April 07, 2017

Union gains ground in exposing 'con' in constitutional convention

Source: NYSUT Communications
carner shafran
Caption: NYSUT Board member Sandie Carner-Shafran is voting 'no' on a constitutional convention.

When it comes to whether New York should hold a constitutional convention, NYSUT members are better informed than most state residents about the issue and the threats it would pose to labor rights, retirement security and public education.

But polling shows the union still has its work cut out.

“While NYSUT members are slightly more informed than the general public … our numbers are nothing to get excited about,” said NYSUT Polling Center Manager Nicki Richardson. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Seventy-one percent of likely voters in New York State still know nothing about the issue at all. And, time is winding down.

This Election Day —Nov. 7 — voters across the state will be asked whether New York should redraft the state’s constitution.

Should that measure pass, the result could have far-reaching adverse effects for decades. Possible scenarios include public schools having critical funding stripped, the permanent loss of vital public employee pension protections, workers being denied collective bargaining rights and the right to join a union, and even decimation of environmental regulations.

NYSUT’s work in opposition to the convention has been effective, thus far. Richardson said that since the union began messaging on the issue, support for a convention has dropped 14 points — and among union households, support has fallen particularly fast.

Critical to NYSUT’s effort in defeating a proposed constitutional convention is engagement by members, who the union is calling on to spread the word in their communities.

Richardson said aside from the threat posed to public education, labor rights and retirement security, the one message that seems to be resonating most with voters is the wastefulness a convention would bring. Estimates project that a convention — viewed by a growing number of people as “political insiders throwing a party and cashing in” — would cost hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, Richardson said.

Without a doubt, the prospect of a constitutional convention has created some strange bedfellows — thrusting progressive and conservative groups together in opposition to the proposal, with some ‘good government’ groups supporting the idea, claiming it is needed to bring “ethics reform.”

But NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said that sort of argument is merely a canard.

“Ethics reform can happen without a constitutional convention. Let’s not buy into other people’s messaging,” she said.

The fact is, said NYSUT Senior Legislative Representative Peter Savage, matters such as ethics reform and other legislative changes can be made through the amendment process. And, what’s more, said Savage, unlike a constitutional convention, the amendment process doesn’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It costs nothing at all,” he said.