Monday, February 27, 2017

Slippery Talk from Constitutional Convention Advocate

On Saturday I got a message from one of my members about this op-ed in the NY Daily News. It categorizes those of us who oppose it as purveyors of "alternative facts." That's the phrase that Trump stooge Kellyanne Conway used to rationalize outright lies on the part of the President, and it's got a useful ring when you wish to ridicule ideas. The writer ridicules Flanagan for overestimating the costs of a convention, offering no sources, so who knows whether or not that's true?

Personally, I doubt it, because the writer then launches into alternative facts of his own:

Another scare tactic being used to oppose the convention, this time by public employee unions that worry about threats to their entrenched clout, is the claim that a convention could vote to reduce their pensions. The protection for public employee pensions in the state Constitution cannot be eliminated without violating the contract clause of the federal Constitution, which bars states from rescinding contract rights.

Okay, let's grant this writer the possibility that the US Constitution says that. Personally I'm skeptical. If contract rights were so ironclad, how could Detroit have imposed one? And why would we need the Triborough Agreement? Perhaps the writer is correct, and contract rights are ironclad up until they expire. Of course, that doesn't explain how, in times of fiscal emergency, contracts are not necessarily enforced. I've been to many UFT meetings and I've heard about what happens in times of emergency. But let's grant the writer's supposition.

So our pensions are ironclad, given his statement, right up until our contracts expire. Then you're on your own. That doesn't sound so great, does it? Could it be that UFT pensions are only guaranteed until 2018, when our contract expires? Could it be that we're saved because of the Triborough Amendment?

The answer is none of the above, actually. Our pensions are not part of our contract, so whatever the US Constitution may say on the subject, the writer's point is nonsense. Someone is trafficking in alternative facts here, but it isn't the working people of New York State, it isn't the United Federation of Teachers, and it isn't those of us who've worked all our lives under the expectation that the pensions we signed up for would be honored when we retired.

I have my differences with UFT leadership, and I may in fact have mentioned them once or twice on this little blog. But misleading nonsense like this op-ed are just the opening salvo in what will be a long-term attack against the financial security for which we've worked all our working lives. This targets all UFT members and all state employees, whether new, veteran, or retired.

A few weeks ago, I conducted my first and only COPE drive. I recruited 78 members, 79 if you count the one who came to me weeks earlier complaining about the Constitutional Convention. And I may invite UFT in for lunch meetings to recruit further.. I don't expect to support everything that COPE does.

Nonetheless, I don't know of any other organization right now that's going to fight this. Whatever happens with this Constitutional Convention, I'm not gonna say that I didn't do everything within my power to fight it. I've contributed five bucks a paycheck for a number of years, largely because I thought it made me a little more credible as chapter leader. But I didn't ask my members to join me until this year. We need not look far to see what happens when pension promises aren't kept.

We face all kinds of threats, all the time. Sometimes the union is helpful and sometimes it isn't. But as a teacher, I'm all in. If you are, or if you think you ever will be, it's hard for me to understand how you could decline to fight this with every means at your disposal. Come November, if we win, it may be time to reassess this decision. But right now I don't regret it at all.

Update--I wrote the following as a letter to the editor:

I read with interest your op-ed advocating a Constitutional Convention in NY. The writer focuses on “alternative fact” and asserts that pensions will not be renegotiated because they are protected by contract and the US Constitution, UFT pensions are not, in fact, part of our contract. I’d have to assume, since pensions are an independent agreement with the state, that they are not part of other union contracts either. Therefore the writer’s assertion that unions oppose the Constitutional Convention to maintain “entrenched clout” is baseless. The writer either did extremely shoddy research or is himself a purveyor of alternative fact.

Arthur Goldstein, ESL teacher/ UFT Chapter Leader
Francis Lewis High School, Fresh Meadows NY
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