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Labor and activists celebrate pushback against constitutional convention

Stephon Johnson | 11/16/2017, 10:50 a.m.
Last week, New York State voters roundly rejected a constitutional convention, fearing the deep pockets of big business influencing Albany ...
New York State Capitol Wikipedia

Last week, New York State voters roundly rejected a constitutional convention, fearing the deep pockets of big business influencing Albany more than ever.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento called the vote a defining moment for labor in the state.

“Our constitution has some of the strongest worker protections in the country, including the right to collectively bargain, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, the eight-hour workday, civil service protections, public employee pension protections and prevailing rate,” said Cilento in a statement. “All of those rights will continue to be protected for the working men and women of this great state.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said New Yorkers “voted to protect our rights to a free public education, to join a union and bargain collectively, and to workers’ compensation and basic safety and protections on the job.”

She continued, “We voted to protect pensions, supports for seniors and the poor, and the ‘forever wild’ provision of our state constitution that has protected the beautiful Adirondacks and Catskills. All of these rights would have been at risk in a state constitutional convention that would have attracted big moneyed interests who want to strip people of their rights and economic opportunity in order to enrich and empower themselves and their friends.”

Unions believed that a constitutional convention would lead to anything being put up for discussion, including guarantee to a public education, workers’ compensation, constitutional mandates protecting worker pensions, a guarantee to a public education, protection of the workers’ compensation and the right for public-sector unions to collectively bargain. Labor leaders fear that special interest groups would influence Albany legislators to reduce the power of unions and privatize social services.

Other unions that lent their support to the anti-constitutional convention movement included the Retail Wholesale & Department Store Union, the AFSCME, the New York Central Labor Council and 32BJ SEIU.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said a small battle was won, but the war for all voices to be heard isn’t over.

“The issues raised by New Yorkers on both sides of the con-con debate must not be ignored, however,” Lieberman said in a statement. “Both sides recognized serious flaws in the state of New York’s democracy—most significantly the pervasive gerrymandering that turns our elections into rubber stamps for Albany incumbents. The NYCLU will continue to press for fair, publicly financed elections and meaningful voting reform. New York must be a sanctuary in the Trump era, a place where democracy flourishes.”