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“U & I in Union:” Beating the Same Forces “Coming After Us”

Eric Maroney (above, right) last month began a new career as a developmental English instructor in the College Advancement Studies (CAS) department at Gateway Community College in New Haven. For the nine prior years he worked as a language arts teacher and curriculum specialist in the city’s PreK-12 public schools. 
Maroney said it was a “really difficult decision” to leave his former position, particularly after building lasting relationships with former students. Still, he said the new role is a natural extension of his vocation.
“I’m lucky enough to teach two students now who I previously taught,” said Maroney, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Federation of Technical College Teachers. It was one of those connections that led him in July to take action and engage union leaders when a former student’s family found themselves in crisis.
That was when Salma Sikandar, whose son Samir had just graduated from New Haven Pubic Schools, was hit with an arbitrary deportation order. Maroney in response volunteered with the locally-based immigrants rights organization Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), which immediately took up the family’s plight.
Click here for press reporting on the community’s response to Sikandar’s deportation order.
One of Maroney’s initial contributions was to tap his experience as a building representative and delegate with our affiliated New Haven Federation of Teachers to engage the state’s labor movement. He quickly reached out to AFT Connecticut leaders to help rally support.
Our state federation’s social justice committee chair, Stephanie Johnson, RPSGT (above, right) said she immediately set about marshaling resources to “stand behind Salma and her family.”
Calling the struggle the “right one for union members to be engaged in,” Johnson worked with Maroney to mobilize for a rally organized by ULA. The event, held outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Hartford office, drew the attention of elected officials and the wider public to the Sikander family’s struggle.
Click here for press reporting on the Hartford rally featuring Maroney’s comments.
“We told Eric we’d get him whatever help he needed in this fight,” said Johnson. She added that “making a statement, mobilizing members, circulating the petition, pushing the message on social media” were examples of being “all in for social justice.”
For Maroney, enlisting his union’s support was a crucial element to a coordinated campaign of direct action. “As a single individual, I have only so much influence,” he said, adding that “having a larger organization behind us was very important.”
Assistance continued over the next several weeks, including dispatching AFT Connecticut leaders and staff to aid Sikander’s husband and others engaged in a hunger strike outside ICE’s Hartford office.
Click here for photos of our executive vice president performing wellness checks on the participants in the fast.
Hours before Sikander was to have been deported, Maroney and Johnson learned ICE had granted a year-long stay in response to the public pressure.
“The same forces that benefit from restricting the rights of undocumented workers are the same ones who are coming after us as unionized workers,” said Maroney. “It makes sense that we fight for other working class people — even those that come from different walks of life than we do,” he added.
“We stood up for what was right, we joined the community and we won,” said Johnson. She said the result, coming at a critical crossroads for the nation’s labor movement, clearly demonstrated that union members “sticking together is what makes us strong.”
Click here to watch Maroney and Johnson share more on their collective efforts to mobilize union members and the community.
For union members, a similar crisis presents yet another opportunity to demonstrate that strength. Nelson Pinos, an undocumented immigrant and father of three New Haven Public Schools’ students, has for nearly a year been shielded from deportation by taking sanctuary in a local church.
Maroney has brought the issue to the social justice committee and is asking fellow union members to join the community in once again defending a family under siege.
Click here to sign the petition to ICE and federal elected officials requesting a stay of Pinos’ deportation order.
Together, organizing to keep Samir’s mother from being unfairly deported and mobilizing to win the same for Pinos’ children offer hope and inspiration in difficult times. The efforts serve to bolster that bedrock principle of the American labor movement that individuals banding together can accomplish what can not be achieved by acting alone.
Click here for more on our “U & I in Union” campaign to secure a better future for working families.

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