July/August 2013 Issue
June 22, 2013

Capitol Briefing: Union activism advances issues

Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT Executive VP Andy Pallotta, right, listens as nurse Cora Shillingford, UFT, makes a point.
Caption: NYSUT Executive VP Andy Pallotta, right, listens as nurse Cora Shillingford, UFT, makes a point. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

For union activists, the final days of the legislative session were as much about staving off bad bills as they were about supporting good ones.

Working closely with United University Professions, led by President Fred Kowal, NYSUT helped stop an ill-advised plan that would have essentially privatized SUNY Downstate Medical Center, a "positive development in our fight to secure Downstate's future as an essential public resource," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

Due to NYSUT's efforts, maintenance-of-effort legislation for state funding for all SUNY hospitals also passed both houses.

"It is thanks to the relentless advocacy of NYSUT members that we can get these things done," said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT's executive vice president who oversees the union's legislative and political action work.

For example, it took plenty of visits and 20,000 faxes, but lawmakers finally agreed to a Cost-Of-Living Adjustment increase on the direct costs associated with 853 Schools and Special Act schools for the 2013-14 school year. These schools serve students whose needs cannot be met at regular public schools, including many students with mental, emotional or physical disabilities.

Other bills that passed both houses will:

  • Allow former SUNY NY Network employees to retain their membership in the Optional Retirement Program if they work in the Office of General Services. Many members who have 10 or more years of service in ORP were forced to join ERS as Tier 6 members.
  • Restore the $90 million cut that had been facing dozens of non-profit groups that provide housing and other services to the developmentally disabled.
  • Extend a deadline for certification training to comply with the Dignity for All Students Act.
  • Provide lifeguards working at state parks with a 28 percent increase in retroactive pay; they went nine years without a contract.

In concert with the state AFL-CIO, NYSUT supported the Women's Equality Act, which was the subject of intense legislative debate during the closing days of session.

A problematic proposal for tax-free business zones on college campuses was changed after NYSUT pressed for it to include strong language to protect against outsourcing of UUP, PSC and NYSUT community college jobs. The union also backed language on behalf of faculty and college students that would allow proceeds from the business leases to be used to fund additional faculty and for student aid. The union successfully lobbied against a proposal that would have instituted undemocratic procedures for votes to create regional high schools.

In a school year that focused on testing, NYSUT advocates made inroads in building support for protecting student privacy and ensuring that students as young as kindergarten should not have to sit through unnecessary testing. A bill defending student privacy and one on K-2 testing were expected to pass the Assembly and "create momentum for our continued advocacy on these essential issues," Pallotta said.

As NYSUT United went to press, the Legislature was continuing to pass bills, which must go to the governor for signature. Go to www.nysut.org for updates on NYSUT-backed bills, which include measures that would:

  • Provide funding to enable community schools in New York City to better provide vision services to students who need them.
  • Provide for safer patient handling to protect patients and health care professionals. The bill passed the Assembly; NYSUT was awaiting the fate of the bill in the Senate, which approved the bill last year.
  • Provide a school nurse in every building in large city school districts.
  • Allow BOCES to increase lease terms to 20 years to save costs.
  • Provide farm workers one day off a week, unemployment benefits, overtime pay and the right to bargain collectively.