Solidarity: Stability When the World Turns Upside Down

“I appreciate that my colleagues stood in solidarity and, through our union, ensured the safety of our students and staff as we successfully maneuvered through this difficult year.”- Sharon Vocale, Educational Diagnostician, Aztec Complex

As the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly changed all our lives in early 2020, your union responded quickly by organizing a series of member-driven pandemic responses. Our goal was to ensure the safest working and learning conditions possible for every educator in APS and the students we serve.

From March 2020 through April 2021, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF) leadership conducted over a dozen surveys. We used your responses to ensure our members’ voices were heard clearly as we bargained with APS. We sent out scores of email communications to ATF members (and potential members) to gather opinions and keep you informed.

We were all anxious when schools were closed on March 13, 2020. Fortunately, we had two weeks (thank you, Spring Break) to catch our breath before diving into a new teaching and learning format. We went straight to work without missing a beat to create opportunities to share knowledge about educating students in innovative ways.

Solidarity—that is what unionism is all about. ATF members truly had each other’s backs. We worked collectively to meet the needs of our students. We stood in solidarity with our entire community by setting up Feed Our Families: A Partnership Between ATF and Roadrunner Foodbank. ATF members dug deep and donated over $21,000 to help meet the needs of New Mexican families struggling with food insecurity. ATF: Your Child. My Student. Our Community.

Protecting Our Rights (And Lives) At the Negotiating Table

The summer of 2020 brought us more anxiety. We all pondered the safety concerns and feasibility of hybrid learning. Your union leadership listened to members who were eager to return to classrooms in person, but as the pandemic raged on, the prevailing sentiment among most educators was that it was not safe for in-person schooling.

We spent the summer negotiating agreements that were released on July 22, 2021. The APS-ATF COVID Agreements ensured that all schools would start the year remotely. We won the right for all educators to work remotely and for APS to train and equip schools with the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

One of the chief victories of this MOU, which was designed to address anxieties over the hybrid model, was securing accommodations for individuals with High-Risk medical conditions who may not have qualified for ADA accommodations. ATF also secured accommodations for educators who live with people who have high-risk medical conditions. A system was set up to ensure that these folks would only go back in person when COVID conditions improved.

“As we geared up to go back to school this past year, I was very concerned as a member of my household had just undergone surgery and their immune system was compromised. The idea of going back without our county being “green” or until my family had the opportunity to get vaccinated was a huge concern. ATF’s push for accommodations, like the ability to work at home, eased my mind and allowed me to focus on my primary goal: to serve my students.”- Karn Gustafson, ATF Technology, 24-year ATF Member

As the possibility of a hybrid return loomed, your union negotiated the terms and conditions of such assignments in the October 21, 2020 Hybrid MOU. ATF affirmed agreements on safety training for in-person work and won pay and training for educators assigned to additional duties.

This agreement contained a host of safety agreements including:

  • the rights of staff to attend meetings virtually
  • employees’ ability to work from home
  • room capacity numbers for voluntary Special Ed. in the Red classes
  • day care needs of families in our communities
  • the rights of staff to bring their own children to any hybrid learning assignment
  • assurance that accepting a remote work assignment did not preclude educators from continuing in their former jobs post pandemic; and, of course,
  • protection of prep time and duty-free lunch in remote and hybrid settings.

In March of 2021, when educators were called back to in-person schooling by the Governor, ATF negotiated the School Reopening MOU in which safety was made the priority once again. Provisions were made for staff to access leave for COVID testing, vaccinations, and in case they or someone in their home became sick from the virus. We secured days for preparation prior to the return during the week of March 29th-April 1st. Given our union’s stance on Green or Vaccine (below), educators were prioritized in their access to vaccinations.

ATF’s Member-Driven Positions and Lobbying

Listening to and polling members drove the positions our union took throughout the darkest days of the pandemic. For this reason, the entire ATF Executive Council and the ATF Organizing Team sponsored the Motion to Extend Remote Learning Until, At Least, The End of the First Semester of SY 2020-21 at Fed Rep Council. The motion asserted that remote teaching and learning continued to be the safest option for all staff and students. Fed Reps took the motion back to their constituents to gather opinions, but the body of Fed Reps did not have the opportunity to vote on the motion.

Ellen had shared our motion with the APS leadership and Board of Education after it was introduced at Fed Rep Council. Subsequently at their next meeting, the board’s decision mirrored our motion making our union’s vote moot. Every educator in APS should note how important it has been to have a majority of the APS Board vote in favor prioritizing the safety of our staff, students, and community. We are grateful.

“I think we can all safely say this was the most turbulent, challenging year of teaching we have collectively faced as educators. Early on in the pandemic, as the uncertainty and seriousness of Covid mounted, I felt enormous anxiety to keep my colleagues and family safe by remaining remote until at least December. My colleagues and I worked diligently to build the best online curriculum possible. As the safety of our community was priority number one, it seemed the only viable option for meeting our students’ needs was to continue remote learning.”-Rose Schiowitz, Dual Language Teacher, Eugene Field ES 

In October, ATF Leadership penned a twin set of documents outlining our union’s vision for New Mexico’s education system going forward in the eventuality that the all-clear whistle was blown to end the shutdown. Our union used our flagship publication, Educator’s Voice, to release “Post-Pandemic Public Education: Equity &  Excellence” which featured ATF’s legislative priorities for the 2021 NM Legislative Session.

Looking forward to a day when schools reopened, your union called for investment in the staffing and services our students will need to overcome the challenges of post-pandemic America. We called for addressing the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit by reforming the deep structures of our school systems and focusing on students’ cultural and personal needs.

We put forth ideas on attracting and retaining educators, modernizing high school graduation requirements, making elementary school appropriate to the needs of elementary students by limiting standardized testing, creating middle schools designed specifically for young adolescents, and expanding community school services.

Most importantly we called for change. “The closing of school buildings during the pandemic affords us an opportunity to rethink the schooling we have been providing. We must seize this opportunity to achieve a more equitable, student-focused education system that helps each child to succeed and achieve.” Our point is that we can never address the inequities illuminated and exacerbated by the pandemic without a shift in our mindset that calls for a re-envisioning of and reinvestment in our schools.

“ATF took the initiative to expand community schools amidst a pandemic. Community Schools are hubs where families can receive additional services that often exceed the capacity of traditional schools. Our union is dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable families in our community and enhancing their ability to make ends meet.”- James Urbany, Social Worker, Title I

As the second semester began, ATF Leadership released “Starting In-Person/Hybrid Schooling: An ATF Proclamation”  which featured the line, “Green or Vaccine Whichever Comes First.” We asserted that educators had done their best to meet the needs of students throughout the crisis by providing top-notch remote instruction. As political calls to return to in-person learning increased, we asserted that this could and should only be done once educators had access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Once again, the APS Board of Education overwhelmingly agreed, and voted to extend remote learning through the end of the school year or until Bernalillo County was classified as “Green” with only a trickle of new cases. As we know, this decision was negated by the governor’s proclamation that everyone should get back to in-person schooling. Caught in a national trend to reopen, your union next focused our attention on negotiating a safe return and demanding access to vaccines.

On February 22, 2021, we published “An Open Letter to the Honorable Michelle Lujan Grisham, Governor of the State of New Mexico.”  We commended the Governor on her handling of the pandemic up to that point and her commitment to public safety. However, we asserted that all educators being asked to return to in-person learning must be vaccinated as soon as possible and as fully as possible. We were pleased with the sore arms we soon received.


“As a Visual Arts Educator, returning to in-person learning was concerning because of the possibility of being exposed to the entire student body. My union’s push for ‘Green or Vaccine’ was very important to me, and I am so thankful that our union stands up for the safety of students, families, and all school staff.” -Cheryl Padilla Maldonado, Visual Arts Teacher, Mission Avenue ES

ATF’s advocacy work continued throughout the summer. In June, we announced our agreement with APS guaranteeing that during the 2021-2022 school year and in all subsequent years, educators will be required to teach either online or in person, but not both simultaneously, unless they have volunteered to do so.

On July 10th we announced that, although our first agreement was delayed, we were successful in ensuring that APS employees and recent retirees will be receiving a one-time supplemental compensation payment of $1,000 for COVID-related work on August 20th!

Advocating for this hard-earned and well-deserved money is just one of the many ways your union, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, fights on your behalf!

Professional Development Driven by Members’ Needs

Our members understand the importance of educator leadership and they are dedicated to professional excellence. Who better to provide professional development and support to their peers than the practitioners who were pioneering remote learning?

At the onset of school closures, educators were thrown into a new world where they needed to engage students online. This was radically different from welcoming students to the community of our physical classroom. ATF cast a net and asked members to highlight lessons that were working for them and formats they were using to build that engagement. Members sent us a wide range of ideas, pictures, and videos of them plying their trade virtually. We shared these ideas with our entire membership (and the world) on our website:

In the first semester of the 2020-21 School Year, over 100 educators from all levels joined our Share Fair on September 29th. This involved member-led discussions in both a large group and smaller break-out groups. Educators came together to share ideas that had worked in their classroom and/or school, and to discuss challenges and solutions.

A cadre of volunteers from a variety of educational role groups worked to address students’ and educators’ social and emotional needs through the ATF Students in the Center project. These outstanding educators provided discussion-driven ideas for how to engage students and meet their basic needs to foster their academic growth. Topics ranged from mindful practices to restorative practices in the classroom. ATF is expanding this project for the 2021-2022 school year. Find information on our Professional Development page.

“Collaborating with my peers through ATF professional development gave me the resources and support I needed to do my job effectively and safely. I sharpened my remote teaching skills which allowed me to express my own voice as a teacher. My union provided solidarity and comradery for educators during this critical time.”- Phillip King, Teacher, Wilson MS

Realizing that educators new to the profession would have a no sense of what teaching in a physical classroom would be like, ATF members established, “Don’t Let This Year Define Your Career,” a program to help newer educators see beyond this year of remote teaching and learning. The classes were designed to provide a long view of a career in public education and ways to take the lessons learned from this challenging year and use them in the future.

With the success of our first Share Fair and the opening of schools for some small group instruction by educators who volunteered to go back in person, our union offered the ATF Small Group Instruction Share Fair on February 25, 2021. Members used this informal online format to discuss how in-person instruction looked at their schools and what the schools would look like upon return.

Albuquerque Teachers Federation: MEMBER-DRIVEN UNION POWER

When the shutdown occurred, the entire country was rocked back on its heels. ATF never stopped advocating for the contractual rights and safety of all educators and their students. Your union doubled down on building MEMBER-DRIVEN UNION POWER to keep our educators, students, and community safe. When the chips are down, some may turn and run. Through solidarity, we will always stand strong.

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