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Executive Director's Column

You can count on PSEA to be here for you

COVID-19 Pandemic. Masks. Social distance. Vaccine. Remote classes. Hybrid schedules.

We start the 2020-21 year with a new vocabulary that accentuates the differences in our lives between pre-pandemic and today. It hasn’t been easy, and it isn’t over yet.
However, just like our members won’t let COVID-19 stop them from delivering the power of a great education, we are also continuing the core work of this Association. Here are a few examples of how we are adapting our work to meet the challenges we face.
PSEA holds a Presidents and Collective Bargaining Conference in Hershey every October. Hundreds of local leaders gather to network and learn from one another about the latest happenings in collective bargaining and other policy issues affecting public education. This year, there will be no informal gathering around the lobby fireplace, no opening session in the ballroom. However, PSEA will still provide updates and professional development sessions in a virtual Collective Bargaining Conference. Staff have worked to adapt their presentations for an online environment, and the content and connections will still be meaningful.
This conference is particularly important as many locals will start bargaining in 2021, in the uncharted territory of bargaining during a pandemic. Please be assured - we have your back. PSEA staff have drafted best practices and up-to-date information to guide bargaining in a virtual/COVID-19 environment. We are prepared because, like you, we have kept our eyes on our core work.
The same is true for our upcoming House of Delegates. The Board of Directors had to postpone PSEA’s 2020 May House until December. Then, in September, the Board determined that it would not be possible or prudent to conduct an in-person House at all this year. So, PSEA is preparing to engage delegates with a virtual House. It will provide a unique opportunity for the members of PSEA to do the important business of your union.
We have been creative problem-solvers in other ways too. A few weeks ago, we rolled out a fully online enrollment process. As of the time I am writing this, more than 85 percent of our new member enrollments have been processed through that system. This is helping both staff and local leaders as they onboard new members, while also facing an increasing workload and lack of opportunities to interact with new employees in traditional ways.
These are just some examples of how PSEA is working to maximize our effectiveness despite working in a remote manner. Our goal is to help you do your best in these trying times. We will continue to do the work of PSEA and hold true to the goals you and the Board set before the onset of the pandemic. And we will endeavor to continue our adaptations and response to our new normal as well.
I know each of you are working harder than ever right now. Please know you can always count on PSEA being here for you, especially when you need it the most and expect it the least.
Email Jim Vaughan:

By the time you read this, school will have started for many of you. Whether you are back in a building with students, an empty building without them, or conducting remote instruction from home, you may be a few weeks into the year.

As I sit here, writing this a few paragraphs at a time in between conversations with PSEA staff, staff at PDE, legislators, and most importantly, your elected PSEA leaders, I struggle with what to say to you.

I could tell you about what we have done since this started: securing guaranteed pay and benefits, providing professional development, releasing a back-to-school report, pushing state government for more and stronger guidance and health care metrics, running a PR campaign focused on viral mitigation, putting out scores of interviews, op-eds, testimonies, and press releases. Yet, none of that changes the unknown, the lack of certainty.

Why are we here?
A failing national strategy to combat this virus has, unfortunately and in large part, politicized this issue, and the result has caused our collective advocacy for you and your students’ safety to result in a significant change in the public attitude. Many parents are desperate to get their children back into classrooms, because we all know that, in an ideal world, that is the best way to educate the overwhelming majority of students. The net effect of this is seen in a defeating array of social media posts that, to me, feels like teachers and support professionals are spoken about as though they don’t even exist in the schools – they are an afterthought.

That is not the case with PSEA. Right now your UniServ staff are working overtime to attend to the urgent needs of you and your colleagues. They are doing their collective best to provide you with a safer environment, access to PPE, necessary MOUs, and input into health and safety plans. We are in daily talks with the Department of Education and other public education stakeholders as we endeavor to provide better guidance, recommendations, and mandates to increase safety in your schools.

As you read this, know that this advocacy has not stopped. In fact, it has likely increased as we ensure that the plans put down on paper and approved by school boards are adhered to - that you are not an afterthought, that your safety and your students’ health is at the forefront of PSEA’s concerns. We will be telling your story to legislators, bureaucrats, the press, and the public. Our voice and your voice will be heard.

I know that voice can make a difference. When we speak with the governor’s office, state departments, and lawmakers, they listen. And they listen because they know there are 180,000 dedicated, hardworking, committed educators and support professionals standing behind us when we have those conversations.

Every day, I marvel at the power and influence you have. And I want to remind you just how important that is to our work - and how important you are to this Association. PSEA will do everything possible to help you. That’s why we’re here.