DeJesus: Run the race, work together for a better life
BY KATE MOSTACCIO
Evelyn DeJesus has been an educator for more than 30 years and is now one of the highest-ranking Latinas in the labor movement, as executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
“I’ll always consider myself a teacher and educator,” DeJesus said to the delegates gathered at the Albany Capital Center for the 41st Annual PEF Convention. She is also a motivated union organizer, having represented 58 schools before rising to borough representative, and then on to the vice president of education at AFT’s largest local, the United Federation of Teachers in New York City.
As a member of the executive board for AFT, DeJesus and her fellow board members, including PEF President Wayne Spence, who serves as a vice president of AFT, “advocate and represent” the interests of educators around the country and assure that the missions of locals are in line with AFT’s mission.
“I fight like a pitbull for what you the people, you on the ground, need every day,” DeJesus said. “You tell us what you need and we fight for it.”
DeJesus congratulated PEF for an outstanding showing at Labor Day parades across New York state. “Thank you for showing up,” she said. “It’s very important you show up and participate. That you stand out for your union. You can accomplish more together than alone.”
She also called attention to some of PEF’s recent legislative victories — the cost-benefit analysis bill and standing firm against the “Less is More” parole legislation. “No one did this alone, you came together to fight for a better life for yourselves,” DeJesus said. “We live in difficult times. Some people are one student loan away from bankruptcy.”
DeJesus urged PEF delegates to “turn hopes and dreams into action.”
“The union is a vehicle for a voice and opportunity,” she said. “It’s best when we work together. There is strength in numbers.”
And PEF’s numbers are holding firm, despite attacks on the labor movement. DeJesus said more than 600 recommitment cards were signed and turned in at PEF’s member engagement booth at the New York State Fair in Syracuse.
“PEF members are sticking with their union,” she said. “Do you see the power you are building?” That power, she said, can be used to bargain for the common good and the greater good.
There is more to do, especially with PEF in the midst of contract negotiations. But, PEF has AFT in its corner. “I’m a convener of people,” DeJesus said. “We are all in this together. Your fight is my fight. PEF is not alone in this contract fight.” AFT staff are available to assist when needed, she said.
“Our job this year is to run the race,” she said. “It’s up to us to work together. Run this one like never before. It’s not just a race, it’s a marathon. We will win if we create member engagement, partner with the community, educate and mobilize.
“Are you up for it?” she asked.
The delegates answered with a booming, “Yes!”
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