Members and leaders of KY120 United — the organization formed three years ago to support educators, public employees and retirees — announced last week that it is partnering with the American Federation of Teachers. The partnership will conduct a groundbreaking organizing campaign to amplify Kentucky voices “for rational and fair treatment of teachers and others who deliver public education and services essential to the communities and families in all of the state’s 120 counties,” said a partnership news release.

“We believe mobilizing under the AFT banner gives us the best of both worlds — our own experience and success with grassroots activism here in Kentucky, and the expertise and stature of a national union of professionals,” said Nema Brewer, who has led legislative lobbying for KY120 United since its founding in March 2018.

Brewer and others representing the advocacy group spoke at a March 29 news conference at the state Capitol. “This is where we first mobilized to stand against the misguided 2018 pension bill that threatened economic security for thousands of retired Kentucky educators,” Brewer said. “So, it is appropriate that we announce the next chapter in the life of KY120 United here where our efforts began.”

The American Federation of Teachers is a national union representing teachers and school staff, public employees, higher education faculty and staff, and nurses and other healthcare professionals. The AFT’s 1.7 million members champion fairness, democracy, economic opportunity, and high-quality public education, health care and public services, the news release said.

Over the last three years, KY120 United has emerged as one of the state’s leading advocates for public education and essential services. “Our central mission is working with state and local officials to secure the resources for public schools and services that Kentucky children and their families deserve,” said Terrie Foust White, a retired Lyon County teacher and leader of KY120 United, Zone 1, which includes Lyon County.

Teachers, school staff, public employees, university personnel and retirees from across the state are welcome to join. Under the partnership with the AFT, KY120 United members may become associate members of the national union. For some of them, that will be in addition to other professional memberships they already maintain.

Donielle Lovell of Elizabethtown, a college associate professor of sociology, said the partnership with the AFT makes sense for higher education faculty and staff. “The AFT is active in higher education across the country, and it is committed to community engagement and activism, which is exactly what KY120 United has been doing.”

Another reason KY120 United sought out the AFT is the national union’s strong involvement with retired members. In Kentucky, retirees have often been the go-to activists who can mobilize with fewer schedule conflicts than those still in the workforce. And retirees have seen issues develop over decades. “The time for talking a problem to death is over. It’s time to take action,” said Mickey John McCoy, a retired teacher from Inez, where he also is a former mayor.

“If you want to be part of the effort to break down barriers blocking progress in Kentucky,” said Christina Trosper, a social studies teacher from Knox County, “now is the time to join with KY120 United-AFT and work with us to make our state a place where all children and their families have a chance to thrive.”

Jeni Bolander, a special education teacher from Fayette County, said: “From the beginning, KY120 United has been organizing for change and to make sure elected officials listen to the people whose lives can be changed by legislation and policy making.

“We believe in Kentucky, we believe in public schools and public employees,” Bolander said, “and we believe that when we stand united, our voice is stronger and more powerful. This is the next logical step in our journey as KY120, and we cannot be more excited to start the next chapter today.”