As budgets continue to shrink and the state emerges from chaos, we need a strong and cohesive union to stand together and to fight for working men and women.
With that in mind, we can be grateful that Local 237 and its leadership have been able to shield our members from the worst of both the economic crisis and the circus in Albany. We have and will continue to fight for fair contracts and against layoffs. We are one of the few unions that have actually grown our membership in the last several years. It is true that there is power in numbers, and you can feel more secure knowing that our power is growing.
That should be reassuring, because unions are not only to protect our jobs, wages and benefits. They also strengthen morale when members are worried about their future. These times can be frightening, but we must remember that we stand with more than 23,000 brothers and sisters facing the same trials and tribulations. With a union on your side, you can feel more secure about your job. You know you have someone to stand up for you against mistreatment from stressed-out managers. All in all, unions provide peace of mind for their members when the economy makes it scarce.
Case in point, as part of the Municipal Labor Committee, we were able to strike a deal with Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month that avoided the major layoffs he had been threatening. For months, we believed the strong rhetoric of the administration would soften and a responsible agreement would be reached. We settled on reasonable changes to our health care policy, which should not be an undue burden on our members but will save the city a billion dollars over the next 10 years. If not for the hard work of our unions, thousands of jobs could have been lost. In prosperous times, unions make sure we get our fair share; in a recession, even if we don’t get everything we want, unions make sure we don’t lose too much.
We also continue to negotiate with the Housing Authority to reach a fair contract for NYCHA employees. I am happy to report that the new NYCHA chairman, John Rhea, has been honest and fair, and our discussions have been going well. There are still issues to work out, but we are optimistic that they will be resolved shortly. We are hopeful that we will have a fair contract soon.
We can only succeed when we are united in purpose. In Albany, we have seen the turmoil that results when leadership and unity are in short supply. It was upsetting to me — as I’m sure it was to all of you — to see the business of the state grind to a halt as the state Senate bickered over politics. For us, it delayed the hiring of over a hundred school safety agents because the city was not granted permission to raise the needed revenue to pay for them. We have let our elected officials know that their behavior was unacceptable, and we believe that most of them are embarrassed and regretful of the situation. The only consolation we take from the Senate fiasco is that our representatives will have to work extra hard in the future to regain the trust of their constituents. I hope the outrage over this incident serves as a reminder to our elected officials that they ultimately serve the people of New York first — and their own agendas second.
Even when the state government was in disorder, however, Local 237 did not let that stop us from fighting for our members. As the Senate remained gridlocked, we were able to introduce a law in the Assembly that will protect our school safety agents from dangerous attacks. Currently, the courts give far too many students a free pass when they fight and often injure our SSAs. That stops now. Our law would essentially guarantee jail time for major assaults on school grounds. We stood on the steps of City Hall with Assemblyman Michael Cusick and several dozen SSAs and announced that enough is enough. If you attack our agents, you will pay the price. We hope this message will deter attacks on our SSAs and make our schools safer places to learn and to work.
In closing, I want to remind our members again that our power comes from numbers, not only at the bargaining table, but also at the voting booth. With our 23,000 members, we have a tremendous ability to send a message to lawmakers. But we only have that ability if we hit the polls. I urge all of you to register to vote, if you have not done so already, and vote during the primaries on September 15. Together, we can make our voices heard.
Enjoy the summer.