July/August Issue
June 22, 2015

Imagine New York becomes Wisconsin

Author: By Sarah Arbitrio, Ken DeStefano and Eric Marshall
Source: NYSUT United
new york wisconsin
Caption:

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 New York?

2010

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 education.

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.

2013

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 Tarrytown.

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