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AFT Massachusetts Announces Recipients of 2023 Distinguished Service Awards

AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos and Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan are thrilled to announce the winners of the union’s 2023 Distinguished Service Awards.

The Distinguished Service Awards are presented annually to AFT Massachusetts members who have demonstrated an outstanding level of service and dedication to their local union. Here are this year’s winners:

Licensed PreK-12 Employees

Miriam Rodriguez Fusco, Lynn Teachers Union. An active member of the Lynn Teachers Union since the very start of her career in 1999, Miriam, a Speech and Language Pathologist, was a prominent spokesperson for the union during the No on 2 campaign against the expansion of charter schools in 2016. During the No on 2 campaign Miriam jumped into representing the LTU as a member of the Negotiations Team and Social Committee, and has since served on the executive board and been elected the union’s 2nd Vice President for three consecutive terms. In the words of her colleagues, “Miriam is a strong leader of our union and her passion for union rights and benefits is inspirational. As an active member of our contract negotiating team and member of our organizing team this year, she was a supportive member of our escalations during bargaining. Miriam exemplifies the characteristics of distinguished service for our union and community!” Congratulations Miriam!

Sylvaine Lestrade, Boston Teachers Union. As a BTU member for 15 years and a building rep since at least 2010, Sylvaine, a 2nd grade teacher at the Trotter Elementary School, is a longtime union advocate. She is known as someone union leadership can always call upon in any capacity, from serving as a delegate, to marshalling rallies, testifying at school committee meetings, and so much more. She is one of the co-leaders of the Teacher Policy Program and serves on the Racial Justice Standing Committee and the Black Caucus. In the words of her colleagues, “Sylvaine has truly become a leader in our union, and a mentor for rising leaders. She has been a rock for our members of color – checking in on members throughout the district when she senses they are in need of community support, and encouraging members to find ways to plug into union work. She is constantly engaging members of her own school community and those beyond in BTU campaigns, big and small.” Congratulations Sylvaine!

School-Related Personnel

Donna Lapierre, Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals. An active member of the Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals since 2004, Donna is currently a Building Representative, 2nd Vice President, and holds a position on the Executive Board. A Para-educator in the Springfield Public Schools, Donna served as the Chair of the union’s Contract Action Team during last year’s contract campaign, and was able to devise creative strategies that led to greater involvement in our local and community. In the words of her colleagues, “Our ‘2% Don’t Make a Dent’ campaign, ‘All I Want for Christmas is a Living Wage’ campaign, living wage rallies in front of Springfield City Hall and petitions signed by over a thousand school and community members are a few of the initiatives that she led. Her leadership on this committee and the actions that were taken allowed the local to successfully negotiate a successor contract that includes a starting rate that is $2.11/hour over the current living hourly wage in Springfield and raises between 11.3% and 30% over 4 years, an additional paid holiday, increased bereavement benefits, and a 3 year attendance/retention bonus.” Congratulations Donna!

Lauren Snay, AFT Amesbury. As a member of AFT Amesbury since 2006, Lauren served as a member organizer for 4 cycles and recently stepped up to fill a vacancy as an executive board member. A paraprofessional who is a member of Cashman Elementary School building leadership team and Amesbury Public Schools’ Joint Labor Management Committee, Lauren was a member of the AFT Amesbury coordinated bargaining team which resulted in 6 memorandums of understanding guarantee safety and compensation during the COVID pandemic. She currently serves as a member of the coordinated team for the union’s contract negotiations. In the words of her colleagues, “Lauren solves problems at the building level whenever possible. She is highly regarded by administration and colleagues within the district. She played a significant teaching role during the pandemic and enabled the students on individual education plans, specifically for social emotional needs, to thrive during remote learning. She is a strong advocate for the paraprofessional unit she represents and is a highly devoted paraprofessional educator and union leader.” Congratulations Lauren!

Municipal Librarian

Maty Cropley, Massachusetts Library Staff Association. In February 2020, the Boston Public Library Professional Staff Association affiliated with the Massachusetts Library Staff Association, Local 04928 of the American Federation of Teachers. Maty, a teen outreach librarian for the Boston Public Library, became president of the BPL-PSA in the fall of 2021, and continued the work of bringing a formerly independent union into the AFT fold. During their tenure as president, Maty successfully settled a contract that had been outstanding for four years with grace and thoughtfulness. In the words of their colleagues, “Maty handled a number of issues and crisis with a combination of shear hard work and determination. By making the necessary space for members to contribute and feel valued, Maty encouraged members to step up and engage in the work. When the BPL-PSA were also faced by a series of ‘anti-mask’ disruptions in February of 2022 at branches of the BPL, we organized a “Fill the Library with Love” rally at the BPL Central Library. Maty was the media spokesperson for the rally, providing clear and thoughtful commentary on the threats faced by patrons and library workers.” Congratulations Maty!

Retired Member

Patricia Nizwantowski, Peabody Federation of Teachers. Patty got her start as an active member of the Peabody Federation of Teachers in the 1970s, and served as a critical voice in the union during the leadup to a strike in 1988. In the decades since, she served as a building representative, a member of the local negotiating team, and has been elected as Second Vice President of the union since 2005. After retiring a few years ago, she continued to work as a reading tutor and substitute teacher and continued to serve on the union’s Executive Board. In the words of her colleagues, “over the last two decades, she’s been the ‘go-to-person’ for the concerns and complaints of teachers and parents. She’s strengthened and secured many rights for our members. Due to Patty’s efforts, our members can now receive a greatly enhanced maternity leave benefit. She is also not shy about expressing her views to city officials and played a crucial role in arranging meetings for our presidents with multiple mayors and other influential officials.” Congratulations Patty!

Emerging Leader

Phillip O’Connor, Lynn Teachers Union. Phil has been an active member of the Lynn Teachers Union from the very start of his career. As a first-year Science Teacher at Breed Middle School, Phil advocated for teachers to have sufficient tools in his building, bringing the issue to the Union and School Committee. In his second year he ran for the elected position of Building Representative and has been re-elected for the past four years. Phil also serves as a delegate to the North Shore Labor Council, an active member of the union’s contract negotiating team, and leader of the union’s organizing team. In the words of his colleagues, “Phil is an up-and-coming leader of our union. His passion for organizing and union labor work is inspiring. As a building representative at Breed Middle Phil utilizes his human relation skills in a positive manner. He listens to his fellow teachers and collaborates to solve the problem. He was an intricate member in the planning of our escalations during bargaining, and seizes every opportunity to expand his knowledge of union labor strategies.” Congratulations Phil!

Private Higher Education

Dr. Michael J. Johnson, Berklee Faculty Union. A Professor at Berklee College of Music, Michael has been a member of the Berklee Faculty Union since 2008. During the union’s recent bargaining, Michael oversaw substantive and often daily updates to the Union website’s website and social media accounts, resulting in exponentially greater exposure and support during negotiations. Michael also serves as a Department Representative, connecting Union leadership with his colleagues in the Contemporary Writing and Production Department at Berklee, and provides technology support for the union, producing a weekly real-time livestream of the Executive Committee meeting. In the words of his colleagues, “in his elected role as Councilor, Michael is asked only to attend weekly meetings and represent the interests and concerns of his colleagues. He persistently and selflessly delivers considerably more. Through his constant commitment to “above and beyond” and his tireless efforts to improve working conditions and empower his colleagues, Michael models a level of service and dedication that is the hallmark of every strong union.”

Congratulations to all the recipients of the 2023 Distinguished Service Awards!

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