[Marxism] New York Unions Press Members to Accept Deal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 18 11:38:14 MDT 2011

There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly 
the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations in the 
entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together 
with the state power.

full: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/tu.htm


NY Times July 17, 2011
New York Unions Press Members to Accept Deal

New York labor leaders, spooked by public workers’ rejection of 
negotiated concessions in Connecticut, are beginning a carefully 
planned campaign to persuade more than 100,000 state employees to 
accept a wage freeze and other measures in order to avoid sweeping 

The state’s largest union of public workers, the Civil Service 
Employees Association, has sent contract negotiators across the 
state as part of an effort to persuade health care, maintenance 
and clerical workers that it would be better to stomach furloughs, 
benefit cuts and three years without a salary increase than to 
risk losing thousands of jobs as the state cuts costs.

The second-largest union, the Public Employees Federation, also 
plans to campaign for its members’ approval after agreeing 
Saturday to nearly identical concessions. Together, the two unions 
represent more than half of New York’s public work force.

The reaction of rank-and-file members is a test both for union 
leaders, who are trying to protect jobs in a political climate 
that is increasingly hostile to public employees, and for Gov. 
Andrew M. Cuomo, who is trying to rein in spending without 
alienating labor, a traditional Democratic constituency. Mr. Cuomo 
won approval of a state budget that depends on $450 million in 
labor savings, and he has warned of as many as 9,800 layoffs if 
union members do not agree to concessions. He has also proposed 
limiting pension benefits for future employees.

“There’s a lot politically riding on it for the governor,” said 
Joshua B. Freeman, a labor historian at Queens College. “It’s a 
potential pattern-setter for other state employees, and possibly 
even New York City municipal contracts.”

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat elected last year, said he was mindful of 
events both in Connecticut, where union members created a budget 
crisis last month by rejecting concessions agreed to by labor 
leaders and a Democratic governor, and in Albany, where a small 
union of law enforcement officers rejected in May a deal the 
governor had championed as “a model the other unions negotiating 
with the state can follow.”

“I’m confident, but it is crazy out there, and would I guarantee 
anything right now?” Mr. Cuomo said in an interview last week. “No.”

Union leaders are leaving nothing to chance. The Civil Service 
Employees Association will mail ballots to its 66,000 members on 
Friday, but only after the union’s president, Danny Donohue, sends 
a mailing urging them to agree to the concessions.

“These are not ordinary times, and we worked hard to balance 
shared sacrifice with fairness and respect,” Mr. Donohue wrote in 
the mailing, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times. 
He added of the contract, “Equally important, it provides job 
security and prevents massive layoffs.”

The proposed contract is unlikely to thrill many of the union’s 
members, who earn $40,000 a year on average. The contract, which 
Mr. Cuomo called “a tremendous deal for the state,” calls for a 
three-year freeze on base wages and 2 percent raises for the next 
two years. By contrast, the previous contract gave employees 3 
percent raises for each of the first three years and a 4 percent 
raise in the final year.

The new contract would also require workers to take nine furlough 
days, and it would increase health insurance costs for employees. 
For example, state employees currently must pay 10 percent of 
their individual health insurance premiums; under the new 
contract, the contribution would rise to 12 percent for lower-paid 
workers and 16 percent for higher-paid ones.

The deal that Mr. Cuomo made with the Public Employees Federation 
is virtually identical. The union, with 56,000 members, reached 
the agreement only six days before hundreds of union members were 
scheduled to be laid off, and the union’s president, Kenneth 
Brynien, acknowledged as much in announcing it.

“We are confident this is the best agreement that could be 
negotiated in the current environment,” Mr. Brynien said.

As part of the deals, the state has agreed to exempt union members 
from broad-based layoffs for two years, and that provision has 
been a major selling point for Civil Service Employees Association 

Abraham Benjamin, 53, a local association leader who is a 
treatment supervisor at Bronx Psychiatric Center, has spent many 
lunch breaks for the past few weeks explaining the terms of the 
contract deal to employees in New York City.

“Initially, they’re very, very disappointed,” he said.

But Mr. Benjamin, who has been a state worker for three decades, 
said his audiences generally came around.

“I won’t say I like it, but in the environment that we are in, I 
feel it’s a good deal,” he said. “I explain to them that they can 
hold out as much as they want, but we also have to be realistic.”

Michael Weissman, 55, of Amsterdam, northwest of Albany — a youth 
division aide for the Office of Children and Family Services who 
has worked for the state for more than two decades — said he 
agreed that the concessions were necessary.

“It’s not what we want,” Mr. Weissman said. “But when you’re in 
tough financial times, everybody’s got to give. If I’m making the 
same amount of money and I don’t get raises, but at least I have 
the job, that’s O.K.”

Some of the debate among union members is happening online. 
Facebook pages for Civil Service Employees Association offices 
around the state show a smattering of complaints about the 
contract deal, mostly centered on the lack of raises and higher 
health care costs, as well as the suggestion that the union should 
have taken a firmer stance against Mr. Cuomo. But when a woman 
posted a message last month on one of the Facebook pages, urging 
her fellow state employees to vote against the contract, a union 
staff member wrote back, “Would you rather face a layoff?”

Association members must mail back their ballots by Aug. 12, and 
the results are expected to be announced Aug. 15. The Public 
Employees Federation’s executive board is scheduled to discuss 
that union’s pact on Aug. 11, and only after that would it be sent 
to rank-and-file members for a vote.

The ratification process in New York is simpler than that in 
Connecticut, where collective bargaining rules require the 
approval of 14 of the 15 public employee unions, with the 
supporting unions representing 80 percent of the affected workers. 
The vote last month met neither threshold, though 57 percent of 
union members supported the contract.

In New York, the governor can negotiate contracts on a 
union-by-union basis and usually needs only a majority vote of 
each union’s membership to win ratification. And although the 
first contract Mr. Cuomo negotiated, with the Law Enforcement 
Officers Union Council 82, faced organized opposition, no such 
campaign has emerged within the larger unions.

A few weeks ago, one state employee started a Facebook page to 
persuade C.S.E.A. members to reject the contract. But as of 
Sunday, it had only six supporters.

“It’s not inconceivable that it could fail, even without organized 
opposition,” Mr. Freeman, the labor historian, said. “But the fact 
there hasn’t been that would seem to indicate some level of 
outrage has not been reached.”

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