Here is a brief history of ATA from its infancy to today. For veteran members, this overview will reaffirm the hard work that they put into molding and building an activist union. For newcomers, this history may be a revelation regarding the battles that were fought by the early leaders of the ATA to with the basic rights that we enjoy today as educators.
The 1960s - Breaking Away
Although incomprehensible now, up to the late 195Os, the Superintendent of Schools, administrators, and teachers were all members of the same organization - the ATA. Dolores Schirmer,ATA president from 1969 until 1972, recalls that the association was mostly social in nature.
"The Board of Education was nice, but they did whatever they pleased," said Schirmer. In other words, teachers had no political clout.
1967 was a banner year for teachers in Amityville and in New York Stare.
With the passage of the Taylor Law (The Public Employees' Fair Employment Act), labor relations would never be the same. As a labor relations statute, the Taylor Law granted public employees the right to organize and be he represented by employee organizations of their own choice.
Equally important, the Taylor Law required public employers to negotiate and enter into agreements with these organizations regarding their employees' terms and conditions of employment. The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) was established to administer this Law.
For Schirmer, only salary issues rivaled the effect of collective bargaining on working conditions. "It's difficult for new teachers to understand how different it was before collective bargaining," said Ms. Schirmer. "The working conditions were totally at the discretion of the administrators. There was no limit on extra-curricular activities and committee assignment duties. And there was no set amount of prep times."
With the start of collective bargaining, ATA officially became a teachers' union and negotiated its first contract. From this point, until 1972, the ATA bargained collectively, but was not a part of either the state or national teacher unions.
Schirmer's election as President of ATA in 1969 ushered in the 1970s, which was a decade of mergers, strikes and some renewed public hostility towards teachers in the wake of a national economic slowdown.
The 1970s - Coming Together
Recognizing that time and money was being wasted by rival unions in the fight to represent teachers at the bargaining table, Albert Shanker,President of UTNY, andEmanual Kafka, President of NYSTA, pushed for a merger of their respective powerhouses.
Thus, in 1972, the two state teacher unions-UTNY (the United Teachers of New York) and NYSTA (New York State Teachers Association)- joined under the name of New York State United Teachers - NYSUT. That same year, all local unions were required to belong to both the state and national teacher unions.
While the birth of NYSUT dominated the news during the 1970s, striking teachers in 65 locals statewide continued to wage the battle to save the basic rights won in the 1960s. More than 80 teacher leaders were jailed. And when agreements between employers and employees over contract implementation seemed hopeless, the PERB Powers Bill saved the day by giving PERB the right to impose a remedy.
These developments were a fitting conclusion to Schirmer's tenure as President of the ATA. She had seen teacher unions developed from benign social organizatiom to negotiating forces that administrators and boards could no longer ignore.
The 1980s - Protecting Gains
Teachers pushed to protect their gains as voters took out their rage with local government by voting down the first budget that came their way: from 1976 until 1981, school budget defeats increased to 25%. Demonstrating concern for the future, teachers election of a true pro-education Governor: Mario Cuomo.
Maxine Wilson was elected in 1982 as the ATA's president. A second grade teacher in the Amityville schools for 27 years, Wilson remembers the 1980s as a decade of difficult contract negotiations. "It was a tough time," said Wilson. But teachers worked together to support their negotiating team in a strong and united way."
Their efforts paid off with some good salary increases and substantive additions to teacher benefit packages. The district agreed to increase its contribution for the cost of member health insurance and fund a legal services plan endorsed by NYSUT. And finally all ATA members received dental coverage.
The emergence of TaxPacs across Long Island left their mark on education and teachers in Amityville. According to Wilson, TaxPac members pushed a negative attitude toward teachers and the schools. "Our biggest challenge during these years was to prevent teachers from being intimidated by TaxPac."
The Early to Mid 1990s -
Countering the TaxPac Tide
TaxPacs continued their three-pronged assault against the ATA: running ads in local newspapers denigrating teachers and the Amityville schools, speaking in a negative way at all Board meetings, and growing politically by getting their candidates elected.
ATA's president, Maxine Wilson, witnessed a shift in the attitude of many of her members. "Some of the teachers were slipping back to the days when teachers were forced to do all kinds of extra work and not get paid for it. There was a feeling that, well, maybe if we do this, all of the negative stuff will stop.
Parents and community members who supported the schools joined with concerned teachers to force back the TaxPac tide. By the time Bill Caffrey was elected ATA President in 1995, supporters of education in Amityville were intent on taking back the schools from the negative TaxPac forces - for the good of the children.
The Late 1990s - Image Change
?My top two priorities when I came into office were to change the image of teachers and to get support from the Amityville community for the schools and for the teachers,? said ATA president Bill Caffrey (elected in 1995). He took community relations seriously, and he acted on this conviction by increasing the public relations budget and hiring a professional public relations firm.
Once the infrastructure was in place for an aggressive public relations campaign, Caffrey concentrated his efforts on reaching out to the Amityville community at large. His first step was to become a member of the NAACP. (The NAACP would later award the union its Community Service Award in 1998).
Under his leadership, the ATA increased its funding for scholarships to graduating seniors by 200 percent: from $1000 to $3000. Caffrey also initiated the ATA Awards Night for all K-12 students. This special evening continued the union?s commitment to all of our children with academic and art recognition awards given to one student from each grade. Also presented at the Awards Night is the Friend of Education Award, now in its third year, which recognizes community members who support education in Amityville.
Caffrey pointed to other evidence of unity regarding educational issues in the Amityville community. The formation of the Amityville Parent-Teacher Council, in place of the previously ?parents only? organization, and NYSUT?s recognition of the union with its Community Service Award in 1997 and 1998 serve as reminders of what can happen when education comes first.
Although the past contract negotiations were tough on everyone, Caffrey prefers to emphasize the 1996 contract talks and the positive results they brought for teachers and the district as a whole. The teachers received a two?year extension on their contract at a rate that was higher than the average at the time.
Caffrey is convinced that a unified ATA can make rancorous negotiations a thing of the past by bringing its case directly to the Amityville community. ?The Amityville community must support its schools and its teachers,? said Caffrey. ?After all, We?re all working toward the same goal: a quality education for all of Amityville?s children.?
2000 and Beyond - Looking Ahead
William Oquendo is the Millennium President of the Amityville Teachers Association. The 2000-2001 school year marks the beginning of the next century in American education. Union leadership will be vitally important as we chart a new path for our members who reside in Tiers 1, 2, 3 and 4. Elected in the spring of 2000, William'sfocus on unity and teacher morale were welcomed by the membership.
The members of the Association voiced concerns over scheduling problems and lack of supplies. Bringing members together and working cohesively as a strong unit are the concerns of our new president.
William says," Our Association has a colorful history, however, many notable things have been accomplished. We need to learn from our mistakes and build onto our accomplishments so that we can continue to improve one day at a time."
William Oquendo resigned from the ATA presidency in 2006 and is presently on a leave of absence. Fulfilling his term and now newly elected as ATA President, is Ron Weber.