Thousands of members and leaders help move our unions’ work forward every day — advocating for our students, their colleagues and Florida’s public schools.
Here, five teachers and education staff professionals from around the state talk about what brought them to their union and the rewards of being involved.
Sixth-grade science teacher and president of the Jackson County Education Association (JCEA)
Dave Galloway became a teacher in 2007 at age 50, after moving to Jackson County, Fla., where his wife has roots. As a young man, he spent three years in the Army, followed by a dozen years in the Florida National Guard. Galloway worked for many years in water utilities in West Palm Beach, where he was a leader in a non-education union local. Then in 1998 came the move to North Florida. There, he went back to school to prepare for the career he had wanted when he left the Army in 1977 — teaching. “My only regret about teaching is not getting to the dance sooner.” Galloway joined the Jackson County Education Association in 2007, on the day he got his classroom, and was elected president in 2011. He will retire from the district at the end of this school year.
Path to advocacy: Galloway grew up as a union believer. His father, a Teamster, “taught me the union puts bread on the table.”
Issues: “My members’ and students’ safety during the pandemic,” teaching conditions, the “privatization of public education by our supposed leaders in Tallahassee.”
His union: “We focus on what we can do locally, and we’ve established a great value to being a member. My members know they are never alone in the classroom. They know we’re only a phone call away. If they call, we’re coming, and we’re coming heavy.”
He’s proud of: In the past few years, helping start an education union in North Florida’s Calhoun County. “That was actually a five-year process.”
Favorite story: “There’s a lot of them. Mine always go back to getting 70 or 80 members in a [school district] boardroom and applying that external pressure. … To move people to action and then see the empowerment that comes from that action, that makes it all worthwhile.”
Paraprofessional and member of Broward Teachers Union (BTU)
Beverly Thompson has been working in education as a paraprofessional for 15 years, and now serves as a community liaison for the district’s Title I department, working at a family resource center. Previously, Thompson worked in classrooms for many years. She became a union member in 2007 after a bad incident. Thompson was attacked by a student at an alternative center, and felt the district handled the incident very poorly. “I realized then that I needed protection. I joined the union so that I could know what my rights were.” An active member from the start, she became strongly engaged when her union, which was made up of education staff professionals involved in instruction and advising, merged with the teacher union in 2009. She now sits on the executive board of the Broward Teachers Union as one of five education staff professional representatives.
Path to advocacy: At the point of the Broward unions merging, “I saw there was so much more. I realized that there was more I could learn, there was more I could do. There was more opportunity to expand what I do to try to help people. … Also, I wanted to make sure the education staff professionals didn’t get lost. I wanted to make sure we’d get equal billing.”
Issues: Working conditions, especially in relation to Covid-19, and pay. “We have ESPs who are facing homelessness and food insecurity.” Many, she notes, work three or four jobs, although some of those jobs have dried up during the pandemic.
Reward: “I enjoy my union activism. I get to be in the heart of things. … I feel like I do my part in giving us a voice.”
Her union: “We fight for everyone. We make sure that everybody gets what they deserve.”
Favorite story: Last year she broke her foot around the time of the Jan. 13 Rally in Tallahassee, and nearly decided not to make the trip. But she went anyway and ended up marching toward the Capitol right behind the Rev. Al Sharpton. “I walked up that hill with my boot on and a cane, and I had the best day ever.” She laughs. “I got rained on and everything, but it was just a great day. To see the enthusiasm, the crowd, all the speakers. I felt that I was there for all the people who couldn’t be there. I kind of went for them. I wasn’t going to go, then I really enjoyed that day.”
High school chemistry teacher, member of the Seminole Education Association (SEA) and former member of Volusia United Educators (VUE)
Judy Ngying has been teaching for 23 years and has been a union member for 23 years, “every single year. I had a wonderful mentor teacher who told me, sign up.” She joined for the insurance, but as a single mom at the time, didn’t have the bandwidth to be an active member. Around 2010, things changed, and once Ngying was in, she was all in. Her work as an advocate “exploded.” She has been a rep and an officer with her local, sitting on various boards and councils. She has gone to bat for individual educators and traveled to Tallahassee to help speak for us all. Rallies, trainings, petitions, voter registration — you name it, and Ngying has done it. Recently, she has been speaking up on television and elsewhere about the need for educators to have priority in getting the Covid-19 vaccines.
Path to advocacy: Ngying became a union rep when she helped open a new, huge high school in 2010 and it was clear the other site rep needed help. The 2012 election provided another push toward ever greater involvement. “I loved it,” Ngying says. “I still do.”
Issues: Evaluations as teachers deal with changing working conditions and teaching methods during the pandemic, safety in terms of Covid-19 and gun violence, and local control. “Our school boards and our superintendents should be the ones to decide on a whole range of issues.”
Her union: At the local level, “I really like to help people. And I love seeing that what I did made a difference in keeping their job or making their workday better.”
Rewards: Camaraderie and a sense of unified purpose in working toward meaningful goals. On the state level, getting to go up to Tallahassee to hear people speak out, and getting the opportunity to work with other unions such as the AFL-CIO is “fantastic,” Ngying says. “You’re part of something so big, and everybody has the same goal: Let’s be fair and equitable to all working families.”
Favorite story: Ngying’s husband looks a lot like Barack Obama — enough to impersonate the 44th president. At the 2012 NEA RA convention, she and her husband capitalized on that fact to raise money for the NEA’s political action fund. Charging $5 each for photos with “Obama,” they raised about $1,000 in three days. “It was wonderful. That was a lot of fun,” Ngying recalls. “The next year we went (to the NEA RA) and they remembered him. It was like, ‘Hey Obama!’”
Custodian and member of the Okaloosa Education Staff Professionals Association (Okaloosa ESPA)
Marshall Mosley had a long and rewarding career before he ever started working with schools. He spent 26 years in the Air Force, including 21 overseas in places such as England, and retired in 2006 at the rank of master sergeant. He and his family settled down in northwest Florida, in the vicinity of Eglin Air Force Base. After retirement, he went back to school in two ways: working on a bachelor’s degree in political science online with Troy University, and working for the Okaloosa County School District, first as a lunchroom monitor and later as a part-time custodian with the district Nutrition Center. He got that bachelor’s degree and is now working on a master’s. Except for a short break to concentrate on college, he has continued to work for the district and play key roles in his union, serving as a site representative, as the food service representative and on the executive committee.
Path to advocacy: “It was kind of timing,” Mosley explained when asked how he became involved with the union. In the course of studying political science, he read an article about working conditions and the history of unions in improving them. Then a custodian approached him about joining the Okaloosa ESPA. “It was fresh in my mind. They didn’t have to twist my arm.”
Rewards: “I feel more involved in trying to get better benefits for me and my fellow workers. I feel more like a participant,” with some control over policies, rules and guidelines. “I’m not just a bystander.”
His union: “We’re not just there when you get in trouble. We’re there to get more benefits and better wages.”
Issues: Affordable health care and better pay. While he concurs that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will help many people, he notes that wages stagnated starting in the seventies. To correct that trend, “a living wage would be $24 to $25.” Even if he went to full time as a custodian, “if I didn’t have the military retirement, I would have two jobs.”
Middle school math teacher and president of the Polk Education Association (PEA)
Elected president of PEA in 2019, Stephanie Yocum is relatively new at leading her local, but it has been a wild ride so far. From a brouhaha over PEA members attending last year’s Jan. 13 Rally in Tallahassee, when so many Polk educators signed up to go that the Department of Education warned of possible firings, to now and the turmoil associated with Covid-19. “It has been a roller coaster this year. It has been one thing after the other.” Her local is hard at work for the upcoming legislative session. They started talking in-person and virtually to their state lawmakers before the winter holidays about the Florida Retirement System (FRS), multiyear contracts and other issues laid out in FEA’s legislative agenda. Results vary lawmaker to lawmaker, but Yocum says she’s feeling confident. They tailor a pitch to each lawmaker, concentrating on what that will resonate with them, and they seem receptive.
The path to advocacy: Yocum loves teaching middle schoolers, but in her third year in the classroom, around 2011-12, “I got into a little bit of trouble with that sarcastic mouth of mine,” she recalls with a laugh. She wasn’t a union member, but the leader of the Levy County local at the time helped anyway. “She was there for me, and I am a fiercely loyal person. From that day on, I’m like, I am going to be a part of my union because Carmen (Ward) helped me when she didn’t have to. That started my union career really. When I saw firsthand what unionism is and what unionism does for the individual person and the group, I was all in. And so I’ve been all in ever since.”
Her union: “We’re doing some pretty great things in Polk and people want to be a part of that. People want to be a part of something.”
What keeps her going: “What really keeps me going is when you can go out to school sites and talk to people, be able to tell them what’s going on, and feel their energy and feel their hopefulness. You grab onto that and that’s what keeps you going because activism is hard. You have to make sure that you have those things at your fingertips that can reenergize you, that keep you focused on the bigger picture of trying to just make things better for your folks.”