New York unionists hit the streets to battle Concon
Unions and allies oppose tinkering with the New York State Constitution because as it stands now the document guarantees a free public education to all, workers compensation , collective bargaining rights, social welfare, no state funds for religious scholols, and it prohibits building or defacing in any way the Adirondack region and other public environmental treasures. | uupinfo.org

NEW YORK—From Buffalo to Long Island, New York unionists are hitting the streets the weekends of October 28-29 and November 4-5 to battle a little-known threat: ConCon.

“ConCon” stands for the Constitutional Convention and the state’s constitution mandates voters go to the polls every 20 years to decide on whether to call one. The last several convention calls have failed, and there hasn’t been such a conclave in 50 years.

But that election falls this November 7, and ConCon threatens all New Yorkers, the unionists say.

That’s because if there is a ConCon, voters would pick its delegates a year from now. Then, there would be no limit to what the lobbyists and state lawmakers who would likely get out of a ConCon, virtually behind closed doors.

At risk: Workers’ protections, pay equity, pensions and more, says Marci Rosenblum, communications director for Communications Workers Local 1180 and other New York metro area union locals. She’s actively planning and promoting their coordinated campaign.

But it’s not just an issue for Empire State teachers, state and local government workers. The issues involved in a ConCon aren’t just financial, she added in a telephone interview. Rosenblum and her unions note the present constitutional guarantees of public education and keeping the Catskills and the Adirondacks “forever wild” would also be at risk from a rewrite.

That’s because special interests could use millions in corporate cash first to pass ConCon this year, and then to get voters to select their lobbyists as ConCon delegates next year. The interests would seize upon the ConCon to rewrite the state constitution for nefarious ends.

So the state’s unions hit the streets door-to-door both weekends before the election, especially in the Big Apple, on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, explaining the ConCon to voters, many of whom don’t have a clue they could decide such a vital issue this fall.

CWA and AFSCME are leading the charge downstate while the Public Employees Federation, an AFSCME affiliate, shoulders the load upstate. Building trades unions head the campaign in the Hudson Valley. And there’s even a music video against it, produced by a 36-year-old college geometry teacher in Buffalo, an AFT member who’s a musician in his spare time. His union, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, leads the charge there.

Both sides are pumping millions of dollars into advertising, said Rosenblum. In their ad spots, corporate interests are trying to make state workers the scapegoats, telling voters that state worker unions oppose the ConCon because they want to preserve their pensions. Pensions, of course are nothing more thatn deferred wages owed to workers so the corporate interests are essentially castigating workers for wanting to collect what they have earned.

The unions, in brochures, ads, street walks and the video, are emphasizing that it’s much more than that. And upstate, they’re also emphasizing ConCon’s potential cost of up to $340 million – money that could be better spent helping state residents.

Jeff Grossi, the Middle Early College teacher with the music video, told Western New York Labor Today, “There’s ‘no better way to get the message clearly out than a catchy Constitutional Convention song and an informative music video that supports the argument: ‘Say No To The ConCon.’”

His “music video with a message” aims to enlighten every New Yorker about the negative consequences of voting yes, underscoring the point the vote’s outcome will hit all New Yorkers.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore invited Grossi, a federation member, to perform Say No To The ConCon at the union’s recent council of delegates meeting, where the “overwhelmingly positive” response left Grossi “a little shocked.”

“I even got a bit of a standing ovation and a lot of high fives. The delegates really liked it and it spoke volumes because the people in that room were older than I am. They were telling me ‘You had me going.’ The song crosses generations.”

“When the ConCon campaign began, months ago, a majority of those polled didn’t even know what it was. Of those who knew, a plurality favored it. Recent polls still show many voters have “zero” knowledge of the ConCon and its impact. But of the remaining voters, a plurality has turned against it, said Rosenblum.

Working against the unions’ success in defeating ConCon is that 2017 is an off-off year for elections, with only city, state and village offices up before the voters, so turnout is ordinarily low. Also working against success is the shape of the New York ballot: The ConCon referendum is on the reverse side from the public offices and many voters might skip it.

“Working for the unionists’ success is that New York City, where Mayor Bill diBlasio is seeking re-election, is among the municipalities voting – and the Big Apple is the big union stronghold in the most-unionized state in the U.S.

Still, the unions are taking nothing for granted about the November 7 vote, Rosenblum says. “We’re educating voters, borough by borough,” about ConCon’s impact, she states.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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