We are in extraordinary times and facing extraordinary challenges. Media reports in recent months cover attacks on collective bargaining across our nation. Projections of thousands of positions lost, programs cut at our work sites, and attempts in Albany to undermine labor rights are causing angst and anger among NYSUT members. Events have escalated, especially in Wisconsin, in the past several weeks.
So, I write this month to encourage you to channel that angst and anger into action. The frustration is justified, but the action must go beyond expressing anger. It must be part of a larger strategy that defends and protects you, our members, and those we serve at our work sites each day.
It won't be easy. As we saw in Wisconsin, there are powerful, well-financed forces determined to strip away all the good labor has done for the American worker over the last century. And they're not stopping at Wisconsin.
Look to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Iowa and Florida for more attacks on collective bargaining. Look at New Hampshire and Rhode Island for examples close to home. Indeed, anti-union sentiment fueled by ideologues on the right is being spread through statehouses around the country by opportunistic legislators using public employees as targets for the unrest and frustration resulting from the nation's economic downturn — a downturn caused by Wall Street not Main Street.
New York is not immune. Attacks on seniority, tenure, Triborough protections, public pensions and benefits are very real attacks on our collective bargaining rights. Everything we believe in and have fought so hard to achieve is being demonized.
How we respond is critical. It needs to be in a way that goes beyond simply saying "no" or "yes." As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, the events in Wisconsin "brought us to this moment … This is the debate we've wanted to have for 25 years!"
For NYSUT, that debate is taking place every day at the Capitol in Albany. We are keeping the focus on the 2011-12 budget and how the proposed education cuts will adversely impact students and the programs they need in school districts, community colleges and on our SUNY and CUNY campuses. The debate also focuses on how these cuts impact our members at government agencies, health care facilities and other work sites.
Simultaneously, the debate is taking place around the state by members like you at rallies with turnout numbers like these: Yonkers, nearly 2,000; Albany, 1,200-plus; Watertown, 500; Buffalo, 600; higher education, nearly 700 at their Albany rally; Hudson Valley, 700; Long Island over 2,000!
Likewise, as NYSUT United goes to press, 1,000-plus members will be lobbying in Albany and rallying around the impact of proposed devastating budget cuts.
Just a few weeks later, at our our 2011 Representative Assembly, plans call for our 3,000 delegates, guests and visitors to join with thousands of AFL-CIO and community members for a massive rally in solidarity with unions under attack around the nation.
Let me thank you for doing your part in defending quality and supporting our work as, together, we strive to protect and advance our professions through the union movement. Much has been done; much more is still needed.
I will close this column as I closed my letter to local presidents, addressing events in Wisconsin and the importance of standing in solidarity defending workers against attacks on the rights we all cherish:
We will not be intimidated.
We will not be manipulated.
We will not be divided.