[ Social Justice ]

Organizing, union strength touted at international conference

Red square box shows a yellow curvy arrow pointing at black phrase that reads GO PUBLIC! (also two yellow triangular shapes beam out next to exclamation point) while below that is white phrase that reads FUND EDUCATION with a yellow curved line underneath; a red/black chunky size minimalist pencil illustration located at bottom under both phrases

YSUT Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham joined a distinguished panel of union leaders from across the globe to share experiences, analyze issues and discuss emerging workforce trends.

The 12th annual International Further and Higher Education and Research Conference, held in Mexico City, was co-hosted by Education International and its member organization, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educaciòn. The event brought together union leaders to strategize in support of a global Go Public! Fund Education campaign, an urgent call for governments to invest in public education as a fundamental human right.

Abraham, representing the American Federation of Teachers, led a workshop session titled “Effective Organizing Strategies in a Changing Workplace.” He saluted the work of the more than 300,000 AFT members working in higher education. “Higher education, via community colleges and our four-year public and private colleges and universities, is a public good that serves as a pathway to individual improvement, civic and democratic health and economic growth,” he noted.

An AFT vice president, Abraham highlighted the union’s 64 organizing wins in 2023.

“These victories make the AFT the nation’s fastest-growing health care union, the second-largest K-12 teacher union, and now, with our affiliate, the American Association of University Professors, the largest higher education union in the U.S.”

As evidence of the national union’s work on behalf of its members, he cited the recent contract win for United University Professions — its 42,000 members voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract in one of the largest vote totals ever recorded in the union’s 50-year history. UUP is NYSUT’s local representing faculty and staff within the State University of New York system. Abraham attributed the victory to what the union offers its members: a chance for faculty voices to be heard, and respect for their profession, their students, and their dedication to learning.

“We win because faculty are tired of increasing workloads, inconsistent management, stagnant pay, and anti-democratic policies like book bans and culture wars,” said Abraham. “Our members understand the basic maxim that together we can accomplish far more than we ever can alone.”

Such contract wins underscore the value of unionism and help with organizing efforts, he explained. Professionals are fighting back through organizing, political advocacy and local activism as education comes under assault from hostile state legislatures, partisan media, political extremists and sometimes even by university administrators themselves.

“Our union champions fairness, democracy, opportunity, public education, health care, and quality public services for our students, their families and communities,” said Abraham. “We advance these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism. The union’s deep commitment to ongoing grassroots advocacy on behalf of members is why AFT’s membership continues to grow.”

Led by President Randi Weingarten, the AFT represents more than 1.7 million professionals in education; federal, state and local government; and health care across the U.S. NYSUT is affiliated with both the AFT and the National Education Association.