A quick look back during our 100th anniversary
WE NOW HAVE multiple generations of paraprofessionals working in New York City as members of the United Federation of Teachers.
It wasn’t always that way. Back in the late 1960s, paraprofessionals, led by Velma Hill, began a long, hard push for recognition within the UFT. In 1970, after nearly half a year of voting and counting ballots, and despite resistance from certain teachers who did not want to accept less-educated colleagues or people of color into the union, the paras won. Within a month, they demanded a big pay increase (from about $2 an hour), plus pensions and paid leave.
In a short new AFT video, you can watch the inspiring account of Hill, who describes what it was like to work as a para in the 1960s, starting at $50 a week, and to organize the paraprofessional chapter in New York. By 1972, this leader had taken her work to the national level, organizing and chairing the AFT’s first Committee on Paraprofessionals, which hosted its first conference in 1973.
Hill tells her story to Veronica Washington, a member of the union’s newest generation of paras working with special needs children. Despite a hectic schedule as an educator and a mom, Washington believes in the power of her union. She finds time to contribute—a little here, a little there.
“We need you,” Hill tells Washington, and it’s true. We need you—and every AFT member who works at a school or college.