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“U & I in Union:” Putting Collective Action Theory into Practice

John Pascone (above, left) is the related education department head at Harvard H. Ellis Technical High School in Danielson. He leads a team of approximately 40 academic teachers who provide instruction in science, technology, engineering and math — the so-called STEM fields — for students in grades 9 to 12. 
Referring to the mission of his colleagues in the State Technical High School System (CTHSS), Pascone said, “we’re the original STEM schools.” He added, “we can point to what our students are learning in the trades and say, ‘this is where the theory from your academic courses gets put into practice.’”
Click here for news reporting on the unique career and technical education (CTE) Pascone and his fellow state employees provide.
An activist in our AFT Connecticut-affiliated State Vocational Federation of Teachers (SVFT), Pascone serves as a building representative for his colleagues at Ellis Tech. He first became interested in union leadership opportunities after the theory of collective action was nine years ago put into practice in a very personal way.
That was when Pascone accessed a contractually-negotiated benefit that protected his family from financial ruin following an automobile accident that nearly took his life.
“I don’t believe anyone joins a union thinking, ‘someday I’m going to take advantage of all this good will,'” said Pascone, referring to extended paid leave benefits. “But I’m here to tell you, my union stepped up when I needed them.”
Multiple surgeries, intensive physical therapy and treatments for medical complications — including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection — translated into nearly two years of recovery for Pascone. Thanks to the donated time of his colleagues to his union’s “sick leave bank,” he was able to focus on healing, instead of worrying about his bills.
“After three years of service, a member can join the sick bank,” said SVFT President Ed Leavy (above, right). “They can draw up to two years of paid leave. As members like John would draw on the reserves, eligible members would replenish them,” added Leavy, a veteran English teacher at Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport.
Click here for our State Vocational Federation of Teachers’ current sick leave bank benefit language.
“For what should have been an accident recovery, it took years instead of months,” said Pascone. Referring to the paid leave, he said that he “never worried once about losing my home” or “about not being able to send my kids to college.”
“The only thing that I had to worry about was getting better,” Pascone added.
For Pascone, the experience demonstrated how the entire family benefits from the “union difference” — especially in a time of personal crisis. His wife Kimberly, who also works at Ellis Tech as the dean of students, found a strong and consistent support network from local leadership and school colleagues throughout their ordeal. 
“Right from the time of the accident, our union made connections with Kim, making sure she had the right paperwork filled out,” said Pascone. “They made sure she never felt alone.”
Click here to watch Pascone and Leavy share more on how this vital benefit was there when it was needed most.
The vast majority of union members will never need to rely on the union advantage to sustain them or their families for such an extended period of time. Still, Pascone’s story serves as an important reminder of the labor movement’s value at a time when past gains — like paid sick leave — face escalating threats.
Leaders of our state federation late last year sought to tap into the strength of personal experiences like Pascone’s to build a robust collective defense against special interest-funded attacks. The effort was launched to mobilize resistance to the anti-democratic forces behind a lawsuit under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court aimed at weakening collective bargaining rights.
Click here for our previous report on the launch of the “U & I in Union” campaign.

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