The old joke is that legislation is like sausage — you don't want to see how it's made. On the other hand, as Mike Ditka once said in a movie, "Every good thing starts with a Brat!"
So, the role of the union in shaping and supporting — and opposing — legislation is crucial to promoting and protecting public education, health care and the labor movement itself.
Laws and regulations affecting every member's terms and conditions of employment are passed by lawmakers every year. Following a legislative program that is adopted as policy by elected delegates to the annual NYSUT Representative Assembly, the union's legislative department drafts, introduces and lobbies for bills affecting state aid to schools and colleges, licensure, tenure, health and safety, education standards, health care, pensions and retirement.
But it doesn't stop with the legislative staff. NYSUT's influence in supporting positive change and opposing destructive proposals extends to every member of every local union.
"We rely on grassroots activism to demonstrate to lawmakers that these issues matter to people on the front lines of our institutions and our communities," said Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "From the annual Committee of 100 that brings hundreds of activists to Albany each year to share their stories with legislators, to our letter writing and phone call campaigns orchestrated through the online Member Action Center, to our annual VOTE-COPE fund drive, we rely on all NYSUT members to help us succeed."
Here are some of the key issues in the 2017 session of the state Legislature, which starts in early January.
In addition to working to defeat the referendum on the November ballot, the union will inform elected officials of the dangers of opening up the state's guiding document.
Funding for education
NYSUT will push for at least a $2 billion increase in state school aid in 2017–18, and call for the phase-in of the full Foundation Aid formula. In addition, NYSUT will seek increased funding for the state's network of teacher centers.
Tax cap reform
Fixing the misguided tax cap, which prevents local districts from raising local revenue to offset the lack of state aid, will involve a consistent 2 percent cap — not the current cap tied to the inflation rate — and removing the undemocratic supermajority requirement for districts exceeding the cap.
The union is working hard for repeal of the counterproductive, ill-advised receivership law that squashes local control of struggling school districts.
Instead, NYSUT seeks resources for community schools that boost these districts with local support systems.
NYSUT will seek fair and equitable funding, transparency and accountability guarantees for SUNY and CUNY, and will oppose any performance-based campus funding initiatives.
At the top of the list is safe nurse/patient staffing ratios. The fight for adequate funding of SUNY's teaching hospitals continues, as does the struggle to stave off privatization proposals.
Special Act schools, 853, 4201 and 4410 schools
These vital institutions that serve some of the state's most challenging students must be fairly and equitably supported.
The union will continue its efforts to extend wage and benefit equity for all, including farmworkers and women.
It also will pursue legislation to ensure women's health rights.