Friday, December 31, 2010


Rochester, N.Y.-- As the political landscape in Washington shifts, now more than ever a lot of "noise" is coming from corporate giants and its allies about public employee unions. That in itself comes as no surprise to anyone, on either side of the political continuum. 

It is extremely clear to us at the Voice Reporter that we can no longer afford to be misled by the same voices that drove our economy into the ground. The clock is ticking, and there’s simply too much at stake—for our working families, our libraries, hospitals, worksites, cash-strapped communities and our collective future.

Let's make this personal.  Make this your New Year's Eve resolution--  It’s easy to tune out misinformation about unions and the workers who make them strong when you hear it on television or read about it in your hometown newspaper, but what should you do when the same misinformation comes from your co-workers, friends and family?

We at the Voice Reporter put our heads together with our friends at American Rights at Work.  We are speaking truth to power. Here is a great list of facts you can use the next time you hear someone attacking unions or the services we provide — and help shed light on what unions are really all about.

MYTH: Unions are run by big, overpaid bosses.
FACT: Unions are run by everyday workers who are elected by a democratic process.

» A union is simply a group of employees who join together to address workplace issues, so they can improve their working conditions, advocate for the services they provide and have a fair shot at a better life for themselves and their families.

» Unions are democratic institutions. At the local, state, and national level, all union leadership is elected by majority votes—just like elections for public office.

MYTH: Unions only care about their members.
FACT: Unions are fighting to improve the lives of all people in the communities in which they live and the services they provide.  Unions are some of the most philanthropic organizations in America.  See this previous post at the Voice Reporter about CSEA. 

» It’s easy to forget that we have unions to thank for a lot of things we take for granted today like the minimum wage, the 8-hour work day, child labor laws, health and safety standards, and even "the weekend."  We also demand due process at work, the right to legal representation and overall democratic workplaces.

» Today, unions across the country are on the frontlines advocating for basic workplace reforms like increases in the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work and pushing lawmakers to require paid sick leave and pass bills like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

» Studies show that a large union presence in an industry or region can raise wages even for non-union workers. That means more consumer spending, and a stronger economy for us all.

» So it’s no wonder that most Americans (61 percent) believe that “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person,” according to Pew’s most recent values survey.

MYTH: Union workers are lazy, and unions are bad for business.
FACT: Unions and profitability go hand in hand.

» Actually, unions make the workplace more efficient – despite the stereotype that we all hear.

» Unions raise productivity on average by up to 24% in manufacturing, 16% in hospitals, and 38% in the construction industry. Union workers have higher professional standards because unions increase opportunities for worker training. Many even offer their own training programs.

» Union workers are employed in some of the most respected professions. They’re nurses, librarians, firefighters, teachers, day care providers, engineers, and NASA scientists. Union members are responsible for building nuclear subs, the space shuttle, The Smithsonian, the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, and even the American flag.

» Even small business owners think that unions are good for workers—and the economy. In fact, over 80 percent agree “strong unions make the free market system stronger.” They’re right. Unions exist at some of the most successful companies out there, including AT&T, Costco, UPS, and Southwest.

MYTH: Unions ask for too much. In this economy, people should be thankful for any job.
FACT: Good jobs mean a stronger economy, and that means more jobs.  Workers who protect their families should never apologize for what they earn and collectively bargain for. 

» This idea is coming straight from the same corporations that ran our economy into the ground. Now they’re taking advantage of our financial worries to grab an even bigger slice of the pie.  Wake up and smell the coffee.

» It’s just plain wrong to make working Americans foot the bill for Wall Street’s party. And it’s also bad for the economy. Because when workers can’t afford the products they produce, consumer spending takes a serious hit, and the economy does, too.

» But when workers can bargain for family-sustaining pay and benefits, consumer spending increases. The result is a stronger economy—one that creates jobs and enables people to work their way into the middle class.

MYTH: Public employees are to blame for our budget woes.  We need smaller government.
FACT: Public employees earn less than private-sector workers in similar jobs.  Public services are vital to the quality of life Americans have come to know and respect.

» You’re going to hear this argument a lot more very soon. Don't believe a word of it.  We can’t afford to have extremist policymakers get away with scapegoating civil servants like teachers, librarians, health care workers and employees of the Monroe County Water Authority and highway departments of our area. 

If we can learn anything about what happened in the big cities of the eastern seaboard during the recent year-end snow removal debacle, it would suggest that we need a rightsized government to save lives-- two people died in NYC because public employees did not have the resources they needed to do the job.  There were also a lot of fingers being pointed at NYC sanitation workers, which lacked man power even when working at full capacity around the clock.

NYC used 1,600 plows and 2,000 laborers in the blizzard of 2010.  While people died waiting for emergency vehicles to arrive because of unplowed streets, right-wing bloggers were already telling their readers that the sanitation workers conspired to delay services.  This is just reprehensible.  The truth of the matter is Mayor Bloomberg did not have the proper resources to handle this situation and is ultimately responsible for not making the city as safe as it could be.  The smaller government argument is foolish and will be addressed here later in an upcoming post.  Right wing and conservative media types who espouse this crap have no shame-- even when families lose loved ones.

» Private-sector workers should be angry about the inadequate benefits they receive, but the solution isn’t to take hope away from the public sector workers who keep our communities strong. We have to make the economy work for everyone.  Global corporations want to separate and divide working families to make us weak, and they are winning the battle for now.  However, we can win this war by you making a personal investment by joining the Stop The Lies campaign.

» Recent studies show that public employees make significantly less than private-sector workers with comparable education and experience, even when you factor in benefits. And according to Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, state and local employees’ pensions make up only 6 percent of non-federal public sector spending.  Government salaries and pensions are not killing budgets, lawmakers and the big donors who got them into office are.

» Still not convinced? It turns out that what’s bad for public workers is bad for the economy, too. The Center for Economic Policy Research reports that freezing federal workers’ pay will mean a loss of $2.5 billion in consumption by 2012—18,000 private sector workers stand to lose their jobs as a result.

» And don’t forget, it was Wall Street’s recklessness that caused budget shortfalls in states across the country—not public service workers. Making public service workers pay for Wall Street’s wrongdoing won’t create jobs, and it won’t save the public services we all depend on.  It's just plain false that worker salaries and pensions are the cause of local and state government budget woes.

Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year and keep fighting the good fight.  To see a photo gallery of CSEA Local 828 activities for the past year and a half, you can go here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Albany, N.Y.--  Members and leaders of the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) made a final appeal to common sense in New York state government as Gov. David Paterson prepared to leave office while laying off 902 dedicated state employees as his final act.

Union analysis of the layoff shows they will produce minimal direct savings to the state budget, while actually harming the economy and undermining revenue-producing state services.

Layoffs are anything but a quick fix.  Listen or download this radio ad here.

Representatives of the unions held a candlelight vigil on the steps of the state Capitol yesterday to criticize the misguided action and make a last-ditch appeal to have common sense prevail. Similar vigils took place outside state offices in Hornell, Endicott, Elmira, Utica and Poughkeepsie.

Union leaders said Gov. Paterson is proceeding with layoffs of mostly PEF and CSEA members out of political spite. The layoffs will create personal tragedy for the families involved, while harming New York's economy and wreaking havoc on state operations.

"The staffing levels at many state agencies already are down to bare bones," said PEF President Kenneth Brynien. "Not only are these individuals facing incredible hardships, their families are suffering, taxpayers will be affected through the loss of services, and local economies will suffer as well. Gov. Paterson should be ashamed that the final act of his administration will be to punish union members and their families because he wanted to score cheap political points. This historic action has been caused by Gov. Paterson and can be stopped by Gov. Paterson," Brynien said.

Danny Donohue at the
candlelight vigil Dec. 29
(photo provided)
"Gov. Paterson will make yet another nonsensical statement that the union leadership left him no choice but to proceed with layoffs," said CSEA President Danny Donohue. "By now, the public should be painfully aware that's just not true. Gov. Paterson has missed every opportunity to choose a better way. These unnecessary layoffs will link the Paterson administration forever with a legacy of failure," Donohue said.

The Paterson layoff scheme is using a loophole in a no-layoff agreement his administration made with PEF and CSEA in July 2009, in exchange for pension system reform the administration claims will save taxpayers more than $35 billion. The administration is meeting the letter, but not the spirit, of the no-layoff agreement by keeping the laid-off employees on the payroll until the final day of the Paterson administration.

By forcing the issue of layoffs in a six-week period and cherry-picking PEF and CSEA represented positions, the Paterson administration has created turmoil and disruption throughout numerous state agencies.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The strategy isn't restricted to just the largest American companies. Entrepreneurs, whether in technology, retail or in manufacturing, are now hiring globally from the start.

Anywhere, USA--  If you read our last post about the Stop the Lies campaign, you know damn well that corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So where are the American jobs?  Why isn't anyone hiring?

Actually, many American companies are hiring — just not here where you and I live.  They are hiring overseas, where unskilled labor costs are low, sales are surging and the pipeline of supply and demand is high.

More than half of the 15,000 people that Caterpillar Inc. has hired this year were outside the U.S. UPS is also hiring at a faster clip overseas. For both companies, sales in international markets are growing at least twice as fast as domestically.

The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.6 percent last month, even though companies are performing well.  All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.

But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent.

One thing is very clear:  There's a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American people.

American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated — think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes. 

NAFTA hasn't helped American workers

According to a November 2003 article from the EPI, The high price of 'free' trade:  NAFTA's failure has cost the United States jobs across the nation, 78% of the net job losses under the North American Free Trade Agreement were relatively high-paying unionized manufacturing jobs.  Since the agreement was signed in 1993, the rise in the U.S. trade deficit with Canada and Mexico through 2002 caused the displacement of production that supported 879,280 U.S. jobs.  Certain states with heavy emphasis on manufacturing industries like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and California were significantly affected by these job losses. For example, in Ohio, TAA and NAFTA-TAA identified 14,653 jobs directly lost due to NAFTA-related reasons like relocation of U.S. firms to Mexico. 

And now, many of the products being made overseas aren't even coming back to the United States. Demand has grown dramatically this year in emerging markets like India, China and Brazil.

Slow economy has subdued consumer demand in America

Meanwhile, consumer demand in the U.S. has been subdued. Despite a strong holiday shopping season, Americans are still spending 18 percent less than before the recession on furniture, and 10 percent less on electronics, according to MasterCard's SpendingPulse.

With the future looking brighter overseas, companies are building there, too. Caterpillar, maker of the signature yellow bulldozers and tractors, has invested in three new plants in China in just the last two months to design and manufacture equipment. The decision is based on demand: Asia-Pacific sales soared 38 percent in the first nine months of the year, compared with 16 percent in the U.S. Caterpillar stock is up 64 percent this year.

"There is a shift in economic power that's going on and will continue. China just became the world's second-largest economy," says David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's, who notes that half of the revenue for companies in the S&P 500 in the last couple of years has come from outside the U.S.

Take the example of DuPont, which wowed the world in 1938 with nylon stockings. Known as one of the most innovative American companies of the 20th century, DuPont now sells less than a third of its products in the U.S. In the first nine months of this year, sales to the Asia-Pacific region grew 50 percent, triple the U.S. rate. Its stock is up 48 percent this year.

DuPont's work force reflects the shift in its growth: In a presentation on emerging markets, the company said its number of employees in the U.S. shrank by 9 percent between January 2005 and October 2009. In the same period, its work force grew 54 percent in the Asia-Pacific countries.

"We are a global player out to succeed in any geography where we participate in," says Thomas M. Connelly, chief innovation officer at DuPont. "We want our resources close to where our customers are, to tailor products to their needs."

This should clear up the fact that just because you have an American born corporation, their commitment is not always with the American people.  It's with the global wealthy elite, where the profit is and to it's shareholders who have the disposable income to invest in their company.

International growth is leveling the playing field

A key factor behind this runaway international growth is the rise of the middle class in these emerging countries. By 2015, for the first time, the number of consumers in Asia's middle class will equal those in Europe and North America combined.

Most experts believe that all of the growth over the next 10 years is happening in Asia. Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent often points out that a billion consumers will enter the middle class during the coming decade, mostly in Africa, China and India. Kent is aggressively targeting those markets. Of Coke's 93,000 global employees, less than 13 percent were in the U.S. in 2009, down from 19 percent five years ago.

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria worries that the trend could be dangerous. In an article in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review, he says that if U.S. businesses keep prospering while Americans are struggling, business leaders will lose legitimacy in society. He exhorted business leaders to find a way to link growth with job creation at home.

If our economy is left up to a GOP House and large global corporations, the American middle class is doomed to suffer.  We will experience higher unemployment and economic stagnation because of anti-American corporate ethics.  Chasing the bottom line and higher profits are the only thing that matters to them.  Plus, supporting congressional lawmakers who govern to make their business lives easier and more profitable at the expense of American working families has become the new status-quo.  It truly is a vicious cycle and one that must end if the American middle class is to survive.


Rochester, N.Y.-- CSEA Monroe County Local 828 President Bess Watts is encouraging all Unit Presidents and guests to attend the next Local 828 meeting, the first of 2011.  It will be held at Proietti's Restaurant, 980 Ridge Road East, Webster Plaza, Webster, N.Y. at 5:30, Wednesday, January 12.

Agenda items include officer and committee reports, scheduled meetings with the Executive Board and Units, the creation of committee liasions, the NYS Special Olympics Polar Plunge annual fundraiser and more.

We request that all Local 828 members who plan on attending call the Local 828 office at 585.328.5250 and leave a message for Cris Zaffuto. We need to have your reservation by January 10.  For map and driving directions, you can go here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Albany and Rochester, N.Y.--As CSEA concludes its centennial year, the union's spirit of public service and community support continues to be a vibrant force. Despite the challenges of hard times, CSEA members all across the state continued to give generously and do good for their communities, not just during the holiday season, but throughout the entire year.

From the earliest days of CSEA's existence, members have enthusiastically supported charitable and service organizations responding to human need, natural disaster and community improvement. In 2010, CSEA members across New York gave of themselves to participate in and support every conceivable cause from well-known organizations such as the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and Special Olympics to local community fund-raisers and ad hoc events. Many CSEA groups sponsored their own charitable activities to help their local communities.

CSEA members are also the backbone of local United Way campaigns and the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA), contributing millions of dollars to participating organizations.

In October, CSEA members who traveled to Albany for the union's 100th Annual Delegates Meeting reaffirmed their commitment to community service. Several hundred delegates participated in hands-on community service activities during a designated Day of Service.

Freezin for a Reason 2010
The projects included an Empire Stroll to raise money for the CSEA Disaster Relief Fund; projects at the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, the Louise Corning Albany Senior Services Center and the Hudson-Mohawk River Humane Society. Other delegates participated in a disaster preparedness program presented by the American Red Cross and volunteered for the Special Olympics of New York State Polar Plunges. 

Locally, WNY CSEA Region 6 raised over $6,000.00 at the February 14, 2010 Lake Ontario Polar Plunge for the NYS Special Olympics.

"Most CSEA members dedicate their lives to serving people on the job," said CSEA President Danny Donohue. "But we also care about making our communities better places to live and we volunteer and contribute in every possible way."

" For more than 100 years, CSEA has been focused on making New York a better place. No one should underestimate the selfless impact that CSEA members make in every corner of the state," Donohue said.


Rochester, N.Y.--  Stop the lies right now. American working class families are not going to let them get away with it. At this pivotal moment in the economic history of our country – indeed, the world – we cannot stand by and let corporate CEOs and their media partners define the debate and singlehandedly shape our future.

Working families didn’t create class warfare. The facts speak for themselves: While median incomes in the U.S. have stagnated since the mid-1970s, incomes for those in the top 5 percent have more than doubled. In the past 10 years, with record-breaking tax cuts for the wealthy — incomes for the top 1 percent have tripled. Economic bubble after economic bubble benefited a small elite of CEO's and shareholders while private sector workers watched their retirement security and health care benefits dissipate.

Now, after annihilating private sector workers and the unions who represent them, the rich and the right have set their sights on public services and the men and women who provide them. We at the Voice Reporter are dedicated to injecting truth to the debate to give American families a better sense of how their tax dollars are being manipulated to oppress them.

Here are a few misconceptions about public employees:

The Claim: Government employees are overpaid.

The Facts: The Economic Policy Institute measured state and local public workers against their private sector counterparts with the same age, experience, and education. They found that public workers earn about 11 percent less.

Claims that federal, state and local government workers are overpaid often fail to account for their education and experience. Fifty-four percent have at least a four-year college degree, compared to 35 percent in the private sector.

The facts are clear: state and local public employees make 11 to 12 percent less in salary than those in the private sector, when education and experience are considered, as demonstrated by recent research by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. Additionally, state and local public employees’ total compensation (including salaries and benefits) is approximately 7 percent less than that of private sector workers.

The Claim: The federal deficit is out of control.

The Facts: It’s true that this year’s budget deficit—projected to be 10.3 percent of U.S. economic activity—is the highest since World War II. It didn't help that conservatives, the rich and right wing politicans pushed for a tax break for the wealthiest Americans who don't need it.  Economists predict that tax break will add nearly 700 billion dollars to the deficit.  The GOP used small businesses as a hostage in the tax debate.  Whether you think the deficit is a problem or not depends on your history timeline and how we address it long term.

Short-term government spending was the only thing that kept the economy from tanking in 2008. If history has taught us anything, let's take lessons from FDR and the New Deal.  If Obama did not act after George Bush's failed policies, we would of been experiencing a second Great Depression.

With no private sector investment in sight and major banks being unwilling participants to grow our economy, public spending is the best economic engine for job creation in the foreseeable future. Aside from the pain created by high unemployment, no jobs means no recovery for tax collections and therefore a widening deficit and increased income inequality.  Above all, taxpayers need public services now more than ever as we struggle through one of the most difficult financial times in American history.

The deficit is a long-term problem if we do nothing, but before doing something most senisible obeservers know we have to look at spending and revenues. The bulk of federal spending is on the military (22 percent) and health care, including Medicare, Medicaid, and children’s health programs (21 percent).

The message has been the same
for the past 60 years.
photo by Ove Overmyer
 The obvious place to trim spending is the military budget, which is two and a half times what it was 10 years ago. Health care costs are also skyrocketing, because they are driven by for-profit health care.  Americans should be patient (no pun intended) for the health care provisions to be implemented.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the health care act will not add to the deficit, but actually reduce it.

The Claim: Taxes are too high.

The Facts: Depends whose taxes you mean. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, overall taxes in the U.S. are the third lowest among industrialized countries (only Turkey and Mexico are lower). Corporate taxes are also lower than in most other industrial nations.

But there are inequities—and they favor the rich. People at the bottom of the income ladder, the lowest 20 percent, pay almost twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as the top 1 percent. The poor pay 11 percent, the rich just 6 percent.

At the end of World War II, corporations paid more than a third of all taxes collected by the federal government. Today they pay only 10 percent. The burden was shifted to individuals, and as taxes on the wealthy were cut over the last 30 years, the liability has been transferred to working people.

People who abhor taxes are the same people who have no appreciation of how government and government employees have given them the quality of life they so desparately want.  You can't have it both ways-- remember this the next time you want your streets plowed of snow, your library institutes borrowing fees and you want that line at the DMV to go a little faster.

The Claim:  Outsourcing and the private sector is more efficient than government.

The Facts: Advocates claim outsourcing will save money. But after more than two decades of experience, the debate is hardly over.  See earlier Voice Reporter posts about public worker downsizing, outsourcing and use of temp workers in unionized municipal workplaces.

Cost overruns combined with the cost of contract monitoring and administration often makes privatization more expensive than in-house services. According to a 2007 survey by the International City/County Management Association, more than one in five local governments had brought previously outsourced services back in house.

In most cases insufficient cost savings were cited as a primary reason. And where contracting out does produce savings, they typically come from lower wages and benefits for workers who end up on public assistance that taxpayers end up footing the bill for anyway.

The Claim: Government waste, fraud and abuse are rampant.

The Facts: Absolutely no workplace, whether public or private sector has a monopoly on waste and fraud.  Government-bashers love to talk about overpaid, do-nothing bureaucrats, but if you’re looking for misused tax dollars your best bet is to scour the Chamber of Commerce’s membership list. Defense contracts and construction projects like the “Big Dig” in Boston hold taxpayers hostage with wildly inaccurate, often fraudulent cost estimates.

According to the Project on Government Oversight’s database of federal contractor misconduct, the top five defense contractors have racked up 156 instances of misconduct since 1995, totaling $3.57 billion in fraud and waste.  Does Dick Cheney and Halliburton ring a bell?

Sunday, December 26, 2010


With 2 new Supreme Court Justices, a $787 billion stimulus package and more, 111th Congress ends as one of most productive in U.S. history

Washington, D.C. -- However history judges the 535 men and women in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate the past two years, one thing is very clear: The 111th Congress made more laws affecting more Americans since the “Great Society” legislation of the 1960s. The Voice Reporter believes this is probably the most productive session of Congress in fifty years. And, it’s all the more impressive given how polarized and partisan Congress has been.  Additionally, the lame duck session defied all the naysayers who believed nothing could be accomplished at the end of the year.

Health care legislation was monumental

For the first time since President Teddy Roosevelt began a quest for a national health care system more than 100 years ago, the Democrat-led House and Senate took the biggest step toward achieving that goal by giving 32 million Americans access to insurance. We at the Voice Reporter agree that health care for all Americans is a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it.  Getting a comprehensive health care bill passed has been a long term commitment of the AFL-CIO for decades.

Lost in the the health care legislation debate were provisions for insurers including WellPoint Inc. of Indianapolis and drug makers such as Pfizer Inc. of New York, who will now have millions of new customers by requiring that all Americans have health insurance. These industries, as well as medical device-makers, will also face billions of dollars in new fees, and hospitals face a host of new standards designed to help curb soaring costs.

The health care law is facing legal challenges too, with the required insurance provision a key dispute. Many of the benefits of the law will not be implemented until 2014. It was a step in the right direction benefiting American consumers and will hold the insurance industry more accountable-- but we still have a long way to go.

Wall Street reform and 9/11 workers

The 111th Congress rewrote the rules for Wall Street in the most wide-ranging effort since the Great Depression.  An overhaul of the rules governing the financial services industry, approved in July, aims to prevent a repeat of an economic collapse that led to the failures of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Washington Mutual Inc. It included $4 billion in aid to help thousands of unemployed property owners avoid foreclosure, while most would agree the program has fallen short of its goals because banks have become unwilling participants.

Congress also spent more than $1.67 trillion to revive an economy on the verge of a depression, including tax cuts for most Americans, jobs for more than 3 million, construction of roads and bridges and investment in alternative energy.

And just before the 111th Congress adjourned for the very last time, they approved legislation to help American first responders and clean-up crews suffering from illnesses linked to the wreckage caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. The Senate approved it on a voice vote, the House by a vote of 206-60. Our New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in a statement just before Obama signed it into law, called it a “Christmas miracle.”

Ambitious Obama agenda riled Tea Party and Conservative voters

For all of its ambitious achievement, the 111th Congress also witnessed a voter-backlash driven by a 9.6 percent unemployment rate that cost Democrats control of the House and diminished their Senate majority. The GOP and Tea Party enthusiasts spun misinformation and peppered voters with vicious attack ads fueled by American Crossroads, the big-spending political outfit conceived by Karl Rove. Rove and his associates started a spinoff group primarily to use secret contributions to fund political ads, a phenomenon that became more common – particularly on the right – in the wake of the Citizens United v. FEC decision.

According to Politico, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (or Crossroads GPS, for short), were the most active independent advertising groups on either side, pouring cash into ads attacking Democratic Senate and House candidates. Together, they raised more than $70 million, with most of it - $43 million – going to Crossroads GPS.

In the Nov. 2 elections, Democrats lost 63 House seats, costing their party control of the chamber in next year’s Congress. In the Senate, the Democratic majority was shaved by six seats; the party will have 53 votes in next year’s session, Republicans 47.

“What we did was work, and our reward was, ‘Get out of here,’” said Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and outgoing chairwoman of the House Rules Committee. While Slaughter won re-election, five of her New York colleagues were among Democrats defeated.

One casualty was local New York Congressman Dan Maffei. Maffei has been a terrific representative for our working families and especially for members of CSEA. We wish him well and hope he returns to Washington, D.C. very soon.

Partisan divide was the rule not the exception

Party-line votes on most of the major measures engendered ill will among Republicans and helped stall in the Senate initiatives requiring significant bipartisan support. At one point, the House passed nearly 400 bills that died an ugly death in the Senate.  And, the rise of the filibuster was one of the most annoying developments of this congressional session which led to gridlock and brought the legislative branch to its knees.

Blocked legislation included limits on greenhouse-gas emissions that affects global warming, a bill the House passed in June 2009, a measure offering undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and the administration’s attempts to curb growing income inequality with tax increases for higher earners.

Those issues are unlikely to be tackled next year, when the House’s Republican majority will turn its attention to dismantling the health care law and cutting domestic government spending by $100 billion. Congress this year was also unable to approve a single one of the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the government.

Here are some revenue facts

As lawmakers wrap up the session, Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are positioned to complete their best two years in revenue, General Motors Co. has emerged from bankruptcy with more than $23 billion repaid to the U.S. Treasury, and American International Group Inc. was able to sell $2 billion of bonds in its first offering since the company’s 2008 bailout.

Stimulus spending saved American jobs

Stimulus money created and saved jobs across the country, helping strapped state governments retain their workforces, according to government analyses. President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers said that in Ohio, for instance, the legislation created 122,000 jobs for teachers, police officers and construction workers. These policies carried the economy along during a period when the private sector was not engaged.

3.3 million jobs created or saved by Obama

Congress scored its first big accomplishment weeks after Obama’s inauguration with passage in late February 2009 of an $814 billion stimulus bill. It has created or saved 3.3 million jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while also steering more funds to road construction, broadband technologies and renewable energy ventures.

Pay equity, earmarks and the Supreme Court

Obama signs Lilly Ledbetter
Fair Pay Act in 2009.
Congress also passed laws to help ensure pay equity by enabling women to pursue lawsuits claiming they were underpaid, and to empower the federal Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry, which includes restrictions on cigarette marketing.

Additionally, lawmakers expanded state programs for health insurance for children, and they confirmed two Supreme Court justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Sotomayor became the first Latino to serve on the court, and the pair increased to three the number of women among the nine justices.

Lame duck was anything but

Following the November elections in which voters handed Democrats what Obama termed a “shellacking,” Congress in a lame duck session made significant additions to its accomplishment list. Lawmakers approved an $858 billion measure that continues for two years Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels, extends aid for 13 months to the long-term unemployed, provides estate tax relief and cuts by two percentage points worker payroll taxes during 2011.

Shortly after the election, Senate and House Republicans announced a voluntary ban on earmarks, the funding for pet projects added to bills by lawmakers.  However, most GOP lawmakers backtracked and proposed them for their districts anyway.  The incoming House Republican leadership also promised to turn the focus of the Appropriations Committee from funding government to identifying spending cuts and at the same time pushed for tax cuts for the rich.  The measure added 700 billion dollars to the federal deficit with no return on our investment.  These actions were completely counterintuititve to American progress, but then again, GOP lawmakers have never been known for their compassion for average Americans.  This was clearly about taking care of their corporate donors and rich friends who will keep them in a position of power.

DADT, the FDA and the Arms Treaty

Congress in its last days also voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on military service by openly gay men and women.  Many civil rights and workplace rights advocates call this development a giant step forward for the American people.  Congress also cleared the biggest food-safety overhaul in more than 70 years, giving the FDA more enforcement power. And the Senate ratification vote of 71-26, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty gives Obama a key foreign-policy victory.

Looking back and looking forward

Pelosi, Reid and the Democrats say it will take years before the public recognizes their achievements. Many of the measures that passed were designed to forestall a bleaker recession, an argument that’s little comfort to many American working families as the nation’s unemployment rate has remained at 9.5 percent or higher for more than a year.

After a few years have passed, we predict most political historians will agree that the 111th Congress was one of the most productive and progressive legislative sessions despite a bitter and unparalleled partisan divide. It was truly a remarkable lame duck session and a remarkable last two years.

The Voice Reporter predicts that many of the GOP House efforts to dismantle the  health care bill and enact spending cuts will only be symbolic in nature and will likely fail in the Senate which will still be controlled by a Democratic majority. Plus, the president has veto power.  It is likely that the party split between the two chambers will bring the recent record of congressional productivity in the lame duck session to an abrupt end in January of 2011. 

All the momentum President Barack Obama picked up at the tail end of the 111th Congress means he'll hit the partisan wall that much harder when the 112th Congress opens, according to liberal and conservative lawmakers who are bracing for political warfare next session.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Washington, DC — On the December 19 edition  of 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft’s segment correctly noted that many of our state and local governments are struggling to close looming budget gaps. But his one-sided report failed to identify the root causes of this crisis, or barely recognize the sacrifices that public employees have made to help address these deficits since our financial system nearly collapsed more than two years ago.

During these difficult times, public employees have helped bring budgets back into balance by sacrificing pay and benefits. However, the 60 Minutes report relied too heavily on testimony by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie which falsely blamed public employees and unions for the fiscal challenges that have arisen because of the irresponsible behavior of Wall Street and Christie’s predecessors.

Gerald W. McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), had this to say:

“Chris Christie is more interested in scoring political points than solving state and local budget challenges and getting the economy moving. The fact is, hundreds of thousands of public employees, just like private sector employees, have been laid off and taken pay and benefit cuts – even as Wall Street executives lined their pockets with taxpayer money and took home huge bonuses."

Additionally, Steve Kroft’s report noted that the pension problem stems from the fact that politicians did not contribute to their pension funds.

Contrary to what Christie would have Americans believe, public employee pensions are not the problem. The average pension for an AFSCME member is just $19,000, and eighty percent of this comes from investment returns and contributions by the employees themselves. The challenge can be met if state and local governments, began contributing just 1.5 percent more of their budgets toward their pension funds in the years ahead.

The long term solution to state and local fiscal challenges is a robust economy – one that is creating jobs and replenishing tax revenue. Christie’s chest-beating decision to scuttle 6,000 new jobs to build a needed tunnel between New Jersey and New York shows that he’s more interested in scoring political points and flaunting a national platform for a possible presidental run in 2012.

CSEA and all public employees stand ready to help state and local governments get through our current economic crisis. But to suggest that we, hard working public employees, have not sacrificed is a complete fabrication.  We will not allow politicians like Chris Christie blame the economic problems of our states and our country on working and middle class Americans.  Period.  For more information about the Stop The Lies campaign, you can go here.

AFSCME’s 1.6 million members provide the vital services that make America happen. With members in hundreds of different occupations – from nurses to corrections officers, child care providers to sanitation workers – AFSCME advocates for fairness in the workplace, excellence in public services and prosperity and opportunity for all working families.  CSEA is New York State AFSCME Local 1000, representing nearly 300,000 workers in the Empire State.


Washington, D.C.-- As the 111th Congress ends, most congressional observers point to its major accomplishments, including health care reform and repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. One development overlooked however – though just as important – is the story of this Congress and the rise of the filibuster and its role in killing legislation, blocking appointments, and often times bringing the legislative branch to its knees.

Long gone are the noble Mr. Smith Goes To Washington filibusters where senators were forced to actually defend their obstructionism for hours on end. They have been replaced instead by record-breaking gridlock where a 41-member minority effectively wields veto power over all legislation. This is clearly not what our forefathers intended. Look no further than the following chart from Ezra Klein to see just how rapidly the filibuster has become a mainstay in the Senate:

(Click on image for a larger view of congressional cloture filings comparison)

However, as the beginning of the 112th Congress draws near, there are hopeful signs that Senate obstructionism may be relegated to the past. This week, the National Journal reports that returning Democratic senators unanimously signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), urging him to change the Senate’s filibuster rules when Congress reconvenes in January.

The letter, delivered earlier this week, expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses. While it does not urge a specific solution, Democrats said it demonstrates increased backing in the majority for a proposal, championed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and others, weaken the minority’s ability to tie the Senate calendar into parliamentary knots.

Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.

Udall hopes his plan, known as the “Constitutional Option,” or a similar filibuster reform proposal will be considered when the Senate votes on its parliamentary rules come January 5. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress explains how 51 senators have a brief window at the beginning of a new legislative session to implement rules changes, but if they fail to act, they are essentially locking the old rules in place for another two years.

Ezra Klein points out that ridding ourselves of the filibuster would actually lead to greater bipartisanship. “In a world without a filibuster, where legislation can pass if the majority wants it to pass,” Klein writes, “it would be easier for members of the minority to break ranks, as a strategy of relentless obstruction wouldn’t work, and their unyielding opposition would no longer decide where legislation lived or died.”

Indeed, the filibuster was never even originally intended to exist. “It’s a mistake,” notes filibuster historian Sarah Binder. And not even a popular one, at that. A poll last month found that nearly two-thirds of voters favored scrapping the filibuster altogether, including 57 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Independents.


New York to Lose Two Congressional Seats

The U.S. Census released their numbers and it did not bode well for New York State. Based on slow population growth, the state will lose two Congressional seats. The delegation, which will shrink from 29 to 27, will be the smallest the state has had in almost 200 years.

The state legislature is responsible for redrawing Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly districts for the 2012 elections. Many pundits believe that they will eliminate Congressional districts in upstate or Long Island.

State Senate Majority Decided

The State’s highest court has ruled against incumbent Long Island State Senator Craig Johnson’s motion for a full recount in his election. This ruling confirms Republican Jack Martin's victory in the 7th Senate District. This victory ensures Senate Republicans a 32-30 majority in the state senate entering the next legislative session.

However, reports out of Albany suggest that this Republican majority may be short lived.  Due to retirements and appointments to the Cuomo adminstration, sources for the Voice Reporter believe we will see a legislative logjam at 31 - 31 or a flip by the end of 2011.

Local Dems and Community Groups Seek Independent Redistricting

The same redistricting issues facing New York’s State Senate regarding congressional district lines will play out on the local level in the coming months. In Monroe County, Democrats, community groups and the Republicans have different ideas regarding just how it should be done.

“There's a power struggle that exists, inherently, in who draws lines,” said Democratic County Legislator Vincent Esposito.

It’s a power struggle which, for years, Monroe County Democrats have been on the short end of. The party in control of the legislature, the Republicans, under county charter, have the upper hand in redrawing legislative district lines.

It happens every ten years. It's about to happen again.

"In essence, it's five inside politicians drawing the lines for themselves,” said Esposito.

Democrats have introduced a bill which they say takes the politics out of redistricting. The plan would expand the legislative redistricting commission from the current five members, to ten. Republicans and Democrats would each pick five. Elected officials and party bosses would be excluded.

“What we want to get to is a process where legislators don't pick whom they're going to represent,” said Democratic Minority Leader Ted O’Brien. “We have people decide who's going to represent them.”

Republicans have held the majority in the legislature for two decades.

“The fact is there has been no problem with redistricting historically in this county,” said Republican Majority Leader Dan Quatro.

Quatro accuses Democrats of trying to politicize the issue, one he thinks wouldn't be their issue at all, if the shoe were on the other foot.

“It doesn't surprise me,” said Quatro. “If the Democrats had won the majority in the last election, certainly they wouldn't be entertaining this.”

There is no guarantee the Democratic plan will even make it to a full legislature vote. It must first go through the legislature's Agenda Charter Committee, which meets January 3.

CSEA wishes you and your family a safe and happy holiday season.  Plus a healthy and happy New Year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Rochester, N.Y.-- There seems to be a lot of jealousy toward public employees out there-- most of it powered by an impression that public workers get more money for less work. But via Kevin Drum comes this table (see table below) from the Economic Policy Institute, which suggests this is just not true.

And, on October 15th, Ezra Klein had an excellent piece on the Washington Post’s website that gets to the truth behind public employees benefits. He demolishes the myths that retirement security for public service employees is not overburdening state budgets. Klein says, “Pension obligations currently account for 3.8 percent of the average state’s spending. That’s not where the current crisis is coming from.” AFSCME retirees receive an average of $18,000 to $19,000 per year after retirement and contribute toward their pensions throughout their working careers. Eighty percent of the funds come from investment returns facilitated by the State Comptroller's Office and contributions by the employees themselves.

Click on image for a larger view
The facts are clear: state and local public employees make 11 to 12 percent less in salary than those in the private sector, when education and experience are considered, as demonstrated by recent research by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. Additionally, state and local public employees’ total compensation (including salaries and benefits) is approximately 7 percent less than that of private sector workers.

Unionized workers are not the enemy

When we think of public employees and budget spending, why does the general public immediately think of unionized workers? Well, it's because we are a convienent scapegoat for politicians, bureaucrats and the private sector business community and they have done a wonderful job spinning the media narrative in their favor.  Most of the cost for pensions comes from high ranking, confidential, appointed and elected personnel, not your snow plow drivers and librarians.  Even so, most public employees spend many years of their career paying into their pension-- these are not gifts-- we've earned them contractually by law and hard labor.  Again, pensions afforded the middle class are not threatening state and local budgets, lawmakers and their big donors are.

In the Klein article, he also makes a powerful argument that the problems facing state governments are all because of the failure of Wall Street and the horrible economy and it's time we stop blaming healthcare workers at Monroe Community Hospital and teacher assistants at the Monroe County suburban school districts.

In the months before the financial crisis, in fact, states had built up record rainy-day funds and were starting infrastructure projects. Then Wall Street collapsed, and so too did the revenue states got from taxing property, incomes and sales. At the same time, the need to spend on social services went through the roof.  What was the result? A terrible strain on state budgets-- but you can not blame public employees pensions for the cause.  And yes, compromise in future budgets will be settled through contract negotiations, just like it has since the Taylor Law went into effect back in 1967.

Also, when Wall Street was booming in the 1990's and early 2000's, local governments paid little or nothing into the New York State and Local Retirement System.  Now that greedy bankers and Wall Streeters tanked the economy, they naturally want to blame someone else and public employees are an easy target.

Once and for all, let's look at the facts and tell the American people the truth.  We at the Voice Reporter are asking you to join the Stop the Lies campaign today.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Washington, D.C. -- A Senate deal to fund the federal government until early March doesn't include money to enact the health-care overhaul or stepped up regulation of Wall Street, boosting Republican efforts to curb key elements of President Barack Obama's domestic agenda.  The bill, which also will freeze federal salaries for two years, narrowly passed the House, 193 to 165, several hours after it easily cleared the Senate on an 79 to 16 vote. President Obama was standing by at the White House to sign the measure. The last-minute scramble was required after the Senate last week withdrew a $1.2 trillion omnibus appropriations bill that included more than $8 billion in earmarks.

Democrats last week sought $1 billion to expand federal agencies to cope with health-care demands as part of a proposed $1.1 trillion spending bill. That measure died after Senate Republicans closed ranks against it under pressure from conservative activists.

The doomed budget plan also included spending increases sought by Democratic leaders for two agencies granted new responsibilities by the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law, passed in response to the Wall Street crisis of 2008-2009.

The proposed short-term funding measure would kick the larger spending debate into the new year, when Republicans will control the House and have more Senate seats. It would also start the bargaining between congressional Republicans and the White House at a lower funding level than the now-defunct Democratic plan.

Obama administration officials could shift money around within federal agencies to keep health care and Wall Street regulation on track. But Republicans could try to block such moves through legislation.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said he was confident Democrats could still win funding battles for health care and financial regulation. "Clearly, the fewer resources devoted to any program, the harder it is to implement it," he said.

Congressional Republicans have said they will try to defund enactment of the health-care law's least popular provisions, particularly Internal Revenue Service efforts to enforce the requirement that most Americans carry health insurance.

Republicans were also looking at cutting funds for the law's expansion of the Medicaid insurance program for the poor, and for subsidies to offset the cost of buying insurance for lower earners. Cuts were also being weighed for a new board that will recommend Medicare spending reductions and for parts of the law arguably tied to coverage of abortion services.

The bulk of the health law's provisions don't get fully under way until 2014. The Department of Health and Human Services has the power to redirect money from other operations to cover gaps in health-law funding.

Democrats worried the funding brawl could erode last year's landmark legislative gains and make for sloppy implementation of the laws.

"The rest of the world is waiting for us to move forward, particularly on financial reform," said Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va).

Key provisions include:

Continued 2010 spending levels for most agencies through March 4, 2011

Provides no funding to launch new health-care law or financial-industry regulations

Adds $1.16 billion beyond 2010 levels for certain programs

Allows Obama administration to transfer money to fund efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on aircraft

Maintains funding for Pell Grant college scholarships


If you do not consider yourself or your family wealthy persons, you have no business supporting the GOP agenda.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Rochester, N.Y. -- It appears that anti-labor forces and the business community are pushing their message full tilt these days. And, freaking media types like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times cannot let go of this smaller government narrative: "If we are going to solve our state's budget problems, we need to blame "spending" and public employee unions and those bloated pensions they have-- they are evil people."  

Of course, we all know that public employee unions (which are comprised of average working folks, not fat cats living the high life like right-wing pundits want you to believe) did not cause our budget meltdown or fiscal insolvency-- it was deregulation, bank bail-outs, greedy Wall Streeters, a bursting housing bubble, dipping revenue and host of other nefarious deeds perpetrated on the American people by the GOP and the richest U.S. corporations. And, this all came at a time when taxpayers need public services more than ever.

At the same time, Wall Street private equity firms and hedge fund managers are doling out a record 44 billion in bonuses at the end of this year.  Some estimates take that number as high as 90 billion as the biggest firms set aside more than the GDP of 13 entire countries.  Does that sound reasonable to you? It's as if 2008 never even happened.  And public employees are the problem? And let's not forget-- all those top end private sector executives get a nifty tax bonus on top of all that earned income courtesy of the Senate GOP! 

American politics have been reduced to "who gets what."

It's much easier to point the boney finger and blame someone else for your mistakes and the troubled economy you are responsible for tanking, and that's just what is happening here. Slight of hand and trickery-- psychologists and social scientists call this ego defense phenomena "projection."

Politicians are throwing unions and working people under the bus

Once nearly unthinkable politically, now many New York State lawmakers are actually talking about a proposal that will freeze public employee salaries-- even Democrats.  And, the climate to make that happen has never been more permissive than it is today.

One month after President Barack Obama proposed a two-year standstill on the pay of 2 million federal employees, The New York State Conference of Mayors and the New York State School Boards Association held a press conference and released reports urging wage freezes for all public sector employees.

They also are pitching these ideas: a property tax cap; that all new state employees switch to defined-contribution plans; require local government employees and retirees to contribute more to their health insurance; eliminate the Triborough Amendment-- which would give the state authority to stop raises now guaranteed under contractual law through annual "step" increases even when a labor contract expires. The Triborough Amendment is the heart and soul of the Taylor Law for those working without a contract.

For example, last Thursday night the Sullivan County Legislature froze salaries despite labor contracts that called for 4 percent raises on Jan. 1. "The legislators have declared war on workers of Sullivan County by doing what they've done," Adrian Huff of Teamsters Local 445 told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown.

Cuomo started the process during his campaign

Democratic Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo gave this effort momentum and forced this issue into the public spotlight because he campaigned on a proposal to freeze the salaries of the state's nearly 200,000 employees. It also doesn't help when the NYT does a huge story reporting that Cuomo is wooing the business community to raise 10 million dollars to fight unionized public employees.

They pull no punches about their class warfare objectives: they want to destroy public employee unions altogether, gut Social Security and dismantle the Taylor Law. If it's a fight they want, well-- it's a fight they are going to get.

"(Cuomo) said he wanted to come in and change things, we wanted to help him, we want to work with him," CSEA President Danny Donohue said on December 12. "He started off by getting a war chest to fight us on it. That's a great way to make friends and influence people."

And Donohue makes it very clear; he considers the war chest issue an insult to every public employee. He's vowing to fight for every worker who lost a job and he intends to convince the public who’s to blame when things go wrong.

"Somewhere somebody is going to pay for all this," said Donohue. "And I believe the Governor is responsible for the first person in a mental hospital that's not being treated well to the person on a highway who gets hurt because there are not enough snow plow drivers."

He added, "When those things happen, don't look at my members. They're out there doing the job. It's the governor and the politicians that are backing him on this. Yes there will be a fight. The fight is to maintain those services that New York State is paying for and wants."

Governor Paterson sent out nearly 900 layoff notifications that began last Friday. Public employee union leaders from PEF, NYSUT and CSEA say the projected 250 million in savings are minimal in light of a $9 billion budget deficit. These job cuts will start to fragment the quality of life for all New Yorkers immediately. Expect public safety to erode, a longer commute on that snowy morning drive, longer lines at the DMV and endless games of phone tag with case managers and clients.

CSEA is looking for partners in good government

"You have to negotiate in good faith," said CSEA's Stephen Madarasz. "Things brought up to a negotiating table, you have an obligation to negotiate," he told local reporters. "We certainly understand the state has considerable financial issues ... it's certainly about as difficult a set of circumstances CSEA has seen in a generation, no doubt about that."

Our union refused Paterson's attempts at concessions this year because it would have set a precedent for reopening labor contracts. The state's contracts with unions including CSEA are up in March, where a freeze could be negotiated.  What is it about not honoring legally binding contracts that politicians think is acceptable?

We at the Voice Reporter think most reasonable people believe CSEA and its members want to begin the new year with a positive working relationship with our new governor. But when the press and anti-labor forces continually stoke the fire of dissent and unrealistically portray public employees as selfish do-nothings and the "problem," it's hard to remain stoic.

No matter what the outcome, it's going to be a difficult year for the middle class working families and taxpayers of New York State. And, the sooner we come to understand this reality it will become totally obvious that our working families will end up paying the price for balancing a state budget that was altered by reckless politicians, business profiteers and greedy bankers.

-Ove Overmyer  (This content reflects the opinion of the author exclusively and not CSEA as an organization.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010


All of us join in saying "Thank You" to the members of Local 828 for your hard work and dedication to improving the lives of the residents and taxpayers of the City of Rochester, our towns, villages and Monroe County. 

We wish you a very happy and "safe" holiday season. We also hope that the coming year will bring you peace, good health, good cheer and much prosperity.

-A message from Local 828 President Bess Watts, the Voice Reporter and the CSEA Monroe County Local 828 executive board


The repeal of DADT is viewed as a victory for the labor and civil rights communities.  (photo by Ove Overmyer) 

Washington, D.C.-- By a 65-31 vote, the Senate acted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), the policy banning gays from openly serving in the military. The same six GOP senators who broke with their party during the cloture vote also voted for repeal: Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, Lisa Murkowski, George Voinovich, and Mark Kirk. Two more Republicans — John Ensign and Richard Burr — joined with Democrats in final passage. Labor and civil rights advocates are cheering this development, which puts in motion policy to eliminate discrimination in military workplaces.

Earlier this week, the House had passed the same legislation by 250-175 vote. More than 14,000 servicemembers have been dismissed because of the DADT policy.

For many Democrats, including President Obama, the final passage and the signing of the bill marks the fulfillment of a promise that they made several times before. In his January State of the Union address and at a speech before the the Human Rights Campaign in October, Obama said, “I will end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That’s my commitment to you.”

CSEA Local 828 president
and Army Vet Bess Watts

CSEA Monroe County Local 828 President Bess Watts, served six years in the U.S. Army before DADT went into effect back in 1993. She says she hated keeping a part of her life hidden from her superiors and fellow soldiers. She ended up being honorably discharged.

"It's so important to live with integrity, to reach actualization if you will," said Watts. "There's so many aspects to denying a part of who you are if you want to serve the country. To give up a fundamental part of your identity to serve the country you love is dishonest and cruel."

Watts says the leadership of Senator Gillibrand and President Obama on this issue was critical to its passing.  An email from Senator Gillibrand landed in inboxes just a few minutes after the approval vote, which thanked supporters of workplace equality for their perserverance.

"What a great feeling it is to know that you've accomplished a goal that will literally change the lives of thousands of people," wrote Gillibrand in the email.

The U.S. military has been one of the most visible and aggressive bastions of employment that actively pursued and enforced vilification of its employees.