Getting On Board: AFT MA Executive Board serves all members

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In addition to being guided by the national offices of AFT and the AFL-CIO, members of AFT MA are also privileged to the support of their Executive Board.

Each year, vacancies on the Board are filled through open elections at the AFT MA Convention. Once elected, members meet at regular intervals to decide upon matters that will affect the entire membership.

But what does it mean to the members to be part of the Board? Why do they ask to be nominated? What are their goals?

Deborah Blinder has been a Spanish teacher and building representative in Holliston for more than 30 years. 

“My years as a building representative…proved to be interesting work that increased the benefits for union members,” she recalls, noting that benefits to AFT MA members also benefit the students.

Blinder was eventually elected vice president and then president of Local 3257, in which capacities she handled many grievances and supported her colleagues in other profound ways.

“During my time as president, the dialogue between management and workers evolved into interest-based conversations which took the members to a new level of professional respect,” she recalls, citing such important acts as the achievement of parity for adoption and maternity leave and the recognition of veteran staff with a shift in pay steps and better reimbursement for course work. “Grievances were at an all time low as dialogue replaced what had been a very contentious relationship.”

When an opening on the Executive Board appeared 11 years ago, Blinder was able to move into the new role. Since then, she has served on various committees, including an environmental task force.

“I [also] worked with Anne-Marie DuBois...to ensure that registration at AFTMA conventions has run smoothly,” the current Convention Committee meber explains.

As her local is located west of Boston and is a smaller district than others in AFT MA, Blinder enjoys and appreciates the opportunities she has had as a member of the Board. “My voice at the state level brings that perspective to the state organization,” she observes, “while supporting fellow members across the state as a unified body.”

As President of Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals, Catherine Mastronardi represents the largest para-only local in AFT MA and one of the organization’s few locals in Western MA. “I wanted a chance to meet with other leaders from AFT MA and to take a more active role at the state level,” she replies when asked what prompted her to run for election to the Board this year.  

As for what she hopes to do now that she has been elected, Mastronardi says, “I hope that we can share ideas and implement strategies that engage our members so that we can strengthen our union. There are many educational issues that will require a strong collective voice.”

MA Library Staff Association (MLSA) Vice President Dan Haacker was recruited by colleague Kathy Kelley to the board. 

“Kathy…wanted the MLSA represented on the board,” Haacker explains. “At the time, none of the other officers of MLSA lived near to Boston. Since I had a part time job in Boston and used to go in on the weekends, I offered to be on it.”

Since that time, Haacker has been a major contributor to Board policy and a major supporter of his colleagues. 

“I think it is important that the interest of our public librarians has a voice on the board,” he says, citing his involvement on the Committee on Political Education (COPE) as “one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of my service” and as the element of his position that has allowed him to participate in statewide conventions and educate himself and his fellow members on the issues of the day.

“My membership on the board has, of course, made me aware and supportive of the issues that face all of AFT MA members,” Haacker says.

Amesbury High School math teacher and AFT Amesbury Education Committee member Tim Angerhofer was elected to the Board in 2012, taking over as a representative of his distrcit from colleague Cathy Patten.

“The Executive Board is a crucial spot where collaboration occurs to form policy positions - both internal and external - and subsequent actions,” Angerhofer suggests, noting that he and his colleagues introduced the resolution opposing PARCC testing that was adopted at the 2015 AFT MA convention. “Participating on the Board is a great way to learn and understand important concerns to educators and public schools.... Sharing these matters with our local further strengthens our mutual relationship.”

Like Angerhofer, Peabody Federation of Teachers President Bruce Nelson joined the Board when former Local 1289 President Ed Sapienza stepped down in 2006. Crediting Sapienza with keeping the members informed and involved, Nelson said he was inspired to “continue that tradition.”

“At that time,” Nelson recalls, “I could see how the initiatives of ‘edu-crats’ were placing an increasingly heavy burden on the backs of classroom teachers and paraprofessionals. I also recognized the importance of having the strength and resources of AFT MA behind my members and wanted to give them a direct voice in shaping our response to the threats to public education.”

As today’s teachers are overwhelmed by academic and administrative responsibilities and as public education is, as Nelson puts it ,”facing multiple threats to is very existence,” he is ever-more dedicated to giving his time and energy to informing and supporting for his fellow members and colleagues. 

“Our members deserve the full-time advocacy provided by the staff and officers at AFT MA,” Nelson urges, “and we, as Executive Board members, play an important role in helping AFT MA to maximize its effectiveness in support and defense of our members.“

Long-time building representative and recording secretary for Lawrence Teachers Union Kimberley Barry has found her work with AFT MA rewarding in many ways.

“Union work…[has] afforded me experiences such as attending monthly general membership meetings, being a delegate at annual conventions, partaking in building rep trainings, [and] serving on various sub-committees, which include the discipline committee, school safety committee, professional development committee, and the education research committee.”

As so many other urban districts suffer from a lack of equity and resources, Barry enjoys being able to represent and speak on behalf of her colleagues and students. Having been an early member of the educator support network known as Andover Bread Loaf, Barry has always worked to bring creativity to the classroom and to support and inspire her students. 

“I try to empower my students so they can break out of the cycle of poverty and create a life that we all deserve,” she says, observing that high-stakes testing and teaching an aligned, packaged curriculum are “not the route to that achievement.”

As her awareness of corporate involvement in public education grew, Barry became even more interested in doing what she could to inform others so they could work together against these counter-productive forces. When Lawrence was labeled a Level 5 District and placed under state receivership, Barry and her colleagues got a first-hand look at this process as charter schools swept into the city.

“During these tense times,” Barry says, “I have gained an enormous amount of practice in supporting  individuals in schools, defending the rights of our members, being part of the Negotiating Committee and  Labor-Management Partnership Council. “ With the support of colleagues at AFT, Barry has also been able to attend the Center for School Improvement Leadership Institute, West Coast Labor Management Institute, and the National Community Schools Forum. Being on the board at AFT MA has allowed her to bring her new knowledge and understanding to her colleagues and fellow members.

“I want to be part of AFT MA board to stay informed on all state and federal issues as they directly effect my local, and colleagues across the state and nation,” Barry says. “I want to be part of this active group that represents what is good for students, and what is fair for teachers.  I am eager to be part of a board that works to save our public schools, keep testing in perspective, and keep the rights of all our students at the center.”