January 2011 Issue
December 19, 2010

NYSUT ratchets up as threats to professions mount

Author: Clarisse Butler Banks
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, center, testified before the Assembly Higher Education Committee last month about the devastating effects budget cuts have had on colleges and universities. Pallota is flanked by UUP President Phil Smith and PSC President Barbara Bowen. Photo by Don Feldstein.

In line with members' growing anger and indignation over being vilified in the public domain, NYSUT is ratcheting up its response to the rising tide of threats against our professions. Essential to the union's success is to take the energy emanating from that justifiable anger and direct it in productive ways, said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

"We are completely in sync with our members on the need to defend our rights and our union from this continuing onslaught," Iannuzzi said.

"Those who seek to dismantle public services and basic worker rights are signaling what they are targeting, so our playbook is already in place," he said.

The anti-union agenda includes attacks on many fronts:

  • A New York-based coalition of business leaders and civic groups has pledged to raise at least $10 million to battle public sector labor unions;
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and hedge fund millionaires poured millions into the most recent elections to further campaigns against public services and unions; and
  • "Education reformists," from the state School Boards Association to New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black, have set their sights on dismantling tenure and seniority provisions.

Returning and newly elected lawmakers will likely contend with a state budget deficit exceeding $9 billion by weighing severe cuts to education and health care, and at the same time work toward implementing a tax cap. When taken together, these options would only accelerate the budget pain already taking place, Iannuzzi said.

"You can't drastically reduce state support and at the same time limit a local school district's ability to meet its educational obligations and not expect catastrophic results," Iannuzzi said.

After absorbing $1.7 billion in education aid cuts in the last state budget, schools across the state have already eliminated more than 9,500 positions, reduced or ended programs and increased class sizes.

In higher education, the continued disinvestment and demand for cuts have led colleges and universities to announce the discontinuation of programs and courses.

At the same time, educators at the state's community colleges are struggling to deal with dramatic enrollment increases as they face significant funding cuts. (See related story)

The still-faltering economy, state deficit and conservative shift in voting are all contributing to unprecedented attacks on workers' rights, retirement security, Social Security and health benefits for educators and other public employees.
"We know how important this fight is and, be assured, we're already in high gear," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.

Prepared to escalate the battle for principles NYSUT holds dear, "we're going to be calling on every member to mobilize, to act, to lobby, to spread the word in your community," Pallotta said. "Now is the time to stand up and speak out against these misguided attacks."

The statewide union relies on a system of grassroots lobbying to get members involved in the important political action process. A political action committee team is active in every state Senate District, led by a PAC coordinator working with NYSUT legislative representatives. Regional PACs are geared up for rapid response and continue to get the union's message out.

At the local level, the teams help develop a reservoir of phone bank volunteers, conduct training sessions and arrange meetings with legislators. Grassroots activists also help build coalitions with other AFL-CIO unions. "We'll be seeking member mobilization like never before," Pallotta said.

The union's Committee of 100, which actually involves nearly 700 members across the state, will take their message to the Capitol in March and May. Advocacy days are also planned for BOCES, higher education members and health care professionals.
"The challenges we face are great," Iannuzzi said, "but our union and our members' resolve is even greater."