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upfront

Nothing counts but pressure, pressure, more pressure, and still more pressure through broad organized aggressive mass action.
–  A. Philip Randolph

May/June 2017

I began my first Up Front article in September/October 2013 with Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. It is fitting that my final Up Front begins with the words of another civil rights and labour union activist.

By now, you have all had an opportunity to read the opening proposals of your Association and the employer. Government’s proposals show a level of disrespect for our profession and a lack of understanding of the realities of today’s education system that we have not experienced in quite some time. It is easy to conclude that those who authored government’s proposals never stepped inside a classroom.

Their proposals attack your rights as teachers and target female teachers and teachers wishing to start families. Make no mistake, government’s proposals will erode your working conditions, your rights to due process, and your standard of living.

We cannot afford to remain silent. We must be prepared to use our collective voice and act in solidarity to apply the pressure we need to defend our collective rights.

When I offered myself for the position of NLTA president, I made one simple commitment: to be your voice. That commitment was personal to me, and I would like to believe I have lived up to it. Teacher issues were, are, and will be my issues.

Over the past four years we have done much to raise the profile of education and the voice of teachers, the teaching profession, and our Association. I have referred to these initiatives in previous articles and in my speech to the Biennial General Meeting.

But we must continue to speak to the issues that matter, and we must all share in the responsibility for doing so. That responsibility starts with becoming personally involved in the collective bargaining process. Whatever agreement we eventually vote to accept will not only affect us for the duration of the agreement, but also has the potential to impact the rest of our teaching career and our lives. We will be living with our next contract for a very long time; we had better make sure it’s one we can all live with.

Each of us must take an active role in informing ourselves, by reading updates from the NLTA, by attending meetings or rallies, and by asking questions of our Provincial Executive. We cannot afford to leave it to a few of our colleagues to do this for us. Nor can we afford to be complacent, apathetic, or defeatist. Most of all, we must be ever vigilant against division, because there is much in government’s proposals designed to drive wedges between us if we allow it. And always resist efforts by government to drive a wedge between you and your Association’s leadership.

On a more personal note, I want to say I will miss this job. I will miss the visits to schools, many of them in small or isolated communities. I have had the privilege to visit parts of this province I would not have otherwise visited. I will miss the conversations with teachers, the debate, the people, the camaraderie. I will miss all of this. Having had the privilege of calling you colleagues, the opportunity to know and work with you, to work on behalf of teachers, and to serve as your President is for me, “the best job I ever had”. I am Association proud; I am Union proud.

You’ve heard the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Well, it takes an Association and a family to raise a president.

Thank you to Provincial Executive and branch presidents for your support and the sharing in the decision-making process. Thank you to the many school reps for providing that essential link between the NLTA leadership and the teachers in your schools. Serving as President was made easier because of the incredible staff at the NLTA building who welcomed me into their family from the beginning. They work tirelessly on your behalf. Thank you to Perry Downey for his years of dedicated service to the teachers of this province and best wishes in his new career.

It would not have been possible to do this job without the involvement of my family. My late brother, Mike, was an enthusiastic supporter and applied his media skills in my first campaigns for Vice-President. My three children Kate, Sarah, and Jamie have actively participated in my elections and have been a source of strength throughout my terms as Vice-President and President. They have always been present when called upon. Their patience and understanding, especially for the times when I have been away from home or preoccupied by NLTA matters, has not gone unnoticed.

Most of all, I want to thank my wife Michelle who picked up the slack of my family obligations and responsibilities and maintained the routines and balance of our home. She’s been with me all along the way and has been my biggest promoter. She’s been my campaign organizer, events planner, fashion adviser, memory for names and details, partner and love of my life.

To the teachers of our province, thank you for the support you have given me over my four years as President. I want you to know how deeply I appreciated the hospitality and warm welcome I received when I visited your schools and branches. If you support your new president and executive the way you have supported me, our Association will be in good hands and we will continue to be a strong voice for education and a force for change

Jim