Wednesday, February 07, 2024

My memories of James Eterno

I started reading the ICE blog in June 2013 to pass time when I was reassigned to Fordham Plaza after an OSI investigation filed against me by my principal. Thankfully my charges were dropped and my record was cleared. I like to not think about my time in the reassignment center but I will always remember the lessons I learned from reading the ICE blog that spring and summer. James' work helped me gain a greater appreciation and fascination with union politics and union history. It propelled me to write my Masters thesis on UFT history, the evolution of due process and the grievance procedure.

I met James at an ICE Meeting in 2014. I was with two colleagues and we were announcing to ICE that we were creating new caucus (UFT Solidarity) focused on bread-and-butter workplace issues and correcting malfeasance in the UFT leadership. I don't remember what I said, I only remember a lot of shouting back and forth and James' kind warmth toward myself and my friends. While we didn't win ICE's support in '14, we did win the individual respect of James and his wife, Camille.

I can credit many UFT activists for teaching me how to organize members around common concerns, how to co-run a caucus, how to work together with different groups, and how to help UFT members on the best and worst days. James modeled all this with patience and grace. James supported UFT Solidarity's campaign in 2019 and believed in me as a unionist. James supported my candidacy as UFT President in 2019 and my run (and very brief tenure) as a High School Executive Board member in 2022. 

While I am no longer in the NYC Department of Education or involved in UFT politics anymore, I can look back upon my hard work serving educators in NYC with pride because of what James modeled through his compassion, empathy and care. The opposition movement will remain viable and strong thanks to the roots James planted. However, the UFT has lost one of the greats and that is tragic. James Eterno was one in a million and while he cannot be replaced, his light will always shine.

Solidarity forever!

Lydia Howrilka 

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