Many union leaders and politicians often talk like they are at war. We “fight” for our rights. We “battle” against big business or management. It sounds inspiring, but is it a fair comparison? After all, we are not really charging into combat like our brave men and women overseas.
While we must be respectful of the difference, there are some important similarities. These are serious matters. Peoples’ lives are at stake. Maybe not immediately, but when dealing with someone’s retirement or health care, the outcome could add or remove years from their lives. When we work to protect the benefits of union members we should treat it as though their lives were in our hands. We should bring that much passion and conviction to everything we do.
In the conflict with Gov. Cuomo and his plan to decrease pension benefits, we fought hard and won some battles, but did not win the war. With help from the Legislature, the governor was able to push through a law that will dramatically reduce pensions for new hires. People will have to contribute more for longer but receive less. It is a sad day for the labor movement in New York State.
We cannot underestimate the real world consequences of losing this fight. Future generations of working New Yorkers will only face more uncertainty in retirement than they already face. Discouraged by lower benefits, fewer people will enter the ranks of public service, and our cities and state will suffer because of it.
Credit: Bill Kresse
On this page, we mostly talk about our victories and our efforts to achieve them. It is also important to look at when we come up short. It was not a complete loss. The final pension changes were less harsh than what the governor had originally intended. Still, we drew a line in the sand and it was undeniably crossed.
To stop this attack on our future workers, the labor movement tried many things. Numerous unions banded together and tried to persuade the public and elected officials that they were not acting in the best interests of all New Yorkers. There were rallies and advertisements on TV, radio and newspapers. I, along with other union presidents, headed to Albany in force to convince lawmakers to oppose the pension plan. At the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.
Keep in mind our enemy: the real special interests that are running this state — big business insiders — like the people who run the Committee to Save New York. These people have no idea what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet. We’re the ones who fix the boilers. We’re the ones who risk our lives to keep our school children safe. We mop floors, repair elevators, protect the sick and homeless. We know what real work is.
Make no mistake. This is a battle between us and them for our livelihoods and future security.
They make sure that every dollar goes in their own wallets instead of to working New Yorkers. Even with all our resources, they will have more money than us and have control of the people in power. If we don’t change their game, I fear there could be more attacks like this pension plan.
It’s time we turned this into a real fight; our livelihoods are on the line. This loss is a wakeup call. We need to get back to our roots as trade unionists. The members who came before us won the benefits we enjoy by taking to the streets time and again. It’s time we do the same to protect those benefits. We won’t sit by and let the Committee to Save New York get their way. They disregard our important contributions, but we keep our cities and state running smoothly. We will make them see just how much we matter.
This is not the end of the fight, only the beginning. We have learned a lesson from this pension issue that we must carry with us as we move into the future. The time for talk is over. It’s time for action. We will fight with everything we have to help revive the labor movement and to preserve the important rights and benefits that have been won for the next generation of union members.