Polling station voters sign (79332)
Polling station voters sign Credit: Nia Sanders

On Nov. 7, 2017, when voters go to the polls to cast their ballot for candidates for various elective offices, including governor and mayor, there’s another part of that ballot—toward the end—that might affect voters as much, if not even more.

It’s a question on the ballot, which comes up every 20 years and which seems innocent enough: “Should there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

The wrong answer can prove deadly for union members, and in particular, public sector union members. We need to vote “NO,” and here’s why:

Our benefits—the envy of so many—are protected by the current state constitution. In today’s political climate, where union bashing and union busting is rampant, when union membership has fallen to an all-time low (nationwide it is only 11 percent) and with 28 states having already passed so-called Right to Work laws that, contrary to its name, allows “freeloader” employees in unionized workplaces to receive the same advantages as union members without paying dues. We do not want to create a mechanism for wholesale alterations to the New York State Constitution.

We need to vote “NO” on the constitutional convention!

Union members are not the only ones who would be negatively affected by a constitutional convention. Many others will, too.

According to a recent Siena College poll, 89 percent of New Yorkers have heard little or nothing about the upcoming convention. But the political insiders and lobbyists are well aware of it and view the convention as a great opportunity to rewrite the current Constitution to their own benefit, while making a huge profit in the process. The constitutional convention takes place over several years—while the taxpayers, you and I, are footing the bill for the delegates’ election and salary—at an estimated cost of $200 million. To make things even worse, there is no time limit on how long the process can take. The vote to have a convention (or, hopefully, not) takes place in 2017; in 2018, there will be the election of delegates to the convention; and in 2019, the convention will convene. Any approved amendments will not take effect until at least 2020 and beyond. Delegates will be paid a salary of $80,000 a year (in addition to their other income). Because delegates are elected to their positions, many will be elected officials or politically savvy insiders who are familiar with the techniques and demands of the political process, such as fundraising and campaigning. The argument that the convention provides an opportunity for “fresh eyes” and “outsiders” to participate in government is not the reality. Instead, the reality is that a constitutional convention would be controlled by well-funded special interests, such as the Koch brothers and career politicians, and it will put the “foxes in the hen house.”

New Yorkers from all sectors of employment and socio-economic backgrounds have rejected the call for a constitutional convention, which takes place every 20 years, since 1967. And with good reason. In this politically charged climate, as in previous years, there is concern that long-standing guarantees will be destroyed. Clean air and water; preserving recreational parkland; caring for the needy, mentally ill, and elderly; and providing free public schools are just some of the mandates protected by the current Constitution that would be at risk. Worker rights issues such as pensions, prevailing wage rates, collective bargaining and workers’ compensation could all be on the chopping block if we allow a constitutional convention.

It is important to note that there is a path for beneficial change. If there are changes that can improve our lives and livelihoods, the legislature can amend the Constitution at any time with specific proposals. In fact, there have been 222 amendments to the 120-year-old documents, changes achieved through legislation. And, as the Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie cautions, “My concern is there can be a lot of outside money influencing what would be the election of 180 or so temporary legislators … I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the Constitution to the whims of someone from outside the state who can decide to spend millions to put forward their position.”

In other words, just vote “NO” to the constitutional convention and avoid the Con-Con con.

Gregory Floyd is president, Teamsters Local 237 and vice president-at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.