January 2017 Issue
- Labor Issues
December 19, 2016

A constitutional convention puts your right to bargain collectively at risk

Author: By Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United

Open the state constitution? Heck, NO. This is the third in a series about key reasons why an upcoming referendum to hold a state constitutional convention must be defeated. The series examines topics — collective bargaining, public pensions, forever wild provisions, and public education and social welfare obligations — that would be at risk at a state constitutional convention.

New York State's commitment to labor — especially public-sector labor — is truly a pillar of the international trade union movement.

So, when the constitutional convention referendum tops the ballot on Nov. 7, 2017, look no further than Article 1, Section 17 of the state constitution for one key reason to vote NO:

"§17. Labor of human beings is not a commodity nor an article of commerce and shall never be so considered or construed. … Employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing."

There it is: Right now, you have the constitutional right to form and join a union. A constitutional convention could wipe it off the books, unless convention delegates decided to put it back in. And it would be a serious mistake to assume they would.

"We all know labor unions — the rights to organize and bargain collectively — are under attack," said NYSUT's Andy Pallotta, executive vice president and head of the union's legislative and political operation.

"The 'right-to-work' types who swept into Congress and the White House in November would love nothing more than to eviscerate labor laws all over the country," he said. "Well, I say, NOT in NEW YORK!"

The best way to protect the rights of working people in this state is to defeat the referendum on the constitutional convention next November, Pallotta said. Do not let politically connected delegates, backed by anti-union billionaires, rewrite the document that guarantees your most basic rights, he said. "Vote NO and urge your friends and families to do the same."

The right to form and join unions was not always guaranteed. In fact, only eight decades ago, that right did not exist.

The federal National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's Depression-era New Deal to put the country back to work. Enacted amid historically anti-union government and business forces, the act guarantees the right to organize and bargain collectively. New York State amended its constitution in 1938 to guarantee and expand on those rights to ensure labor protections on public works projects.

"There's absolutely no reason to put our constitutional rights at risk with this proposed convention," said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale. "It's not the New York way."

Voters in New York State are asked every 20 years to vote up or down on a constitutional convention that would open up the entire document to change.

However, the constitution can be appropriately amended anytime with the vote of two separately elected Legislatures and the public's approval. It's been done hundreds of times, as needed, and has proven effective.


• The constitutionally required 20- year referendum to propose a constitutional convention will be on the Nov. 7, 2017, ballot.

• If it passes, three delegates per state Senate district and 15 at-large delegates — 204 in total — would be elected at the next general election, in November 2018.

• Delegates can include members of the Legislature or other elected officials, as well as political party leaders — and they can hold both positions, collecting both salaries.

• The convention would meet in Albany in 2019 for an unspecified duration, and then publish its suggested amendments.

• Any proposed changes are submitted to voters for approval separately or as a group for another public referendum no sooner than six weeks after the convention adjourns.