December 2012
November 20, 2012

With election over, new challenges begin

Author: NYSUT Staff
Source: NYSUT United

Now that President Barack Obama has been re-elected, what comes next for you, your family, your job or your retirement?

Tax fairness is tops on the list. President Obama has vowed to let the tax cuts for the wealthy, first passed by George W. Bush, expire. He told labor leaders in a summit meeting in mid-November and at a press conference the following day, that he won't accept any federal deficit reduction plan that doesn't ask the wealthy to pay more in taxes.

"It's clear the Obama administration will continue to focus on the middle class," said Dick Iannuzzi, NYSUT's president, noting Obama's pledge to support fair tax policies and domestic programs is necessary to protecting the social safety net for working families.

NYSUT will continue to work with its national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, to press the Obama administration and Congress to strengthen the outlook for working families, improve retirement security and protect workers' rights. Here are some things to look for:

Early childhood education

Expect funding to remain steady for early learning programs, although there may be reforms to Head Start programs if Congress fails to address budget deficit issues (See story about the "Fiscal Cliff" on page 14.) If the fiscal outlook improves, competitive grants could become available for states seeking to improve early childhood education.

K-12 education

With Republicans keeping control of the House of Representatives, it's unlikely Obama will be able to make good on his promises to recruit 100,000 new math and science teachers and train 2 million Americans by helping them get to college. The divided Congress also must renew ESEA, as well as a host of laws that govern special education, career and technical education, and workforce development.

Both sides appear willing to provide greater flexibility in gauging student achievement, but they go in different directions when it comes to school improvement, teacher evaluation and program consolidation. It's unclear whether the administration's plan to offer states waivers from key mandates of the current version of ESEA will stay in place.

While NYSUT, AFT and NEA disagreed with how much focus Obama had placed on testing, education advocates hope the president will improve how academic performance is measured, including designing new assessments.

Higher education

Expect continuity of federal policies that a college education has value in this economy, and should be available to everyone, regardless of a student's financial circumstances. The focus will continue to be placed on community colleges, which received millions in federal funding for special job-training programs.

New York's public colleges in both the State University and City University systems have benefited from Race to the Top grants, which are helping to start new programs and services, as well as the development of pilot projects for new curricula. Both public and private colleges will continue to benefit from changes in financial aid to students.

Of special interest in New York is the fate of SUNY's Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. Members of United University Professions, NYSUT's higher education local that represents academic and professional faculty at SUNY's state-operated campuses, have waged a year-long effort to prevent a restructuring plan at Downstate Medical that could cost thousands of the center's 8,000 employees their jobs. The center is Brooklyn's fourth-largest employer and a critical source of nearby health services for thousands of low-income New York City residents.

Workers' rights

In New York state, expect the protections of Triborough — if a collective bargaining agreement expires, its terms and conditions continue until a new agreement takes effect — to continue.

At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Board is expected to go forward with its Notice of Employee Rights workplace poster requirement, as well as its expedited election rules which may make it easier for unions to get access to employees and worksites. NLRB is likely to continue to scrutinize and strike down employer policies that discourage employees from discussing terms and conditions of employment with their coworkers.

Health care

With Democrats increasing their numbers in the U.S. Senate, expect the Affordable Care Act to be fully implemented, allowing adult children to remain on their parents' health insurance plans until they are 26 years old, making domestic violence counseling and breast feeding support available to more women, and covering well-visits and prescription contraceptives with no out-of-pocket costs for patients.

Retirement security

Given the decisive margin of Obama's victory and election of a number of progressives, expect compromises, such as increasing taxes on the wealthy, to safeguard Social Security. Talks are likely to focus on whether the payroll tax limit at which Social Security is funded could be increased. Currently only $106,800 of salary is taxed to fund Social Security. This means the superwealthy stop paying toward Social Security on Jan. 2, while the vast majority of workers pay all year toward the benefit. Also expect talks about increasing the retirement age.