Most Sunday mornings, I’m wedged between our two boys for mass at Our Lady of the Snow in Blue Point. In the intervals between reminding them how to sit at church and mediating whose turn it is to put money in the collection basket this week, I try to listen to the week’s message.

Although few members realize it, unions and religious organizations often work very closely together, typically coalescing around efforts to improve quality of life for working families in our communities. For each shared aspiration characterizing our partnership, there is also a shared struggle.

During one mass last month, the priest shared some recent experiences that caught my attention. In one, he recounted the passionate and engaging speech an auxiliary bishop delivered at a recent Confirmation. As parishoners hung on his every word, fully engaged in the message and connected to their peers, he called on them to be sure to attend mass weekly, and left convinced that the room was so inspired that many would surely do so. The next Sunday, however, did not live up to that hope.

As he continued to relay the story, our priest rattled off some numbers. “There are 1000 children enrolled in religious education,” he said. “If every one of them came to mass with one parent on Sundays, we’d have more attendees than the church could hold.” Of course, this was not a problem they were experiencing.

I spend a lot of time similarly contemplating our membership and the success of our campaigns and events. With around 1200 members…

If every teacher impacted by 3-8 testing in the last few years went to a rally tomorrow, we’d have 195 members there.

If even half of our members used the NYSUT MAC to fax their senator and assembly person on an issue next week, we’d still generate more than a thousand messages.

If the least senior member in every tenure area made calls to ensure the budget passed, we’d add 28 callers to the phone banks and reach more than 500 more voters.

I believe we could accomplish anything if every member whose livelihood was threatened by  attacks on unions or cuts to school funding, or whose families depended on their retirement security, committed speak and act on those issues. The same holds true for the fate of our broader union movement.

The months and years ahead will almost certainly present serious threats to collective bargaining - the method through which unions deliver contracts to their members. They’ll attempt to starve unions out of existence.

Anyone who knows what it’s like to teach in many other states should be seriously alarmed by that possibility… burgeoning class sizes, barely livable wages, single-page contracts devoid of the protections teachers and students need to succeed, and a general de-professionalization of teaching by removing certification requirements so they can bring in cheap workers, burn them out quickly and replace them. In a large part of the US, fewer than half of the teachers hold masters degrees. In New York, almost all of us do.

Whether it’s at the local level or the state or national levels, strong unions make for much better working conditions, and where those unions are public, they provide stability and advocacy to the communities they serve.

To keep our unions strong, we need to see beyond the occasional loss enough to know that we put more W’s in the column by turning frustration and disappointment into action. Every day should be about building something better based on the hope and the participation of every single member. 

Amidst the struggles and losses that we face, we still need to ‘fill the seats’ to make a difference. When we do, we can make incredible things happen. I’m proud of the work we do in the HHHTA, and in the affiliates you’re all members of - NYSUT, AFT, NEA, the LI Federation of Labor, and the AFL-CIO. Each year, we get more members involved. It connects us to each other, and make the impossible, possible. Our recent victory in the Assembly District 9 race that will send a teacher to be our voice in the NYS Assembly is a great example of that.

As we close out another successful year here in Half Hollow Hills, I’d ask each member to take a mental inventory on his or her participation this year and check it against the simple set of goals we set last September…

Did you vote? Did you take action on the MAC? Attend your building meetings? Read your union emails? Make one event? If not, why not?

If not, it’s time to get involved! Have faith that your involvement can make a difference. This September, we’ll once again be looking for you to act, starting with uniting against the Constitutional Convention vote in November. Until then, all our best for a safe and happy summer!