2009-07-10 / Columnists

The Progressive

Refor m

Most American workers, despite the type of employment, aspire to a middle class life style.

We, as a people, are optimistic about the future. Many of us are familiar with stories of success from humble backgrounds. Our own families may have stories of a cousin, aunt, uncle, or grandparent that overcame obstacles.

We rarely attribute success to any outside forces. My reading of history taught me the New Deal reforms such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, GI Bill of Rights and the growth of labor unions have made our nation the middle class bastion of democracy.

Democracies need a strong honest labor union movement to counterbalance the strength of big business, big financial institutions, and the incestuous relationship these forces have with political life. Alas, in this nation today we have a weakened almost moribund labor movement.

Our only beacon of hope is with the strength of the labor movement in civil service and the health care industry. Civil servants and health care workers, often as a result, have adequate wages, affordable health care coverage, and a decent retirement.

Although civil servants, whether members or not, are represented by labor unions, the power of the unions in this state are seriously weakened by a punitive Taylor Law which makes the unions unable to negotiate on an even playing field. Penalties are harsh if the union does not negotiate in good faith or takes a strike action. There are no penalties if the state, city, or quasigovernmental agency, e.g. MTA, does not negotiate in good faith.

More than a decade ago, I was part of a team of negotiators for a major public employee union. We faced insults often, cancellation of meetings without explanation, no response to our proposals, and delays of every description by the state representatives. Our contract had expired almost two years before a settlement was reached. This was when the coffers were plentiful. A previous contract team faced a state denying some health benefits coverage while the negotiating was in process. This was in direct violation of the Taylor Law and the wheels of justice took years to settle the matter in court.

Senator Diane Savino has made a laudable proposal that the Taylor Law be reformed so the city, county, and state negotiators face penalties swiftly if they do not negotiate in good faith. She has been criticized by the major media outlets and our billionaire mayor for her courage and insight. We need dignity at the negotiating table.

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