The meeting comes at a time when retiree pensions, health benefits and payroll dues deductions are all at risk, and attacks against public education are on the rise.
Calling the 2014 midterm elections an opportunity to turn the tide, NEA—Retired president Tom Curran—who on Saturday, was unanimously elected to another term—says retirees have the power to “oust those governors and legislators who have been hurting our public schools, our students and our education colleagues at all levels.”
The political determination of NEA—Retired members was evident last year when members raised $30,000 for the organization’s political action campaign through a variety of activities, including a silent auction. This year, attendees hope to raise even more resources in an effort to silence opponents of public education.
Immigrants Can Strengthen Nation’s Retirement System
On Saturday, the group heard from NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen-García, and NEA Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle. NEA Executive Director John Stocks also delivered remarks.
Eskelsen-García—who is a candidate for the Association’s top job as current President Dennis Van Roekel’s six-year term draws to a close—connected the importance of pension protection to the intertwined topics of generational diversity, immigration and NEA’s mission of helping every student to succeed.
These students include DREAMers, Eskelsen-García said—“children who are brought [here] without the proper piece of paper, by parents who wanted something better for them. There is no debate that these children didn’t do something wrong—that they deserve to move into society and take their places.”
“Immigrants are the people who can help Social Security stay healthy,” said Eskelsen-García, whose mother immigrated to the U.S. from Panama, adding that if they gain legal citizenship, undocumented immigrants will give more to Social Security than they will take out over the next 36 years.
“Immigration reform is one way that we can help the retirement system grow stronger,” Eskelsen-García told the group.
Retirees: First Line of Defense
Looking back to her 2008 election as secretary-treasurer, Pringle told the group that she had no idea that NEA “would have this political force coming at us from both sides of the aisle,” but, she told attendees, “We are still standing strong!”
Calling retirees NEA’s “first line of defense,” Pringle told attendees that they are central to the Association’s strategic goals of strengthening affiliates and creating great public schools. When there is a need to produce turnout at rallies, phone banks, or provide any other activism, “You are the first ones we call,” Pringle said.
Rounding out Saturday’s remarks to the group, NEA executive director John Stocks acknowledged NEA—Retired members for helping to “build the association into the great institution it is today.” He also emphasized that many gains from the past are now at risk as anti-union groups work to destroy unions and remove collective bargaining rights.
But, he added, “We’re not backing down from any fights.”
Instead, Stocks said, the union is “going back to basics”—organizing, engaging members and becoming more politically active. “We are upping our game in politics. We are asking every member to step in and step up.”
Upping the game includes a new Rapid Response project that is designed to engage retirees to provide a voice in national fights such as protection of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and public education, plus activism on other social justice issues.
But the work is “not about playing defense,” Stocks said. “It’s about asking members to join us as we take back our professions” and take charge of the educator quality debate.
Since last year, through the Great Public Schools Network, Stocks told the group, NEA has awarded $13 million to 28 NEA affiliates and locals that are implementing student-centered association agendas and defining for the rest of the country what NEA stands for.
Stocks also reinforced Eskelsen-García’s message about the importance of intergenerational cooperation. Fellow boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day, which means 80 million or more baby boomers could be on Medicare and Social Security in the coming years, Stocks told the group.
In this era of partisan bickering, the generations need to depend on each other, Stocks said. “Your struggle, your persistence, your successes make me optimistic.”
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel will address NEA—Retired members Sunday morning.