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AFT Massachusetts Holds Virtual 2021 Convention

On Saturday, May 1 AFT Massachusetts delegates from across the state met for the 2021 Annual Convention, with the theme of ‘Safety, Equity, and Transparency.’  Be sure to check out our 2021 Convention Report!
Held virtually, the convention featured reflections on the past year of teaching, working, and advocating during the pandemic, as well as a focus on the work ahead for the education justice and labor movements. AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos, chairing her third convention, spoke about the resiliency of educators, librarians, and faculty during a year unlike any other.
“It’s not an overstatement to say that we could not have made it through the past year on our own,” she said. “But by working together through our union, we’ve been able to achieve significant victories and the light at the end of the tunnel is now in sight. We’ve fought for – and won – a voice in the school reopening process and greater protections for educators and our students. More and more educators and students are receiving their COVID-19 vaccines every day. With a new pro-public education, pro-union administration in Washington, our school districts are finally receiving the resources they need to start recovering from the pandemic.”
Delegates voted to support three resolutions on racial and climate justice:
  • Resolution #1 states that AFT Massachusetts will work to create employment and leadership opportunities for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in workplaces throughout our society, including our union; that the union will advocate for school discipline policies to include restorative justice and equitable enforcement, including the creation of review processes and trainings in schools to ensure that BIPOC students and educators are treated fairly; and that AFT Massachusetts will advocate for the development and implementation of programs that intentionally help identify, recruit, develop and retain BIPOC educators and staff, and support professional development and cultural competency training that helps educators and other school staff understand the effects of long-term discrimination and pervasive poverty and helps them examine bias, including that which resides in all of us.
  • Resolution #2 states that AFT Massachusetts endorses the federal Green New Deal resolution sponsored by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, and will explore with other like-minded unions, community and environmental organizations the possibilities for a nationwide Green New Deal as well as support similar efforts in Massachusetts and New England. The resolution also states that that AFT Massachusetts will explore the possibilities for divesting our pension fund from the fossil fuel industry and work to make education about the climate crisis a part of Massachusetts curricula at all levels.
  • Resolution #3 states that AFT Massachusetts endorses a campaign for green schools to demand that the state of Massachusetts do their part to mitigate and prepare for the unfolding climate crisis by considering climate change mitigation in all aspects and planning for and investing in, public school infrastructure.
AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan spoke about the work done by AFT Massachusetts staff this year to aid locals in their negotiations around school reopening and safety.
“The bulk of our AFT Massachusetts budget supports our expert and diligent professional staff, who provide excellent legal, organizing, and field support to our locals, from assisting with contract fights to supporting local organizing campaigns,” he said. “They’ve done incredible work over the past year adapting to daily changes in state guidance and local conditions and working with local unions to ensure that safety guidelines are in place and enforced. As a past president of the Lynn Teachers Union, I know that our local unions are stronger when our statewide union is there to provide help with organizing, administration, communications, and professional development.”
Delegates also heard from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who spoke about union’s successful efforts to win significant federal aid to states and local school districts, and from Noliwe Rooks, the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor at Cornell University and author of Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education, who spoke about the fight for equity in public education.
Delegates elected two new AFT Massachusetts Vice Presidents: Lauren Cochran and Mike Conboy.
Lauren Cochran has been a teacher and union member in the Chelmsford Public School system since 1997, where she has been the Theatre Guild director, producing and directing at least 5 productions per year. She is a past member of the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild council. At Chelmsford High School, Lauren is the current Activities Director and is the new President of the Chelmsford Federation of Teachers.
Mike Conboy has been an active union member since his first job at 16 years old. Today he works at the Milford Town Library and is a member of the Milford Town Library Staff Association (MTLSA). For the past two years, Michael has also served as vice president of the Massachusetts Library Staff Association (MLSA). Prior to being elected in his own right, Michael has been serving on the AFT Massachusetts Executive Board since January 2021 as a replacement for retiring vice president Dan Haacker.
In between speakers, delegates watched several videos highlighting the campaigns ahead, including reinvestment in higher education, funding for municipal libraries, and the Fair Share Amendment, the tax on million-dollar earners to fund transportation and public education that will appear on the November 2022 ballot.
During the convention, President Beth Kontos and Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan announced the eight winners of the union’s 2021 Distinguished Service Awards, which are presented annually to AFT Massachusetts members who have demonstrated an outstanding level of service and dedication to their local union. 
They also announced the recipients of the union’s 2021 Scholarship Awards. The awards, named in honor of former AFT leaders Kathy Kelley, Albert Shanker and Sandra Feldman, and for long-time AFT Massachusetts field representative Jay Porter, are awarded on the basis of a labor history exam administered by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
“We’re so close to ending this pandemic and returning all students to the classroom full-time, and we’ll do it continuing to advocate for school safety measures: rapid surveillance testing, ventilation upgrades to prevent transmission, and vaccinations for educators, for our students' vulnerable family members, and – as they are approved – for students themselves,” said President Kontos. “We’ve gotten through this year together by relying on each other and our power as a union, and we’ll keep moving forward through the challenges to come with the same approach.”

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