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February 2016


Keep calm and UNION strong!
Kevin Peterman


MLK Jr.“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., speech to the state convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, Oct. 7, 1965

Welcome back!

Last issue I mentioned that 2016 would be an interesting year. Well, here we are: waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association case, the presidential elections are in full swing and we are continuing our efforts to convince Albany to fund higher education.

Lobbying in Albany

Thursday, February 25, is Higher Ed Lobby Day. Several FA leaders will be in Albany and will meet with all our Suffolk County Assembly and Senate members. This year SCCC students—three bus loads—will be joining us as well. Yes, we are asking our students to "tell their story" and we will work with them to advocate for higher ed.

This is the third year SCCC students will be going to Albany to advocate and the first time the union, the students and the college administration will be advocating as a team. Our message is the same: fund community colleges as Section 6304 of the NYS Education Law states:

State financial aid shall be one-third of the amount of operating costs, as approved by the state university trustees.... Such aid for a college shall, however, be two-fifths (40%) of operating costs for any fiscal year of the college during which it is implementing a program of full opportunity....

Guess what? NYS community colleges are full opportunity, so the state should be contributing 40%! Currently, the state’s share of SCCC’s budget is 26%, or $50.5 million. What if the state gave 40% to SCCC? The state’s share would be over $78 million! Just imagine how much tuition could be lowered to help make an SCCC education even more affordable.

So if you have a student making the long (14+ hour) day trip to Albany, please remind yourself that the trip is truly an educational experience. You never know. One of your students may some day be a state or county legislator.

As we did last year, we will be asking all students and faculty to contact their elected officials in Albany and ask that community colleges be properly funded. With the help of NYSUT, we will provide a simple app which will allow us to contact our representatives with just a few clicks.

I’m convinced that, working together, we can advocate for the funding we deserve to be getting and for what the law requires.

Friedrichs v. CTA

The Supreme Court is currently hearing the Friedrichs case and will probably rule on it at the end of June. Why is this such a pivotal and potentially devastating case?
Bear with me while I share with you some of the talking points NYSUT has constructed to explain what is at stake:

A legal case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, poses a potential threat to the strength of public-sector unions nationwide. What’s at stake is the principle of "fair share"—that all who benefit from union representation should share fairly in the costs of that work.

In New York state, the law says that if you choose not to be a union member, you must still pay your "fair share" for the union’s work that benefits you—for example, the higher salaries and benefits that unions negotiate, better working conditions, health and retirement benefits and so on. The law protects the "free speech" of those who are opposed to union membership by establishing a second option—fee payer—for those who opt out of full union membership. Fee payers contribute only toward the services that benefit them, but no one is or can be forced to join a union, pay union dues or contribute to political activity they don't support.

In New York state public schools, for example, employees can join the union or they can opt to pay a "fair share" toward the union work that benefits them. This "fair share" is also called an agency fee.

Q: What would it mean if the Supreme Court says workers can opt out of a "fair share" fee in a unionized workplace and become free riders?

A: An adverse decision—which would run contrary to decades of law reinforcing union rights—could land like a wrecking ball aimed at union solidarity. Unions would be in the unfair position of still representing workers, negotiating on their behalf and improving their working conditions without the law’s safety net requiring that all who benefit share in the costs. Dues-paying members would have to pay for the equal representation provided to non-members. This could undo union solidarity and destabilize the labor movement. We could expect that anti-union PACs would spend millions on campaigns attacking unions and urging members to become "free riders."

Q: How can unions withstand such pressure?

A: When members clearly understand the value of being in a union, they are willing not only to pay union dues but also to be the union, active and involved. The best way to keep NYSUT and our locals strong is to make the powerful case that strong unions benefit workers:

  • Salaries are higher in unionized workplaces.
  • Health benefits, paid time off and retirement security are significantly better in unionized workplaces.
  • Unions have achieved due process and basic job protections non-existent in non-unionized workplaces.
  • Through unions, employees have a voice in safety, in working conditions and in ensuring high standards for their professions and in the services they provide.
  • Where unions are strong, wages and benefits for all workers are better than in states with no union presence.

It is against individuals’ self-interest to weaken a union in their workplace. Advances come from strong unions where member solidarity is steadfast and members are mobilized.

All we can ask is simply this: Stay calm and UNION strong!

Election 2016

And finally, as we all know, it is a presidential election year. Like it or not there is too much at stake to stay home. Last November less than 20% of eligible Suffolk County voters voted. Sure it is easy to make excuses, but if we don’t vote we have no voice and no reason to complain. There will be much more discussion as November approaches, but let me leave you with one "Supreme Court" thought: the next President of the United States will probably have at least two Supreme Court nominees. We need to be active….

Activism works!