Women’s Rights Breakfast honors activists across generations

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Spanning generations, the Women’s Rights Breakfast showcased the strength of AFT women regardless of their age. Organized by the AFT Women’s Rights Committee, which honored Hillary Clinton earlier in the convention with its annual Women’s Rights Award, the breakfast featured Living the Legacy awards for AFT members who have served 50, 40 and 30 years at the AFT and in their communities—including AFT Vice President Marietta English (below, at right), the chair of the committee. The event also hosted a young speaker, AFT-Fayette (W.Va.) President Tega Toney, who shared her experience as a union leader during the teacher protests in West Virginia.

Mary Cathryn Ricker and Marietta English at Women's Rights Breakfast

AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker framed Toney’s work in West Virginia as the beginning of the “2018 Spring of School Unrest,” a movement that eventually involved teachers across the nation protesting for better resources, salaries and working conditions for themselves and their students.

“This past winter, West Virginia teachers got a little fired up,” said Toney (pictured below), who is a social studies teacher and an AFT-West Virginia executive board member. “We got a little fed up.” Stuck with low salaries for years, they finally got a 2 percent raise, but their once-robust health benefits had become so costly they canceled out the increase. The bottom line was a reduction in pay.

Tega at Women's Rights Breakfast

Toney recalled the rich labor history of West Virginia, where bombs were dropped on striking coal miners and where workers and their families fought for years against abusive coal barons and coal bosses. Union teachers bring that same fierceness to their battles today—and many of them, union leaders included, are women. Teachers drove for miles across West Virginia’s rolling and difficult terrain to stand in the state capital and protest by the thousands during a strike that lasted nearly two weeks last winter. “We chanted so long that our voices cracked and our throats burned,” said Toney.

Working against bad policy was not new for AFT-West Virginia educators. When the state Legislature went majority Republican in 2014, “anti-public education legislators made their intent clear,” said Toney, pushing charter school legislation, vouchers and union-busting policy. “We pushed back,” she said, “but we were actually practicing for the big game. We were going to need it in 2018.”

While the strike was a hardship, teachers continued to watch out for “their” kids, the students. They set up food banks and used schools buses to deliver food to their families’ doors. And they had support: “Communities, civic organizations, churches, families, parents and businesses brought food, brought little heaters,” said Toney.

The strike in West Virginia was a success and lit a movement of educators across the country, but, Toney said, the work is not over. “In a world where the mantra is profits over people, we must move with boldness and tenacity and ferocity and in solidarity and with purpose,” she said.

[Virginia Myers, photos by Pam Wolfe]

Living the Legacy Awards 2018

Diamond recognition: 50 years

Vi Curry, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and AFT Pennsylvania

Mary D’Ercole Pritchard, Schenectady (N.Y.) Federation of Teachers, Retiree Council 12

Joan Devlin, Boston Teachers Union

Marietta English, Baltimore Teachers Union

Kathy Genzmen, Toledo (Ohio) Federation of Teachers

Linda Harris, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and AFT Pennsylvania

Shirley Kane, Baltimore Teachers Union

Arlene Kempin, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and AFT Pennsylvania

Edith LeWin, Buffalo (N.Y.) Teachers Union

Nuala McGann-Drescher, United University Professions (New York)

Violet Mitchell-Cousins, Baltimore Teachers Union

Veronica O’Connor, Pelham (N.Y.) Teachers Association

Shelly Snyder, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and AFT Pennsylvania

Linda Wagner Doerr, Lakeland (N.Y.) Federation of Teachers

Rosalie Watkins, Baltimore Teachers Union

Gold recognition: 40 years

Sara Attleson, Albuquerque (N.M.) Federation of Teachers

Sandra Baler-Segan, Boston Teachers Union

Denise Berkley, Boston Teachers Union

Juanita Campbell, Baltimore Teachers Union

Brenda Chaney, Boston Teachers Union

Sandra Erickson, West Suburban (Ill.) Teachers Union

Marilyn Flowers-Marion, Boston Teachers Union

Gloria Garrett, Baltimore Teachers Union

Mary Gaughan, Boston Teachers Union

Gussie Goodman, Baltimore Teachers Union

Vicki Honeycutt, Northville (Mich.) Federation of Paraeducators

Irene Kanowitz, Somers (N.Y.) Faculty Association, NYSUT RC15/16

Ava Parran, Baltimore Teachers Union

Debby Pope, Chicago Teachers Union

Barb Randall-Saleh, Tacoma (Wash.) Federation of Paraeducators

Hattie Rhames, Baltimore Teachers Union

Linda Steward, Baltimore Teachers Union

Barbara Ann Supinka, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and AFT Pennsylvania

Freda Sydnor-Joell, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Silver recognition: 30 years

Donna Adame, Boston Teachers Union

Emily Adeshigbin, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Roslyn Avant, Boston Teachers Union

Patricia Baker, New York State Public Employees Federation

Patricia Boughton, Chicago Teachers Union

Cynthia Bruce, Baltimore Teachers Union

Caren Carew, Boston Teachers Union

Denise Conrad, Toledo (Ohio) Federation of Teachers

Doris Dodson, New York State Public Employees Federation

Anne Goldman, United Federation of Teachers (New York City)

Theresa Guerriere, New Jersey City University

Norine Gutekanst, Chicago Teachers Union

Maxine Holmes, City Union of Baltimore

Cheryl Kelly, Boston Teachers Union

Josefina Lascano, Boston Teachers Union

Gayle Marrow, Boston Teachers Union

Ruth Pajouhandeh, City Union of Baltimore

Sheryl Pedone, Boston Teachers Union

Kristen Pinto, Boston Teachers Union

Nadia Resnikoff, Middle Country (N.Y.) Teachers Association

Dana Royster-Buefort, Boston Teachers Union

Gaya Shakes, Rochester (N.Y.) Teachers Association

Linda Simonetti, Boston Teachers Union

Tara Stamps, Chicago Teachers Union

Jacquelyn Ward, Chicago Teachers Union

Alice Yong, Boston Teachers Union