May 2016 Issue - Labor Issues
April 25, 2016

Magee: Protests, politics and public policy

Author: Karen E. Magee, President
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee
Caption:

New York State was a sea of union solidarity in April as NYSUT and dozens of other labor unions joined our brothers and sisters of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in their strike against the corporate giant Verizon.

I proudly carried a blue "NYSUT Supports You" sign as I joined a picket line in Valhalla. At the same time, hundreds of NYSUT members and staff were marching in support of the CWA and IBEW in Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, New York City, White Plains and points in between. It's inspiring, yet humbling, to take a stand against corporate greed with working people who are motivated to say, "Enough is enough."

As you have no doubt read, Verizon workers have been without a contract since last August. Yet the company has posted $18 billion in profits while its top executive's compensation exceeds $18 million. Verizon wants to outsource jobs, slash health care and retirement benefits and undercut job security.

Enough is enough, indeed.

Not coincidently, the issues of corporate greed, income inequality and respect for the American worker have rightly been part of the daily conversation of the ongoing presidential campaign. They were certainly under a political microscope during the just-concluded primaries in New York State, the home to Wall Street and the acknowledged financial capital of the world.

Both of the Democratic candidates have long-held and strong records in support of labor rights and economic justice. As a proud supporter of Hillary Clinton, our former senator, I was more than pleased that she received the backing of the majority of New York's Democratic primary voters. I believe that her experience, intellect and judgment will serve our nation well during these increasingly perilous times.

Hillary's progressive record on our issues — public education, health care, human services and labor — is unmatched. For those who saw her address our Representative Assembly in early April, you know she will continue to fight for us and for the principles and goals for which we all work every day. If you weren't at the RA, you can read about her address on page 9 or online at www.nysut.org/ra.

Another issue of primary concern to us — higher education — has been a consistent debating point during the presidential campaign. For the most part, the candidates have been discussing their plans to address college affordability and student debt — both vitally important to New York families.

Yet a related issue deserves more attention: the state's chronic underfunding of SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges. These campuses — large and small — are essential economic engines and job producers in communities across the state. They provide first-class education, cutting-edge research, job training and, in some regions, badly needed health care, especially for the indigent.

While it's true some gains for higher education were made in the recently concluded state budget negotiations, funding for the state systems still remains relatively flat. In the recent past that has put a lot of pressure on CUNY and SUNY to raise tuition to cover operating costs, which, of course, put a lot of pressure on New York's middle class families.

Our solution: The state should dip into its huge budget surplus and create multi-million-dollar endowments for SUNY and CUNY that can spin off revenue to support the faculty positions that are so essential to the mission of our university systems. Other states have similar endowment programs; Nebraska and Texas, to name just two. And they work.

The state must do more to enhance our public universities. They need new faculty recruitment programs, a greater investment in capital improvements, a stronger commitment to their teaching hospitals and, of course, money to support fair and reasonable contracts for our higher education colleagues.

It's in all of our best interest to make sure New York's public higher education systems remain strong, accessible and affordable to all, and not simply a political talking point or a budgetary football.

After all, enough is enough!