NEW YORK — In the biggest successful organizing campaign in New York City in almost 50 years, over 28,000 home child care workers have joined the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the largest local in the American Federation of Teachers.
The union had teamed up in this drive with the Associations of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national community-based group. Bertha Lewis, executive director of New York ACORN, said, “This partnership between ACORN and the UFT shows that great things can be accomplished when progressive labor groups and community organizations work together.”
The child care workers are presently earning a bit more than the federal poverty level and have no health coverage, sick leave or vacation pay.
Luz Alvarez, 53, a provider in Manhattan, is ecstatic. “Thank heaven, we finally have a union,” she said. “I’ve been a provider for eight years and in that time I’ve had one vacation, which was to attend my daughter’s wedding. The union can help us go in and negotiate a salary and other benefits so that we can take a vacation once a year and take a sick day without losing pay.”
The drive was helped by Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who issued an executive order that enabled the workers to be organized. Providers in New York state outside of New York City will be organized by the Civil Service Employees Association. The CSEA, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has already organized 7,500 of the 25,000 providers who live and work upstate. The governor’s action was a reward for the strong support for his election that he received from the labor movement in New York.
Several observers noted that the entry of the child care providers, many of whom are poor women of color, into the already diverse 150,000 member UFT can only strengthen the union and the larger union movement. They said it shows that victories lie in people of various backgrounds and situations joining together and fighting for a better life together.
Tammie Miller, 40, a provider from Brooklyn, put it this way: “We are the children’s first teachers, so we represent hope in their lives, just as the UFT represents hope in our lives.”
She continued, “Being in a union was just a dream at one point, and now it’s here.”