UFT Unity: A Real Social Justice Caucus

Paraprofessionals are a vital part of the New York City’s public schools – and of the UFT. They perform an essential role in the education of our students, especially those with the greatest academic and social needs. In our classrooms and schools, they are partners of teachers in the educational process.

Yet it has been a long and hard struggle for paraprofessionals – predominantly Black and Brown working class women who live in the communities their schools serve – to win respect and dignity on the job, with fair treatment from the NYC Department of Education. Only one caucus, UFT Unity, has a solid record of commitment to that struggle, with real achievements to show.

In the last year, the UFT efforts won the passage of state legislation that automatically included full-time paraprofessionals in the TRS pension system, obtaining for paras the secure, dignified retirement that other NYC educators already had. This victory was the result of years of hard political work, both in electing supportive legislators and in lobbying for this change – all led by the UFT Unity team. It was UFT Unity Chapter Leaders, Delegates, retirees and rank-and-file members that did the election campaign work of going door-to-door and staffing phone banks, and that lobbied elected officials to pass this legislation.

These gains are part of five decades of UFT Unity accomplishments on behalf of paraprofessionals:

  • It was UFT Unity leadership that organized the paraprofessionals into the UFT in 1969, fighting back against elitists who didn’t want paras in our union.
  • It was UFT Unity leadership that threatened a sit-in in City Hall and won the first paraprofessional contract in 1970, more than doubling the para salary and providing health care insurance.
  • It was UFT Unity leadership that negotiated a career ladder for paraprofessionals, with time off and financial support to fulfill the requirements for their teaching licenses – and in so doing, brought many teachers of color into our ranks.
  • It was UFT Unity leadership that fought back against Joel Klein’s 2003 layoff of thousands of paraprofessionals, suing the city for racial discrimination and forcing it to include paras in its pledge to avoid layoffs.
  • It was UFT Unity leadership that won due process protections for paraprofessionals in their contract.

While the opposition caucuses seem to think that tweeting is how you do political action, they couldn’t find it in themselves to contribute a single tweet to the work of passing the paraprofessional pension legislation. Reading their social media, one would not even know that paraprofessionals existed.

It’s easy to ‘talk the talk’ of social justice unionism.

It’s a different matter to ‘walk the walk’ and do the hard work.