Growing together in our union

How engaging a fellow member produced a new leader

By Karen Krussow

Karen Krussow and Victoria ArabanosHERE AT THE Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers in Minnesota, I was president of the educational assistants for about seven years, and with my retirement on the horizon, I found myself giving more and more thought to who would or should come after me. When our union vice president, Victoria Arabanos, attended our Education Minnesota Representative Convention about three years ago and we were rooming together, I had a chance to ask her about what she thought her future union involvement might be. Of course, she asked why I was asking, which led to the first of many conversations.

Like a lot of members, Victoria had felt the importance of our union but was only able to make it to occasional membership meetings. When we needed a new building representative at her middle school, I asked Victoria if she’d be willing to take it on, and she accepted! She quickly grew into her role of representing members in her building, especially in dealing with a principal who thought little of the hard work done by educational assistants.

Victoria pulled together engaging monthly union meetings that kept our members well-informed. Her enthusiasm makes her great at recruiting new members and getting them involved. And as vice president, she obtained a grant through Education Minnesota for PSRP professional development.

She has been our chief negotiator for the past four years and excels at that as well. For example, she bargained for educational assistants to be provided the opportunity to take, at no charge, the state test required for paraprofessional credentialing. Last but not least, Victoria takes part in lobby days at our state Capitol and recruits other members to attend. So as you see, my confidence in Victoria to lead our local union is without question.

Passing the torch

My plan was to retire sometime in 2016 or 2017, but I decided to step aside as president earlier and make myself available to mentor a newly elected president. I was more than pleased when, after a few conversations, Victoria expressed strong interest in running for the office. Her daughter had one more year of high school and a very busy schedule, so Victoria wanted to wait a couple years until she could devote the time and energy it
would take.

As it turned out, that worked perfectly. Victoria put her name on the ballot for president last spring, and she was elected. We met several times last summer, not only for me to hand over material and talk about the duties of her new job but also to discuss what involvement she would want me to have in the transition.

On the day of our union’s leadership workshop to plan for the coming school year, it sure felt funny not to be going. Prior to my presidency, I had been vice president for 10 years, which added up to 18 years of camaraderie, joy and a feeling of accomplishment. All of this left me feeling a bit sad not to be there with my union brothers and sisters.

On the other hand, I feel confident about leaving our work in good hands, and I know I’ll be back in other ways. We held a small book giveaway in Robbinsdale, which provided free books to hundreds of elementary students through the AFT’s partnership with the nonprofit group First Book. Our next First Book event has not been set up yet, but we’re hoping for this spring. And we want it to grow.

Karen Krussow is immediate past president for the educational assistants chapter of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers in Crystal, Minn., and is a member of the AFT PSRP program and policy council. Karen contributes to the AFT’s new blog.

[photo by Val Potter]

PSRP Reporter, Winter 2015 Download PDF (1.03 MB)
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How to join in

Reaching out to your fellow union members gets everybody involved. Contact your building representative, or ask to become your building rep! There’s a way for everybody in the AFT to contribute.