The year is 2010, and New
York and Wisconsin unions
thrive in historically solid
pro-labor states. The future of
unions seems certain, their power
seems perpetual, and their support
spans all mainstream ideologies.
Then Scott Walker throws Wisconsin
unions into chaos with the single
stroke of a pen. How did things
change? And, could it happen in
Imagine, if you will, the fictitious
Wisconsin BEEs: The Brightdale
Educational Employees. The BEEs
were founded in the early 1960s
and represent teachers, paraprofessionals,
clerical workers, bus
drivers, custodial workers and maintenance
workers. Most BEEs workers
are union members; a few are
agency fee, or fair share, payers.
The BEEs develop a strong presence
in the community. They fight
hard to represent their members,
steadily improving overall salaries,
benefits and working conditions. They fight for students, and
they work closely with parents and
the community to protect public
The BEEs march in the annual
Labor Day parade along side their
"Students of Distinction" every year. Once a week, a BEEs staff member
volunteers at the local soup kitchen. They play basketball against members
of the fire department to raise
money for the American Cancer
Society. They provide thousands of
dollars in college scholarships to
graduating seniors. Members enjoy
free or reduced-priced social events.
The BEEs have a healthy relationship
with the school district and
the community, and are a highly respected
and highly functioning local
union. The BEEs are a lot like many
of our NYSUT locals.
The impact of Gov. Scott Walker's
Act 10 law is devasting to the BEEs.
Agency fees or fair share payments
are no longer required for those
who choose not to join the local.
Collective bargaining is now restricted
to wages only. Salary increases
are tied to a cap based on CPI, the
Consumer Price Index. Contracts
are limited to one year and all wages
are frozen until a new contract is
settled. The BEEs are required to
vote every year to maintain their status
as a union. The school district is
now prohibited from collecting dues
on behalf of the BEEs.
Other changes are in store for the
BEEs. The school district increases
the work day, lengthens the school
year, unilaterally changes job assignments
and nearly doubles class
sizes. The BEEs' contribution to
health insurance costs soars, as do
their contributions to pensions.
At the same time, pension and
health care benefits are significantly
reduced. Instead of using time and
energy to mobilize and advocate for
their members, work with the community
and fight for students, the
BEEs must fight every year to recertify.
They send bills to members for
dues, most of which are ignored.
As the dues revenue decreases, so
does funding for scholarships and
Labor Day and community events.
Is New York next? Just imagine.
We can't let New York become
Wisconsin, and we can't let our
unions become the BEEs. In the
recent past, we've seen the tax cap
become law, and Gov. Cuomo's insidious
budget passed. What is
coming next? Loss of Triborough
rights? The Triborough Amendment
requires public employers to maintain
the terms and conditions of an
expired contract until a new one is
negotiated. No more collective bargaining?
Elimination of current pensions?
Elimination of agency fee?
It is time to be afraid, but not paralyzed
by fear. It is time to mobilize.
This abridged article, written by Sarah
Arbitrio, Ken DeStefano and Eric Marshall,
appeared in the May edition of The Edge,
published by NYSUT's regional office in