The following letter to the editor by NYSUT General Counsel Richard E. Casagrande appeared in the Times Union Thursday, May 3, 2012.
Bargaining gives workers a voice
Too often media attacks on the Triborough Amendment continue the misperception that this decades old law unfairly advantages public employee unions, or guarantees annual raises even after a contract has expired. Neither is true.
Triborough merely provides that when a contract expires, the employer cannot unilaterally lower wages or diminish other contractual terms and conditions of employment, so long as the union refrains from striking. No raises, including salary step increases, are guaranteed by Triborough, because the law permits such benefits to end, or "sunset", with the expiration of the contract--if the parties so agreed in their prior negotiations.
By creating this balance, the Triborough Amendment has been enormously successful in deterring strikes. And, during the recession, Triborough has not stopped hundreds of public sector unions, big and small, from agreeing with public employers on new contracts that make difficult compromises to avoid painful job cuts. Such agreements, until now, have been the result of give and take negotiations between parties with some semblance of negotiating balance.
If Triborough were eliminated, however, this balance would be destroyed. At the end of a contract the employer would have a free hand to change terms and conditions of employment, while the union would remain powerless to strike. Collective bargaining would become collective begging. Of course, that is exactly what many employers and right-wing think tanks want--the incremental or outright elimination of collective bargaining in both the public and private sectors.
For more than thirty years, collective bargaining and unions have been under relentless attack throughout the United States. The result has been wage stagnation for the middle class workers, both union and non-union, and the growing income inequality that so threatens the American dream. Recent attacks on the collective bargaining rights of police, firefighters, teachers and all public employees have been particularly acute in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio.
But New York has long been at the forefront in protecting the rights of working people. Collective bargaining is a right guaranteed by our state's constitution. In New York and nationally, collective bargaining is the single, fundamental right that gives ordinary people a voice in their working lives, and a chance to earn fair wages, decent working conditions and a dignified retirement.
Eliminating or alter Triborough would be a direct assault on collective bargaining and contrary to the best progressive traditions of our state.