I went into special education because of my own background. Growing up, it was difficult for me to follow directions when I didn’t have a clear why as to what I was being asked to do. I was the person who asked a lot of questions. Educators didn’t know what to do with me because I didn’t fit the mold. And so, I got shuffled around a lot and fell through the cracks sometimes. I ended up going to an alternative school. It was a lot smaller than my regular public school, and I thrived. So, I became a champion of finding ways for everyone, especially people who didn’t necessarily fit the mold, to be successful in a general education setting and alternative routes.
As for my union, I grew up in a union my family. My mother was a union organizer in the Midwest. Because I love storytelling, I often tell the story of how for our vacations, my mom would take us to NEA conferences because she was also a public school teacher. I remember her telling us the story of when she was a teacher, women still had to go in and bargain their teaching contracts every year when men did not. She knew something was totally wrong with this picture. Growing up in the Midwest, I was surrounded by a lot of factories, and I remember driving and seeing people on strike.
My mom specifically said: ‘That is the number one thing you do not do, Emily, is cross that picket line.’
Since a young age, I’ve seen the power of solidarity and the workforce. The power of numbers and a bottom-up structure. And that’s how we try to run our local union, Education Austin.
We have been able to make significant changes in our school district too. When I moved to Texas from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, I had no idea what a union meant in a right-to-work state. People tend to think you don't have a lot of power. But that’s not true. Our union has pushed for real changes in our school district, from pay raises to winning due process for classified employees. We have a long list of demands that we’ve won.
I have three children of my own. I hope that that they can see the importance of unions and they're able to see and live the experience along with me. I take them to a lot of rallies and school board meetings. I hope that my kids can see and understand the importance of unions — and grow up to be future union, labor activists.