PORT WASHINGTON — CSEA is lucky to have some noteworthy activists within our ranks, including Richard “Ritchie” Acevedo, president of our Port Washington School District Unit and 2nd vice president of the Nassau Educational Employees Local 865.
Along with his CSEA posts, Acevedo also serves as president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement’s (LCLAA) Long Island chapter. LCLAA is a national organization that represents the interests of Latino/a trade unionists across the United States and Puerto Rico, including those under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO. CSEA plays an active role in LCLAA.
Acevedo was among the political and community leaders who were recently honored by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli at the comptroller’s 2016 Hispanic Heritage Reception in Manhattan. The annual event celebrates the contributions of Latinos in New York and throughout the United States.
“When I got the call from DiNapoli’s office that I was being honored, I thought someone was playing a trick on me,” said Acevedo. “I don’t really concentrate on my accomplishments. I just like to be involved and get in the trenches with other members.”
For Acevedo, the award isn’t about his own achievements. It’s about the sacrifices his family made for him.
“My parents came to this country in the 1960s from Columbia with a dream for a better future,” said Acevedo. “I want to continue to live out the expectations and vision that my parents gave me for a better life and pass that mindset on to my children.”
“Because of what my parents sacrificed for my family, it’s my duty to make sure everyone has the same chance that I did,” Acevedo said. “My being born in America doesn’t make me any better than the 12 million undocumented workers who currently live in this country.”
Accountability key to activism
Acevedo began his career in activism in 2004 whenhe ran for president of CSEA’s Port Washington School District Unit. He decided to run for the position when he saw that the unit was giving away more than they were getting during contract negotiations. He noted that his success came from being able to bring people together.
“When I first came to this unit, I saw that there wasn’t a sense of camaraderie,” said Acevedo. “I started arranging social gatherings like picnics and basketball games so everyone could get to know one another.”
He also took it upon himself to get educated by joining CSEA’s Labor Education and Development (LEAD) program, an intensive program that helps prepare our leaders with the skills needed to build and strengthen the labor movement.
Acevedo credits the class for giving him the knowledge he needed to be a better activist and for introducing him to other activists that he can share ideas with.
One of the people he met while attending the LEAD program is Guillermo Perez, a former CSEA labor education specialist. Acevedo credits Perez for giving him some valuable advice that he still carries with him today.
“He told me to remember one word: accountability,” said Acevedo. “He told me that I have to take whatI’ve learned and teach it; that I have to inspire other members and create leaders.”
Fighting for our future
Another part of ensuring our union’s future is ensuring we have the funding to protect ourselves against opponents that seek to destroy unions.
Acevedo became active in the PEOPLE program to help make sure that funding is there. More than 50 percent of his unit’s members are part of PEOPLE, and the unit has been honored at the Annual Delegates Meeting in recent years for its PEOPLE participation rates. Furthering the unit’s commitment to PEOPLE, Acevedo was able to negotiate having PEOPLE dues deducted from payroll in the unit contract.
“At first, new members don’t know what the program is, but after I explain to them that this program helps us to have a voice in Washington that will defend our benefits, they sign up right away,” said Acevedo.
Acevedo isn’t slowing down his activism any time soon, but he is preparing the next generation of activists to take over when he decides to step down from the unit president position.
“It’s like when I taught my daughter to drive,” said Acevedo. “In the beginning, was it a bumpy ride? Sure. But she got her license and now she picks me up to go out and I get to sit in the passengers seat and watch her drive me. That’s my gratification. It’s the same thing with our union.”
“I tell the members that I’m not retiring. I want to be here to answer their questions and witness the creation of our new generation of union leaders,” said Acevedo.
— Wendi Bowie