W. Gerard Oleksiak, candidate for PSEA president

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W. Gerard Oleksiak, candidate for PSEA president

Voice: March 2017

This is the sixth and final time I will be writing a column for Voice as a candidate for PSEA office. I have been honored by the trust you have shown in me, by the support you have given to me, by the strength you have shared with me, and by the lessons you have taught me. I am a better person for having taken this journey with you, and I hope as part of that journey I have served you well and made you proud of who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

Together, we have worked hard and well, but our work is far from over. It never is. It never will be.

The forces aligned against public education and organized labor are convinced that now is their time. Public education has failed, they tell us, and must be dismantled. Organized labor was needed once, they say, but it has no place in America's global economy today.

"They" could not be more wrong. Under attack, yes; finished, no.

Public education has been and remains one of the bedrock institutions of our country, educating 90% of K-12 students in America. Organized labor, even with its ranks depleted, remains a powerful advocate for working men and women all across America, particularly in public sector unions like NEA/PSEA.

We recognize the threat. We understand the consequences. We do not back down. We chose to fight for the institution we have made our life's work, and we chose to fight for the union that is our voice while we do that work.

The fights we fight today are the same as those we have fought for far too many years. The great labor leader Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers, taught us "The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is about people." For us, those people are first and foremost our students: the kids on our bus, in our library, on our playing fields, in our classroom. It is also about our colleagues: the veteran teacher down the hall, still at the top of her game; the student teacher we mentor, seeing things in him he doesn't yet see in himself; the school secretary who miraculously keeps everything running smoothly through whatever crisis the day brings; the custodian who knows every student by name, and many of their brothers and sisters; the school nurse with unlimited skills, kindness, and compassion; the paraprofessional who pays for the field trip for that student who would otherwise be at home. You know who they are. You see them every day, and you live it every day in your own work.

PSEA makes a difference in the lives of all of those people. Working together, supporting each other, we have been advocate, protector, champion in the halls of power. We will always - always - take that responsibility seriously, respect that trust, and honor that commitment to our professions and to each other. That is what unons do. That is solidarity.

Thank you for the opportunity to play a part in that for all these years. Thank you for your support as I seek reelection to the office of PSEA President.