Recently, I was referred to a George Carlin YouTube video of his 2005 performance titled, "Life is Worth Losing," which was described to me as Carlin's take on the American Dream. I was told that, in the performance, Carlin ripped on topics that NYSUT and the progressives in our nation have been discussing daily: corporate greed, the influence of money in politics, and attacks on workers' rights and the middle class. Apparently, the performance carries the usual dry, satirical humor Carlin was known for and ends with his trademark pessimism.
Anyone who has been following the developments in Albany over the past few weeks (and still going on as I write this — NYSUT United went to press March 16) can see that not much has changed. There is little room for humor as we gauge the willingness — or lack of willingness — of state leaders to speak up and speak out on behalf of working people.
The politically expedient pension legislation that just passed is a perfect example. The changes enacted will require that future public employees, the backbone of the middle class, make up for the shortfall in revenues caused by greed on Wall Street. The need to compensate for losses experienced by pension funds and caused by unregulated greed had to be addressed. But, instead of asking those who caused the shortfall — and profited by creating it — to make up the difference, lawmakers shifted the burden to middle-class workers. This wasn't because pension plans were in trouble; pension systems in New York are well funded. No, it wasn't because it was necessary, but because it was an opportunity to weaken working New Yorkers and protect the wealthiest in our midst.
While the Legislature stripped many of the worst provisions from the governor's original proposal, the final law remains unacceptable — anti-public worker, anti-middle class, anti-union. During the battle to block a Tier 6, there were many attempts to divide the house of labor: private sector against public sector, union against union and leader against leader. If there is something to take away from this loss, it is the solidarity demonstrated by labor behind the leadership of the New York State AFL-CIO's new president, Mario Cilento. In fact, this battle drew coast-to-coast attention with the national AFL-CIO's condemnation of Gov. Cuomo's Tier 6 proposal — something that won't soon fade from national score sheets.
We will be closely monitoring the remaining action on the budget and several issues critical to our members. As this legislative session draws to a close, there will be many opportunities to answer the labor anthem, "Which Side Are You On?"
NYSUT's 40th annual RA
NYSUT's 40th annual Representative Assembly takes place in Buffalo later this month. Several thousand of our leaders from all across New York — elected by you — will come together to debate policy, discuss issues and to stand together for the principles of our union.
The delegates to our convention represent you extraordinarily well. They are selfless, committed and resolute. This year, they will consider and vote on more than 50 resolutions and three constitutional amendments submitted by NYSUT locals and your Board of Directors that address the myriad issues we face. Most of these resolutions are not about traditional "terms-and-conditions of employment" issues. Instead, they offer positions that seek to make clear statements of our determination to improve the lives of our students, patients and fellow New Yorkers, and to do so by strengthening the professions in which we work.
Beyond resolutions, the delegates will hear from political and union leaders as well as recognize outstanding members from each of our constituencies. Delegates will share their thoughts and will have the opportunity to develop policy throughout the RA. As we do so, we will remain constantly vigilant to our theme: "Reclaiming the American Dream." Reclaiming that dream, not only for our members, but for those we serve.