It seems today you cannot turn on the news without hearing a politician talking about “reform,” or “change.” Most of their ideas are welcome. Albany is certainly in need of serious reform. Barack Obama famously cam- paigned on the slogan of change, which he has brought about in a more positive way than critics give him credit for.
But there are some times when too much change, too fast, can be a bad thing. There are institutions, systems and policies that are fundamental to our way of life, and we must be extremely careful when we talk about tinkering with them. Too often, people use change and reform as a cover for what they really mean: destroy and eliminate.
Andrew Cuomo, the New York State attor- ney general and front-running gubernatorial candidate, has proposed a constitutional con- vention, which is an opportunity to radically change state laws. No doubt there are great problems in this state that need to be fixed, but a convention would open the flood gates to drastic and dangerous proposals that could hurt working New Yorkers. Lobbyists and special interests would jump on this chance to remake our government in a way that suits themselves, not average citizens, and certain- ly not working men and women.
Pensions would be at the top of their list. One of the great things about New York State is that a strong pension system is written into the constitution, thereby weaving the benefit into the fabric of this state. The peo- ple who built this state from the ground up recognized the importance of protecting workers’ quality of life and securing their livelihoods after a lifetime of service. They deliberately made it difficult to change the right to receive pensions that shield workers from the political winds that shift so often in Albany.
Right now those winds are against us. In a tough economic environment, most people outside labor look at pensions and see a bur- den on the state, but they are misguided. Pen- sions are really the backbone of the workforce that provides the services that keep the state running. At this time, however, the forces against pensions would use the political climate and the constitutional convention as a chance to attack and weaken our pension system. We can- not let this happen.
I applaud Andrew Cuomo’s intentions to im- prove Albany, but as a labor leader I will take every opportunity to cau- tion him against this dras- tic route. A constitutional convention could throw the scales off balance in the wrong direction. We vow to fight for public employee pensions, which were earned the hard way by several generations of union workers.
On the other hand, we look forward to fa- vorable changes and hope to play a part in the city’s upcoming Charter Revision Com- mission. Unlike a constitutional convention, the charter revision process has been handled carefully to ensure that nothing of value is lost. Although the agenda is still being set, it seems they are hoping to tackle many issues — such as term limits — which New Yorkers want to address. I look forward to working with Mayor Bloomberg, good government groups and fellow unions to help bring about changes we can all be proud of. Because that’s what our mission is truly all about: pushing change and reform that help, not hurt, our members.
In the past, we have won many battles in Albany and at City Hall to create new rights and protections for our workers. Members can now live where they want, for example, which has given our working families addi- tional flexibility and freedom in their lives. And we continue to fight for new reforms, such as a law that would strengthen penalties against those who assault school safety agents. With our hard work and your help, we can win those battles and change New York for the better.
That is why it is so important that you take the endorsements in this issue to heart. Our executive board has thought long and hard — interviewing the candidates and re- viewing their positions — to determine who will best represent the issues important to Local 237. If we show up at the polls in force and help elect our endorsed candi- dates, it will allow us to push for the types of reform we want. We don’t want to leave it to other people to decide for us. This union must seize its own destiny and play its part in shaping New York for generations to come.