July - Aug Issue
July 02, 2014

Magee: Standing up to the Big Bad Wolves

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

The wolves are at the door.

Just like in the children's story, these metaphorical Big Bad Wolves want to huff and puff … until they blow the House of Labor down.


  • In California, a lower court ruling gutted tenure rights for teachers.
  • In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court just made it harder for home health care workers to organize and maintain unions.

While the impact of these decisions is relatively narrow — and the California case is sure to be appealed — wolfish anti-union forces are emboldened and on the attack.

Here in New York state, (former) celebrity Campbell Brown is threatening to front for a right-wing challenge to our tenure law. Meanwhile, stinging rhetoric in the Supreme Court's majority opinion ominously foreshadows what the anti-union justices might be looking to undo in the immediate future. Pensions, for instance. Or basic union rights for public employees.

As NYSUT General Counsel Rich Casagrande explains on page 9, the threats are real and accelerating, part of a concerted campaign by the wealthy elite to systematically dismantle union rights. And it's not just OUR rights that are in the cross-hairs. As go unions, so, too, go the pay and benefits of all workers.

But I also have good news to report — news that should inspire all of us to fight these disturbing developments together.

I take seriously our mandate to push back against the status quo, to empower our constituencies … and to be the collective voice that cannot be ignored.

As you will read in this issue, that approach — coupled with a flat-out refusal to compromise on our fundamental principles — is bearing fruit.

  • The state budget included the largest increase for education in recent years — not enough, but important progress.
  • Our own court challenge to the state's undemocratic tax cap has been expanded to include the tax freeze.
  • After years of flat funding for our 853 and Special Act schools, we won a much-needed increase in tuition reimbursements.
  • Together with our higher ed locals, we achieved a safety net for prospective teachers from the rushed requirements of edTPA, the state's new certification exam.
  • And in the waning hours of the legislative session, NYSUT secured a two-year moratorium protecting teachers from the worst consequences of the state's broken evaluation system. We prevailed on the merits. No future promises, no quid pro quo.

As in any negotiation, we didn't get everything we wanted, but we fought hard and took the first step toward fixing what's broken. As we tackle the new threats against us, there's an important takeaway from our recent wins.

Here's what works: Being fierce, pro-active and unwavering in defense of our principles.

Here's what matters: Solidarity.

So let me assure you that we are not waiting for anti-union forces to mount an indefensible challenge to tenure. NYSUT is doing whatever it takes to protect this fundamental right in New York state — defending tenure now in the court of opinion and in the court of law as soon as opportunity allows.

Nor did we wait for the Harris v. Quinn decision to mobilize. NYSUT is well embarked on a locally driven statewide campaign dedicated to organizing and mobilizing all bargaining unit members.

If you are among the small minority who are agency fee-payers, now's your chance to sign a union card. If you are already a member, now's the time to become an activist. And if you are already an activist, here's your opportunity to lead.

Turning non-members into members … members into activists … and activists into leaders is the way to counter class warfare.

As a more enlightened Supreme Court justice — Louis Brandeis — once said: "Strong, responsible unions are essential to fair play … The parties to the labor contract must be nearly equal in strength if justice is to be worked out, and this means that the workers must be organized."

Those are words to fight by.