The New Frontiers
I have two credos: never vote Republican and never cross a picket line. The Democratic Party and the labor movement form the crux of my political identity, and I have always seen them as linked in an iron-clad alliance for social justice and economic freedom. Throughout the years, the unions have kept their end of the bargain, pouring money and organizational muscle into Democrats’ campaigns at every level of government. Shamefully, the same thing cannot be said of Democrats in this state, who in the early hours of March 15 perpetrated a betrayal that would have made Brutus blanch.
The Legislature’s Democratic leadership, at the behest of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, passed a ‘pension reform’ bill adding another tier to New York’s public employee retirement system. For workers starting after April 1, it raised the retirement age from 62 to 63, capped the amount of overtime that could be factored into packages, hiked contribution rates to as high as six percent of salary, and altered pension multipliers.
Under Tier V, an employee who worked 30 years would retire with 60 percent of his salary, now that rate is 55 percent. The new tier doesn’t apply to firefighters and police officers.
The provisions of the law are bad enough, undermining the old-age security of civil servants to pay for the recklessness of Wall Street. However, what is most egregious about Tier VI is the fact that it was imposed legislatively and not agreed upon through collective bargaining, something that should deeply concern those of us who believe in the Union Idea.
Often, public employee unions are attacked for the political influence they hold over their bosses. Of course, this is a double-edged sword. Though labor can participate in the electoral process, the state, with its coercive power, can curb the rights, wages, and benefits of workers in ways that a private employer never could.
We saw it in Wisconsin, and now we are witnessing it in New York, another good union state. Andrew Cuomo, with his ties to shady business interests, is a perfect stand-in for Scott Walker. On the other hand, I am shocked and dismayed at Democratic members of the Assembly and Senate who listened to leadership rather than stand up for working people.
Many of these same officials were elected with strong union backing, running on the ballot line of the Working Families Party and raking in huge campaign contributions from labor. Admittedly, some of them are good people whose arms were probably twisted by Sheldon Silver, including our own assemblyman, Phillip Goldfeder, who is a fighter for this community and someone whose short record is near-remarkable. He should stay in Albany, and maybe go other places — he would do an excellent job fixing Washington. In this case, unfortunately, he did neither the right nor honorable thing, and that must be acknowledged.
As for the true apostates, AFSCME should show no mercy. No petitions, no money, no phone banks, no canvassers — nothing. Instead, labor should cut off these fair weather friends and only support its real chums.
Perhaps it should run challengers in a few Assembly and Senate districts. A message has to be sent that this is not how Democrats behave, and that those who cross the unions will be brought to heel.