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Everyday Heroes: AFT Public Employees finalist

Jim Cardin

Manufacturing Technology Department Head
Windham Technical High School, Willimantic, Conn.
State Vocational Federation of Teachers, Local 4200A

Jim Cardin and Gary Lutsky worked in tandem for seven years. Every year, they co-taught a group of around 35 students at Connecticut’s Windham Technical High School. “What made our working relationship successful is that we were both on the same page as far as student improvement was concerned,” Cardin says.

Jim Cardin and students

Jim Cardin (standing at far right) with students from Windham Tech and University of Hartford, who worked on a joint project to create an inexpensive foot prosthetic for civil war amputee victims in Africa.

In the fall of 2012, Lutsky was diagnosed with cancer. “As soon as I heard it was pancreatic cancer I knew what Gary was up against,” recalls Cardin, whose mother had died from the same cancer.

When Lutsky was forced to take time off for treatment, Cardin did both his and Lutsky’s job. “Although the stress of doing the work of two teachers was enormous, Jim never let the strain show to his co-workers or students,” writes the colleague who nominated Cardin.

Cardin was far more concerned about the well-being of his good friend than he was about his increased workload. On weekends, he’d drive other co-workers to Boston to visit Lutsky at the hospital where he was being treated. “We wanted to be supportive,” says Cardin. Those visits helped Lutsky stay upbeat and positive.

When it became apparent that Lutsky would be forced to retire, it was Cardin who took on the responsibility of making sure his retirement papers were in order. “It was just something that I knew I needed to do for Gary and his family,” Cardin says.

With a replacement needed for Lutsky, Cardin recruited Wayne Turner, a friend from high school who had recently moved back to the area. After three days on the job, Turner had a heart attack. Cardin immediately began working with the union and the school system’s human resources department to guarantee that Turner would get his salary and benefits, displaying once again what one colleague calls his “extraordinary compassion.”

“I didn’t want Wayne to have to deal with any more stress than he already had,” says Cardin, adding that the experience and knowledge he gained as a former union rep helped him get things done on behalf of both Gary and Wayne.

“Jim has demonstrated that being in a union means you are never alone,” his nominator writes.