PSC President Barbara Bowen was reelected to the board, as were Iris DeLutro, Michael Fabricant and Steve London.