Monday, January 31, 2011


Rochester, N.Y.-- On the eve of Governor Cuomo revealing the 2011-12 NYS budget, one thing is for sure: A national campaign is now fully launched to make local, public sector employees pick up a major share of the costs of the economic crisis.  But for some politicians, due diligence and hard core facts really don't matter that much-- it's only about perception.  We found out along time ago that logic and wisdom have nothing to do with governing.

Years of rising spending and falling revenue have carved a path of destruction through federal, state and local budgets. Deficits and debts have mounted, eroding taxpayer support for government spending in general and for public employees particularly. In response to deep economic pains in middle class communities, major efforts are under way in New York, California and Maine to balance budgets through major cuts in services, wages, benefits and employment.

Federal, state and local governments are staggering from reduced tax revenues because of unemployment, reduced production, lower investment and the housing collapse. Washington borrowed huge sums from foreign investors, domestic big business and the rich. These funds went to bail out select businesses and to help (partially and temporarily) broken state and local government budgets.

Because Democrats and Republicans agreed last December to not increase taxed income, estate and capital gains taxes, broken state and local budgets face declining federal support. This is driving governors, mayors and state legislatures to raise fees and some taxes and/or slash payrolls and programs. Of course, some cutting and tax increases are required. The real social decisions involve what to cut, how much, for whom and whose taxes to increase if at all.

Shifting the burden onto the middle class

photo:  Ove Overmyer
The pressure is on to shift the heavy costs of our economic crisis onto the middle and low income communities already stung by unemployment, foreclosures, reduced job benefits and rising job insecurity.  Ouch.  The campaign to make the middle and lower income Americans pay now focuses on public workers-- especially their numbers, incomes and benefits. Battles loom over which state and local job holders get fired, whose pensions and benefits will be reduced and which public services will stop altoghether.

Politicians will keep quiet on the key alternative to deep cuts too-- precisely because it would otherwise alienate rich folk and make most New Yorkers aware of how undemocratic these choices really are. That alternative would be to raise the tax share paid by billion dollar corporations (they pay little or nothing at all) and the wealthiest 5 to10 percent of citizens-- it will be an uphill fight to get our voice heard but it must happen for the middle class to survive.

It must also be clear that state and local government employees' earnings were close to the national averages in most occupations. Labeling all public employees "fat cats" is an attempt to make mostly middle class earners and all social service consumers pay for what the economic crisis did to state and local budgets.

Another part of the campaign against state and local workers is aimed at who represents them. But here, too, the facts offer a more honest picture. State and local government employees are more unionized than private sector workers. Approximately 12.3 percent (or 14.7 million people) of the total U.S. labor force is represented by unions. That includes a 612,000 member decline in 2010.  Anti-labor folks naturally have a vested interest in dismantling any political and workplace power unions might have achieved over the past century.

About 36 percent of public sector workers were unionized in 2010 as compared to 6.9 percent of private sector workers. Portraying public employees or their unions as the primary problem for local government budgets is not supported by the facts.  It has been stated countless times on this blog that the average worker and the union that represents them did not cause our budget problems-- so why are we asking them to disproportionally suffer more for a crime they didn't commit?

Public workers are not alien space invaders; we are people of color, older and veterans

Additionally, let's consider exactly who public employees are. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission data from 2007 suggest that 18 percent of full-time, state employees are African-American, while that number for local employees is 19 percent. Public employment has reduced African-American unemployment, reaping social benefits for everyone. Because African-Americans have a higher than average union membership, attacking state and local union jobs targets them especially. Veterans are also significantly represented in public sector employment, at both the state and local level.

In 2009, nearly 13 percent of all employed veterans worked for state and local government.  Also, public sector employees tend to stay at jobs longer and tend to be older than private sector workers. Our at-risk state and local workers are disproportionately likely to be of color, in unions, older and veterans.

Most importantly, state and local employees provide vital services to all. Our education, transport, protection, courts and civic participation rely on public sector workers. Over 85 percent of Americans are educated in public institutions from first grade up to our college universities. Our police, fire, courts, social workers and clerks keep all of us and our property secure. Our roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, trains, buses and security are public sector work. Our diversity and our veterans are well represented among our public sector workers. Cutting the public sector will worsen the economic crisis while deepening many social problems.

No discussion about real and serious budget adjustments should proceed from ignorance about what public-sector workers do, who they are and what they are paid. No society moves wisely without acknowledging and factoring the real lives at stake and the real effects of budget decisions.


Albany, N.Y.-- In a memo dated today, Denis Hughes, President of NYS AFL-CIO, reached out to the labor community.  Here are his remarks:

The NYS Conference of Mayors, joined by individual local officials statewide have been incessantly calling for the rollback of various labor laws, such as prevailing rate, Wicks Law as well as Civil Service, pension and other important protections.

Any elected official supporting such statements represents the worst hypocrisy. Hypocritical because these same elected officials have no problem accepting their own pension benefits while local governments hand out tax breaks to businesses “that never create jobs” and because rather than own up to their decisions, they would rather blame our state elected officials.

The labor movement stands ready to work with the state legislature to get through the cuts and inevitable changes working through the budget shortfalls. We will not stand idly by while anyone attempts to tear down important, institutional labor protections.

Denis Hughes
(photo provided)
Some wrongly say these proposals are about saving budget dollars, but the reality is that calls for eliminating these laws are an ideological anti-union stance and all union members should take note. We call on the Governor and state legislators to reject calls for repealing Triborough protection or freezing public employee wages as smoke and mirror tactics designed to draw attention away from the real problems our communities face.

None of these elected officials complain about the handing out of sales tax and property tax exemptions, with no voter approval, by their very own local governments. None of these officials complain when promises of job creation fall flat. No one complains about taxpayer dollars for membership to organizations like NYCOM and their costs for lobbyists and consultants. The use of taxpayer dollars for such purposes was specifically authorized in statue by the State Legislature, and could possibly be better used to help alleviate local government fiscal problems.

Fact:  Prevailing rate and Wicks laws help the economy grow, by requiring developers and contractors to pay a decent wage so that local communities can prosper in well made safe structures. Both laws also help prevent fraud and corruption in the contracting process, by requiring stringent oversight and strict competitive bidding requirements with no shiftless cousins awarded construction contracts.

Fact:  Every contract and wage increase that public employees have fought for and earned was negotiated in good faith by these very same mayors. Rather than attempt to work with their unions and live up to their collective bargaining agreements, they ask the state legislature and the Governor to do their dirty work.

Fact:  Calls for a new pension tier will not save a dime in the long term and any changes in the retirement system will have no impact on our current budget problem. As warned by this Federation last year, the Tier 5 issue was a misplaced priority of the previous administration that did nothing to save any significant funding in the short term and as such, here we are again, listening to the same false claims about the need for yet another pension tier.

Fact:  Calls for such changes are pure ideology and have nothing to do with our current fiscal problems.

For more info, you can go the NYS AFL-CIO website.


Albany, N.Y.--  Gov. Andrew Cuomo will unveil his proposed state budget on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The governor has kept details under tight wrap but CSEA expects there will be enormous and devastating cuts to state and local governments, health care and education.

There are enormous challenges in front of New Yorkers at all levels of government. The new governor has stated that he wants new approaches to how needs will be met and essential services are delivered. It remains to be seen if Gov. Cuomo’s proposal will truly match his rhetoric.

CSEA has consistently stated that we are looking for fairness in his approach. Where we agree that his proposals are good for the people of New York we will be supportive and where they are not, we will make our case.

Let’s be clear however, that massive layoffs of frontline working people who deliver necessary services will be devastating to the families involved and harmful to New York’s economy and communities that depend on those services. Politicians cannot talk about economic recovery while pursuing layoffs.

CSEA is prepared for whatever may come with a ground and air campaign to deliver the facts to the public. We will make our voice heard. We cannot succeed however, without the involvement and mobilization of CSEA members at the grassroots level – standing up for what is right and delivering a reality check to family, friends and neighbors, as well as elected officials.

A series of training sessions for activists are scheduled in every CSEA region in the next several weeks. Plans are also developing for a statewide series town hall style meetings, lunch and learns and other opportunities to deliver information to the rank and file in your worksites and local communities. These plans are being coordinated through your CSEA region offices with the involvement of your region presidents and region directors.

All CSEA members should check the CSEA website or the Voice Reporter regularly for updated information and resources. Members should also sign in to the members only area of the website as well for additional resources including the opportunity to register for the CSEA Action Alert network to receive e-mails and other notification about breaking developments.

Make no mistake, there are difficult days ahead. CSEA is only as strong as all of us together. Now is the time for us to come together and demonstrate that strength like never before.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Western New York--  To put it mildly, working families are tired of the constant attacks on our union members: the hard-working, tax-paying, community neighbors who deliver the vital services to their cities, towns, villages, counties and the state. 
CSEA has two upcoming opportunities for you to learn more about how to stand up against these attacks, and then, put these practices into action! First, a Training Day that will give you the tools you need to combat these anti-worker, anti-service attacks, and second, our annual Albany Lobby Day.

These opportunities will give members a chance to educate ourselves on the issues and prep you to meet with state legislators and let them know: the work we provide does matter, the services we provide are needed, and we are a vital part of keeping the Empire State moving in the right direction!

1. NYS Budget Campaign Training

When: Saturday, Feb 12th, from 11 am – 2 pm

Where: Batavia City Hall, One City Centre, Batavia, NY (Council and Board rooms)

All are welcome, but space is limited and lunch will be served, so PLEASE RSVP.

Call the Region 6 office by Monday, Feb. 7th: 716-691-6555 or email our PAC Coordinator.

photo:  Ove Overmyer

2. Attend AFSCME/CSEA Lobby Day

On March 1st, thousands of CSEA and AFSCME members from across New York State will gather in Albany to speak to their legislators about the state budget and issues of importance to their Units and Locals. By joining together for one day of action, we can have a massive impact.


The Buffalo area bus will depart from the I-90 exit 49 park and ride at 5 am (sharp). Please arrive to board at 4:45 am.

The Rochester area bus will depart from the RIT Inn and Conference Center parking lot at 5:30 am (sharp). Please arrive to board at 5:15 am.

YOU MUST RSVP.  Please call or email today.  You can contact PAC Coordinator Courtney Brunelle at 716-691-6555.   

Coffee, juice, doughnuts and bagels will be provided in the morning; lunch will be provided upon arrival in Albany, and then a boxed dinner will be provided for the ride home.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Washington, D.C.-- Some of the same business groups President Barack Obama is courting with his regulatory review and support for a corporate-tax overhaul said on January 27 they would fight his renomination of a former labor guy named Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. Becker was once an attorney at the AFL-CIO and SEIU.

President Obama put Mr. Becker on the NLRB in March of 2010 using a recess appointment after his nomination failed to get 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican-led Senate filibuster last February. That appointment expires at the end of this year. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama nominated him again to a term that would expire in December 2014.

Labor unions in general applauded the move, calling Mr. Becker a "highly respected and qualified" candidate who will back workers rights. Business groups however, which consider Mr. Becker "too sympathetic to labor" are fuming over the announcement.

Predictably, Obama is facing stiff opposition from the the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the uber-creepy and notoriously anti-labor partisan group called the Workforce Fairness Institute.  Why credible news agencies cite their opinion on matters of public trust in the first place is beyond our comprehension.

Craig Becker
In a nutshell, the battle over Mr. Becker has become a proxy for the debate concerning the future role of unions in our economy. It's no secret that labor unions are struggling to reverse declining membership. And, the AFL-CIO and labor advocates indicate they see the nomination as a step in the right direction. Unions have been making the case that workers need stronger protections and should have the ability and the right to organize workers who want to join a union. This comes on the heels of eight long disasterous years of the Bush adminstration where the GOP dominated board lost most of it's credibility with the American public.

In 2011, Republicans will again have a chance to reject politics as usual and put the needs of American working families over their own political interests-- but don't hold your breath.  We at the CSEA Voice Reporter don't see that happening anytime soon.  Expect an ugly and long protracted fight over "who controls what" on the NLRB. 

However, in the past two years, the NLRB's majority recently outvoted the board's Republicans to take on several cases that revisit disputes over when a union's representation can be challenged. One case questions whether, after the sale of a unionized company, the new owner, a rival union or the employees may challenge the incumbent union's right to represent the workers.

The board also split in late October along partisan lines when it decided to begin reconsidering whether the United Auto Workers should be able to organize graduate students who are teachers at New York University. A ruling by the Bush-era labor board had found that graduate students weren't considered employees as defined by labor law and weren't eligible to join a union.

The fight to get Becker on this board is a test barometer for whether this White House and the Democrats really care about the rights of average working people. Stay tuned the Voice Reporter for further details on the Becker nomination.

These developments come after the National Labor Relations Board has threatened to sue the states of Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah over recently passed state constitutional amendments that require secret-ballot elections before a company can be unionized (see earlier post).

The board says the states can't override federal law that gives workers the option of the so-called card-check method of organizing, which unions favor but many employers oppose.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Rochester, N.Y.-- Now that we have had a couple days to absorb what we heard on Tuesday night, let us share a couple thoughts with you about Obama's performance and language.

During the president's SOTU address, the battle lines in the key fight of the next two years became very clear. It will determine whether America goes back into a recession or the economy continues to recover. And, it appears to us that the labor movement and the progressives aren't yet geared up for the fight ahead.

In his speech, the President made the case for job-creating investments in innovation, education, and infrastructure. Republicans, speaking from a fantasy world where all our problems somehow are the government's fault, essentially scoffed at the President's ideas and promised deep, gouging cuts they say will magically get America moving again.

It appears that the GOP wants to store the peanut butter and jelly on the top shelf forever--- so the little people will never be able to reach it.

Obama and the GOP talked about huge budget cuts vs. investment and jobs. This will be the fight of the next two years. And our only chance is to expose what "cutting spending" really means: laying off teachers, nurses, librarians, firefighters and police officers by the millions, cutting unemployment benefits, slashing Social Security, and zeroing out everything from NPR, NEA to the EPA.

The truth is Republicans control the spending process. They've shown that they're willing to take hostages too. When that's happened, Democrats have basically rolled over. Worse, the president is sending mixed messages— he's calling for more investment, but also a spending freeze. What the hell does that mean?  Is this double-speak?  How can you accomplish both at the same time?  We at the Voice Reporter want to know exactly what he is talking about.

The labor community and its coalition partners need to speak up for progressive solutions to the economic crisis and make the case that the GOP vision will be devastating to our working families. This'll take smart media campaigns and lots and lots of grassroots organizing. We need a campaign led by workers and volunteers from across America but supported by organizers, researchers, ad-makers, and a whole lot of other backup.  Please bookmark this site so you can stay connected to upcoming campaigns originating from CSEA and AFSCME.

The GOP plan is just plain dangerous

What was most troubling about Tuesday night came across as plain dangerous: The plan released by Rep. Paul Ryan, who gave the GOP response to the State of the Union, would privatize Social Security and slash benefits; replace Medicare with vouchers; eliminate taxes paid by wealthy corporations; give millionaires a new tax cut; end middle class tax deductions; and cut overall spending so deeply that everything from college scholarships to national parks would shrink dramatically.

Think about how well negotiations have gone with the GOP over the last two years. Now imagine: If this is the GOP's starting position, and the president's opening position includes a multi-year spending freeze he announced the other night, we are in deep doo-doo.  Where will we eventually end up?

What should labor folks and working families advocate for?

We need massive investments in infrastructure and innovation to create jobs like Obama said. We need urgent aid to states that are laying off teachers, police, librarians, nurses and first responders by the thousands.

We need the banks we bailed out to write down millions of "underwater" mortgages. We need to rein in Wall Street firms that are still too big to fail and still control way too much of our economy.

We need the big corporations that are posting record profits to start creating jobs and stop outsourcing them. We need to take up President Obama's call to stop giving away billions of dollars in subsidies to the oil companies. And we need CEOs and hedge fund billionaires to pay their fair share.  We loved the fact that Obama actually took big oil and the rich to task during his speech.

Obama actually used language in the SOTU that occasionally crops up here on the Voice Reporter, which of course we love to hear.  President Obama correctly insisted that we cannot measure economic progress merely by corporate profits. He said, "We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children." 

And, labor advocates need to contrast our vision with the Republicans' dead-end nightmare. This won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight—conservatives have spent 30 years developing their message that government and working people are the problem. But if we're not forcefully articulating a progressive alternative, then the discussion in Washington and Albany will just be about how deep to cut, and where exactly. And our working families will disproportionally and ultimately pay the price.  Are you ready to join the fight now?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


 Harry Bronson named to five Assembly Committees and sponsors critical bill on education

photo:  Ove Overmyer

Rochester, N.Y.--  Newly elected to the NYS Assembly last November, Harry B. Bronson (D-131, Rochester, Chili, Riga, Rush, Wheatland), has been assigned to the following New York State Assembly Standing Committees: Labor, Economic Development, Local Governments, Transportation and Agriculture.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for me to voice the diverse concerns of the families of the 131st Assembly District,” said Bronson.  While our state suffers from a budget hangover, Bronson said in an email to constituients that he realizes the dire circumstances we face and is looking forward to the challenge of reforming Albany.  He also stated he is proud to serve New Yorkers on these committees that are so vital to our state’s economic growth.

Assemblymember Bronson will bring his experiences as a former Monroe County Legislator, counsel to the Assembly Labor Committee and as a small business owner to help taxpayers utilize these committees ensuring that they are serving the working families of our area.

On the other side of the legislature, local State Senator Joe Robach (R-56th, Greece, Rochester, Brighton), will chair the Senate Labor Committee.

Harry Bronson
Bronson gets right down to business; delivers for the RCSD and libraries

One of Assemblymember Bronson's first orders of business was sponsoring legislation extending several ongoing education programs facing disruption due to the expiration of current law provisions (A02289 / S2026).

These provisions are traditionally included in the state budget and the Assembly’s measure seeks to counteract the negative impact caused by last year’s veto of the Education, Labor and Family Assistance Article VII bill.  This bill will include the restoration of thousands of dollars to operate the Rochester Regional Library Council (RRLC).  The RRLC supports academic, corporate, public and school libraries throughout the Rochester area.

“That veto was unfortunate, coming at a time when Monroe County libraries and education programs desperately need funding to stay afloat,” Assemblymember Bronson said. He added, “The legislation passed by the Assembly continues our longstanding commitment to protecting education and ensuring our children are prepared when they enter the workforce.”

Legislation passed by the legislature would permit the state Education Department to continue current operational practices and authorize school districts to maintain the existing accounting procedures. Also, the legislation authorizes the Rochester City School District to purchase health services from BOCES ensuring school based nurses will continue to serve the children of the City of Rochester.  There are thousands of area workers in these disciplines who are represented by AFSCME and CSEA.

Additionally, the bill:

• Continues the state’s No Child Left Behind compliance provisions, so that schools don’t lose federal funding;

• Allows for the payment of aid to public, school and research library systems; and

• Extends the authority of the Commission of Education to grant waivers to public library systems and central libraries that cannot maintain local funding due to financial hardship.

“Even in the face of an economic downturn, we need to invest in and protect our most precious citizens – our children,” Assemblymember Bronson said. “This legislation is a victory for students, parents, and educators alike, because educating our kids must be priority number one.”

According to Voice Reporter sources, the bill will be delivered to Governor Cuomo's office on January 26 and take effect on April 1.  This bill has no fiscal impact on the budget.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Rochester, N.Y. -- Here at the Voice Reporter, we have been saying all along that big business and the media conglomerates they own have been pushing the untruthful narrative that simply states, "Unions are bad." They have also been asking the question, "Are unions needed anymore?"

Unions were blamed for the downfall of GM and Chrysler with foot-dragging over wages and benefits. Teachers' unions are accused of protecting bad teachers and standing in the way of providing good education for our kids. Public workers are supposedly overpaid and lazy. And oh, didn't you hear? State worker salaries and pensions caused the Empire State's budget crisis, too.

The bottom line seems to be that, at best, unions are becoming extinct and are about to go the same way as the dinosaur. At worst, they are a bee in our bonnet and a drag on our economy. Well, we are here to say “not so fast” to those who oppose us-- soon enough the arc that bends towards fairness and justice will eventually come our way once again.  Sooner than later, the American people will know the truth and have their say in the court of public opinion.

Unions provide democratic workplaces and a counterbalance to absolute power

So, why do we have unions in the first place? Well, one reason is because the persistent problem of unlimited corporate or managerial power that has continued to destabilize our workplaces and economy for years on end. The system requires an effective counterbalance-- and that's mainly why organized labor exists folks-- among another hundred or so different reasons.

The need for such a counterbalance to runaway corporate greed is crystal clear. We saw the effect of increasing corporate power in the 2010 elections after the ludicrous Citizens United v. FCC decision. We literally see it affect virtually every law considered by Congress and state legislatures across this great nation. To allow unlimited amounts of money influence public policy is perhaps one of the worst legal court edicts ever-- we should have learned our lesson many years ago.

Why are we so willing to repeat historical mistakes?

Historically, we saw the same thing happen in the period leading up to the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression in the early 1930's. As corporations grow mightier, they were able to amass even greater power by pocketing politicans, having them pass pro-business legislation while they hired the best lobbyists in the nation to maintain the status-quo and to keep organized labor at bay. Eventually, unemployment soared and the middle class crumbled.

Today, we are once again reliving the dynamics of unchecked corporate greed.  The recession we are experiencing now should not have come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention to the erosion of pay and working conditions and to the steady increase in poverty and unemployment due to tax breaks for the rich, deregulation, American companies shipping our jobs overseas, funding two unnecessary wars, a bursting housing bubble, greedy Wall Street bankers and the unethical behavior of private equity firms.  Or, in other terms, the recession and deficit table was previously set by eight horrible policy years of the Bush administration and a complicit GOP leadership in Washington.

And once again, Supreme Court decisions are making global corporations unaccountable to their societies by removing limits and regulations fueled only by their profit margins, personal gain and inflated egos. Sadly, the American labor movement has let our transnational business titans convince our Justices and lawmakers that our national strength lies in big business profits-- not in jobs and a "quality of life" for the average American worker. What is different this time around however, is that our once-labeled American corporations are now investing in emerging middle class markets in China, India and Brazil-- not in your back yard.

Remember the NLRB?

Among other actions Congress took to limit irresponsible corporate power was to enact the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. Congress wanted to give unions power to act as a stabilizer to corporate lawlessness and authority. In a recent post, the Voice Reporter points out that to this day, the House GOP has never given up the fight to weaken the NLRB's ability to affect change.

Woolworth strikers in the 1930's
photo:  Google Images
As Congress saw it, corporation law had allowed individuals who were employers to collectively amass unchecked power and they wreaked havoc on American families. Workers, on the other hand, were mere individuals who lacked the collective influence to bargain as equals with their employers. The result was the rich got richer while wages and working conditions declined.  It led to poverty, crime, lawlessness, economic collapse and social unrest.

Workers who cannot say no to unjust actions are no more than slaves and not free people; they are not citizens of a civil democracy. That is what we are fighting about-- this is what anti-labor forces aren't telling you.  In the richest nation in the world, the American worker deserves respect, dignity, and the right to earn a living wage for an honest day's work--  nothing more, nothing less.

Unions will always play a role in American society

We make a grave mistake when we blame unions for just doing their job--  for being a counterweight to corporate or governmental power run amok. Both public and private sector unions have a legal obligation to be the disloyal opposition, so to speak. When there is no check on the steady growth of corporate power or political corruption, we lose the balance and equality necessary for a functional democracy to exist.  Unions give workers the right of due process and equal protection under employment law-- something all patriotic Americans should admire and value.

Can someone please tell us what is so troubling about providing workers with the tools to succeed? Why is it evil to ensure that employees who are accused of wrongdoing or malfeasance get a fair shake? What worker, what person, in a time of trouble would not want someone to stand beside them in any venue to ensure they get fair treatment? And how, exactly, does the workplace and our society benefit from firing a worker for no justifiable reason whatsoever? Equal protection and a duty to fair representation are sacred American institutions and labor unions provide those key democratic values for workers.

Unions have a legal role here folks whether anti-labor forces like it or not-- CSEA has been around for over 100 years and we're not going anywhere.

The American people are hungry for our leaders to restore a vision for a national future founded on the premise that social justice and material prosperity are not competing values — that they can co-exist and are necessary to each other for a healthy, sustainable and growing economy.  The sooner we recognize that, the better.

-Ove Overmyer

The opinions expressed here by Mr. Overmyer are the views of the author only and do not represent CSEA as an organization.


Washington, D.C.--  Three days before his State of the Union speech on January 25, President Obama has offered the curious a sneak peek into the ideas that will shape his address to the nation tomorrow night.

"My number one focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and we are creating jobs," Obama said in a Democratic National Committee video previewing his State of the Union Address.

Though he admitted to still making final touches on the speech, the president told supporters he will pledge to make the economy his number one priority, ensuring that the economy grows and more jobs are created for Americans across the country while also working to slash the deficit and trim the government to a more efficient level.

"I'm focused on making sure the economy is working for everybody, for the entire American family," he said.

In addition to the state of the economy, the president said he will urge the country to engage in a more civil discourse.  To watch his January 22 speech to the DNC, you can go here.


CSEA WNY Region 6 Winter Conference in Cheektowaga, N.Y.:  Pictured left to right:  Presenter Sandra Nettles-Lechebo, Western Region President Flo Tripi, Education Specialist Patty McArdle, Western Region Administrative Assistant Sharon Thomas and Statewide Secretary Denise Berkley.  (photo: Ove Overmyer)

Cheektowaga, N.Y.--  Last weekend, nearly 300 CSEA leaders and activists from our 14 county area  braved snowy conditions to attend the Western Region 6 Winter Conference held at the Millenium Airport Hotel in suburbarn Buffalo.  Upon arrival, members had the chance to meet with numerous vendors and reunite with other western New York CSEA colleagues. 

The theme of the conference focused on time management, developing working strategies to cope with member issues, creating timelines for political action and the sharing of information and data collection.  This was all done in an effort to bring back winning results to our members and working families.  Attendees also raised thousands of raffle dollars for deserving charities, including the Special Olympics New York.

Members attend Retirement
and Benefits workshop.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
  Workshop and plenary sessions included topics such as "Time to look at the Retirement System & Benefits," presented by Marie Heckman and "Effective Use of Time Management," presented by consultant Sandra Nettles-Lechebo.

In the plenary, Statewide Secretary Denise Berkley, Western Region President Flo Tripi and Western Region Director Roger Sherrie delivered sobering news about what New York citizens and the labor movement in general can expect in the near future.

Berkley gave an impassioned oration Saturday afternoon in the Millennium's Presidental Ballroom, firing up rank and file members and sending home the message that individually, "We all must take an active role" to protect and serve our members and families during the coming weeks and months.  She added that we must also "fight the lies and deception" of the people who oppose us and we can not allow others to "conquer and divide the labor community."

A business meeting was held on Sunday morning.  Special thanks go out to the Region 6 Education and Planning Committees from Monroe County Local 828 president Bess Watts and the executive board for hosting another very successful Winter Conference.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Albany, N.Y.--  The New York Times reported on Thursday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was considering laying off up to 15,000 state workers.

CSEA received no advance information on this plan, which was leaked to the media. The administration did not offer any additional details.

CSEA has repeatedly made clear our interest in working constructively with the new governor to address New York's challenges. CSEA has also made it clear that the union will challenge proposals at the bargaining table that are not in the best interests of New Yorkers.

"There is going to be no doubt a period of short-term pain as we make these adjustments," Cuomo said on Thursday. "When you talk about layoffs, you have to remember, that every time you talk about a layoff you're talking about a family, you're talking about a person's job, you're talking about a person's life, so this is a very difficult situation all around."

"When we have the budget done, you'll know exactly what we're talking about and we'll put out the numbers then," Cuomo said.

Cuomo's proposal would mean a substantial reduction in state services, which are already in many cases cut to the point that delivery of services is already being affected.  The NYT article also implied the cuts would represent a substantial downsizing of the state’s workforce, including clerical workers, state troopers and park rangers.  That belt-tightening would almost certainly be accompanied by noticeable reductions in government services, though it is hard to predict where and how much until Mr. Cuomo releases his proposed budget on February 1.


Washington, D.C.-- On January 20, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration would “work to make progress” on advancing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the current Congress despite Republican control of the U.S. House.

Asked by the Washington reporters whether the president expects passage of the legislation in U.S. Senate, where Democrats still hold a majority, Gibbs identified ENDA as among “a whole host things that the president has made part of his campaign.”

“We talked about DOMA a few days ago, ENDA, and other things that are important to build off the progress of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Gibbs said. “I think those continue to be priorities of the president’s and we will certainly work to make progress on those fronts in obviously a much more challenging Congress over the course of the next two years.”

As it was introduced in the 111th Congress, ENDA would prohibit job discrimination against LGBT workers in most situations in the public and private workforce. In 2007, a version of ENDA passed the U.S. House that contained protections only on the basis of sexual orientation.

Even with Republicans in control of the House, where movement of the legislation is unlikely, Gibbs acknowledged that passage in the Senate would have value as a way to build momentum to complete legislative action at a later time.

“I think there’s no doubt that whenever you get something done in one [chamber], you’re certainly seeing it come to fruition,” he said.

ENDA in the last Congress saw no movement in either the House or the Senate. In the House, there was speculation that opponents would use a maneuver called the motion to recommit on the floor to target the transgender language and derail the legislation. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wouldn’t bring ENDA up for a vote until legislative action was complete on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Until gay and lesbian workers in America, until Black people in America, until Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander people in America, until every under-represented community in America has equal access to the protections and rights in the workplace afforded to the majority and to the privileged, we fall short of Dr. King’s dream-- that we each be judged by the content of our character, not race, not religion, not gender identity, and not sexual orientation.

ENDA is a jobs bill, period. The current recession only compounds the devastating financial insecurity LGBT workers live with every day. ENDA offers economic justice—and economic security.

Gibbs declined to comment on whether Obama would address ENDA in the State of the Union address, saying he wasn’t “going to get into previewing” the speech. The address is set to happen on January 25 before a joint session of Congress.

Editor's Note:  A broad coalition, including AFL-CIO, AFSCME, CSEA, Pride At Work, SEIU 1199, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, PFLAG National, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Black Justice Coalition, National Stonewall Democrats, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights are all urging their members to tell their Congressional representatives to pass ENDA this legislative session.


Washington, D.C.-- On January 19, House Republicans passed a bill to repeal health care reform. We know that bill won't become law. However, their next target just might be tearing apart Social Security— and, considering how "pragmatic" the White House has been talking, they could succeed.

Right now, Washington has been whipped into a frenzy over the deficit, and there are rumors that White House officials may try to cut a deal with Republicans by offering cuts to Social Security in the State of the Union, just like they did over the Bush tax cuts.

Representatives from about 30 labor unions and liberal groups met with senior White House officials on Monday to express their strong opposition to any cuts in Social Security benefits.

Some key Democrats in Congress have also signaled that they're open to cutting Social Security. However, cutting Social Security is massively unpopular with average folk, and if we can spread the word that this threat is more real than ever, we can create an outcry loud enough to stop it in its tracks.

Tea Party hysteria about deficits is pushing Republicans—and many Democrats—to support big cuts to Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age. Speaker of the House John Boehner wants to cut benefits by over 20 percent, and he's not alone. Members of the media, and even leading Democrats like Steny Hoyer are trumpeting Social Security cuts— even though Social Security runs a surplus, can't contribute to the deficit, and can be secured for decades without any cuts to benefits.

If the Voice Reporter's sources are right, President Obama could be next to embrace cuts, even as soon as the State of the Union address on January 25. Social Security belongs to us, the people who pay into it, and benefit cuts are totally unacceptable-— not to mention devastating for the middle class workers who count on benefits to make ends meet.

We can stop benefit cuts in their tracks, but President Obama needs to hear from our working families. We need a massive outcry in defense of our Social Security, to convince the President to take benefit cuts off the table.  And, Obama may suggest a recalculation of Social Security cost-of-living adjustments or extend an invitation to Republicans to work with him on reducing the program's costs during his speech.  If that this the case, it will create a huge schism in the Democratic Party and stymie any good will that does exist with progressives.

Please contact your congressional representatives and say that any cuts to the most successful government program in history should not be altered at this time.

The president was very clear as a candidate for office; he has been murky since being in office.  Working families need to remind him that he needs to keep his promise to the people who elected him-- keep your hands off our Social Security.  As we approach the State of the Union Address, you don't know exactly what's coming. But you do know that afterwards-- nothing will ever be the same.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, speaks to AFSCME and CSEA delegates at the AFSCME convention in Boston, June 29, 2010.   (photo:  Bess Watts)

Washington, D.C.-- Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, says Washington politicians are living in an “Alice in Wonderland political climate” that ignores the needs of workers struggling to survive in a difficult economy.

The sharp-edged remarks are part of a speech Mr. Trumka gave Wednesday morning at the National Press Club that was designed to push back against the policies of Republican lawmakers who seized control of the House in last year’s elections. It is also a goad to President Obama, whose administration has recently seemed eager to court the business community.

Trumka expressed anger of the political environment following November’s midterm elections and disappointment with the lack of accomplishment when Democrats retained majorities in Congress.  Tumka also intimated in his speech that President Obama is “about as pro-business as any president.”

Trumka said the labor movement has learned something from the last two years about jobs and investment. He added, "We can’t count on the political process here in Washington to get the job done.”

The AFL-CIO, Trumka said, prioritizes an increase in federal infrastructure spending. He said that the union was working with local governments and businesses on projects, but that a national scale is needed.

The speech helps set the tone of a debate that is likely to intensify as business and labor groups verbally clash up to the 2012 presidential campaign.

The AFL-CIO and other unions spent tens of millions of dollars during the 2010 midterm elections to make the case for Democratic candidates. But most of those candidates ended up losing in a political wave that swept in many lawmakers backed by the increasingly influential Tea Party movement.

Mr. Trumka believes the elections were “fundamentally about jobs” and predicts the 2012 campaign will feature the same concerns among voters.

He added, “People who live in Wonderland may not have noticed, but there is a lot of work to be done here. We have let our transnational business titans convince our politicians that our national strength lies in their profits, not our jobs.”

The speech stands in stark contrast to one given last week by Mr. Trumka’s arch-rival, Tom Donohue, the president and CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce. In an earlier speech, Mr. Donohue said the economic problems that remain are the regulatory and policy impediments to business growth.

The chamber, officially, will not take sides in the presidential election, although Mr. Donohue’s dislike for many of Mr. Obama’s policies is no secret. And Mr. Donohue has made it clear the group will be very active in pursuing Republican control of the Senate in 2012.

Despite Donohue's tough talk, Trumka is just as determined to make sure that the voice of the worker is also heard.

In his speech yesterday, he accused politicians in Washington and across the country of “attacking the very idea of the American middle class — the idea that in America economic security — health care, a real pension, a wage that can pay for college — is not something for a privileged few, but rather what all of us can earn in exchange for a hard day’s work.”

Next week, President Obama is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address in front of Congress with a newly elected GOP House majority.  Truth be told, it has been a very inauspicious beginning for the GOP-- wasting precious time to vote on appealling the health care bill only to appease the Tea Party folks and the conservative base of the Republican party. 

And, before the repeal dies an ugly death in the Senate, you can be sure Democrats will score political points that will go something like this:  Supporting the repeal will allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions; it will allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums to women;  it will prevent parents from covering their children through age 26; it will rob small businesses of tax credits for offering coverage to workers and  it will take prescription drug money out of seniors’ pockets.  That's what the GOP and 3 Democrats in the House voted for last night-- it was a national disgrace. 

This charade comes at a time when the president has already hinted that he will seek a more "pragmatic" and accommodating stance with the Republican leaders of the House.  And, this also comes at a time when the average joe on the street would rather see Congress focus on job creation rather than pass meaningless symbolic legislation through one chamber.

Mr. Trumka also said that the country’s labor movement is eager for “a call to action” by the president on behalf of workers.

“We are ready for vision, and we believe in the President’s vision of a nation that is strong because we are just and true to our values,” Trumka said. “A vision for a national future founded on the profound truth that social justice and material prosperity are not competing values — they are necessary to each other.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Local 828 president
Bess Watts (photo:
Anne Tischer)
 Dear brothers and sisters of CSEA:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was signed into law in March of 2010 is an important first step in controlling out of control health care costs and ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health care coverage.

But Republicans in the House of Representatives now want to take a step back. This week they are expected to vote on repeal of the bill.

Email or write to your Representative today to oppose health care repeal.

A vote for repeal is a vote for:

•Allowing insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

•Allowing insurance companies to charge higher premiums to women.

•Preventing parents from covering their children through age 26.

•Robbing small businesses of tax credits for offering coverage to workers.

•Taking prescription drug money out of seniors’ pockets.

Over the past few years, our union has struggled at the bargaining table to preserve quality health plans in the face of skyrocketing health care costs. The cost of family health plans negotiated by CSEA will be more affordable as more Americans become insured. One study estimated the cost of covering the uninsured added more than $1,000 value to the cost of the typical family health plan.

If the Act is repealed, not only will the uninsured continue to be hampered in their struggle to obtain affordable coverage, but those of us who have insurance will see no cost relief at all. Our struggles to preserve coverage will be more difficult.  We need to act now.

Click here to tell your Representative to vote No on health care repeal.

In Solidarity,

Bess Watts
President, CSEA Monroe County Local 828


New York State-- In one of their very first official acts, the new Republican House leadership will hold a vote on Wednesday Jan. 19 to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health reform law enacted last year.

Rather than working on a real plan to fix the economy and create jobs in 2011, Republican leaders in Congress are focused on letting the insurance industry pursue their profits, leaving us with fewer choices and little recourse.

If the law were repealed, insurance companies would once again be able to:

•Deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions

•Terminate coverage for those who get sick

•Deny coverage to women because they are pregnant

What's more:

•Seniors would lose new guarantees including free preventive care and lower cost prescription drugs.

•Parents would lose the ability to keep their adult children on their health care plans.

•Small business owners would lose tax credits that help them provide coverage for their workers.

•Workers would lose the freedom to change jobs without worrying about losing health care coverage.

You fought hard to enact real health care reform—now you need to fight hard to keep it. Tell your representative to get to work on the economy instead of unraveling a law that will benefit millions of Americans and keep insurance companies in check.

Monday, January 17, 2011


The new tax deal signed into law for 2011 turns out to be a bummer for  public employees.  Some workers can expect to pay a higher tax bill in 2011 while the top 1 percent of wage earners will get major relief. (photo provided)
Rochester, N.Y.-- At a time when state and local governments across the country are imposing furloughs and layoffs, and President Obama has frozen pay for federal employees, it turns out that one of the few groups to face higher federal taxes this year will be public sector employees.

The new tax deal ends the Making Work Pay credit, which gave a tax reduction of up to $400 to workers with low and middle incomes. That credit will be replaced by a 2 percentage point decrease in the payroll tax for Social Security for people of all incomes.

However, more than six million federal, state and local government employees do not pay into Social Security at all. Instead, we pay into public pension systems-- that is if you work enough hours to pay for the privilege to have a retirement account in the first place.  Many under-employed and involuntary part time public employees, including those who are represented by CSEA, will  lose the $400 credit and will not reap any benefit from the payroll tax cut.  In fact, they might be paying more in taxes for earned income this year.

According to the most recent statistics by the House Ways and Means Committee, more than 174 million workers paid into Social Security in 2007, but about 5.7 million state and local government employees paid into other pension systems. While the federal government has been moving its work force into Social Security in recent decades, there were still 600,000 employees excluded from it in 2007.

Some tax experts say that it is unfair for a $900 billion tax cut package to give a quarter of its benefits to the top 1 percent of wage earners while forcing public sector workers, who are largely lower and middle class, to have to pay more.

“It makes so little sense that you have to hope that the people who negotiated this didn’t think it through,” said Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, a public interest group aligned with unions. “And when they do think it through, they’ll realize it’s not fair. It would be cruel not to do something about it.”

Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, acknowledged that the current version of the plan could result in a higher tax bill in 2011 than 2010 for some government workers. But she stressed that the plan would nonetheless spare them, and all taxpayers, a much steeper increase that would have resulted if no deal had been struck and all the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire on Dec. 31.

While Mr. Obama had proposed an extension of the Making Work Pay credit, the $120 billion payroll tax reduction worked out is twice as large and will offer a break of up to $2,136 each to millions of middle- and high-income taxpayers.

While many Democrats have criticized Mr. Obama for abandoning a campaign pledge to let the cuts expire on the wealthiest 2 percent of wage earners, Ms. Brundage said that the president did so only after winning the extension of an assortment of credits for low-income Americans and a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.

Leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees were muted in their reaction to the prospect of more taxes for public employees.  Please stay tuned to the CSEA Voice Reporter for future details about this development.

AFSCME spent nearly $90 million to help elect Democrats during the last election cycle.  This hardly what we at the Voice Reporter would call a return on our investment.  “We are aware of it,” said Gregory King, a union spokesman, “and we are discussing it with the appropriate leaders in Congress.”

When filing you taxes, please go to the IRS website or call toll free at 1-800-829-1040.  Or, consult your tax professional or ask your employer for additional help and information.


In April 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tenn. to help support striking sanitation workers. On April 3, he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel with (from left to right) Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy. That same day he gave his famous 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' speech. File photo / AJC
Rochester, N.Y.--  The struggles of workers for union rights are often considered to be of no great significance in comparison to other landmark milestones in 20th century American history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew better. He also knew that the right to unionize was one of the most important components to economic and social justice. Virtually his last act was in support of that right, for he was killed by an assassin's bullet on April 4, 1968, as he was preparing to lead strikers in yet another demonstration.

Those marchers were striking union members, AFSCME sanitation workers demanding that the city of Memphis formally recognize their union and thus grant them a voice in determining their wages, hours and working conditions.

The march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went forward March 28. Most of the 5,000-plus who participated were described as working-class, church-going people who donned their Sunday best because they believed in the righteousness of the strike and they believed in King. The "I Am A Man" signs distributed that day came to symbolize the strike effort. Photo by Richard L Copley.
 Hundreds of supporters joined their daily marches. King had been with the 1,300 strikers from the very beginning of their bitter struggle. He had come to Memphis to support them despite threats that he might be killed if he did.

There are, of course, many other reasons for honoring him on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 17, but we shouldn't forget that one of the most important reasons, one that's often overlooked, is Dr. King's championing of the cause of the Memphis strikers and others who sought union recognition.

King's assassination brought to bear tremendous public pressure on behalf of the strikers in Memphis. President Lyndon Johnson sent in federal troops to protect them and assigned the undersecretary of labor to mediate the dispute. Within two weeks, an agreement was reached that granted strikers the union rights they had demanded. If only King were there to bear witness to it.

For the first time, the workers' own representatives could sit across the table from their bosses and negotiate and air their grievances and demands for remedies. They got their first paid holidays and vacations, pensions and health care benefits. They got the right to overtime pay and raises of 38 percent on wages that had been so low - about $1.70 an hour - that 40 percent of the workers had qualified for welfare payments.

They got an agreement that promotions would be made strictly on the basis of seniority, without regard to race, assuring the promotion of African-Americans to supervisory positions for the first time. The strikers, in fact, got just about everything they had sought during the 65-day walkout.

Bill Lucy at Eugene V. Debs event
 in Chicago in 1984. (photo:
William Lucy, secretary-treasurer of the strikers' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and CSEA's parent union, said Dr. King would bring tears to the eyes of strikers and their families just by walking into a meeting.  He added, "You could feel the surge of confidence he inspired in the movement in Memphis."

The strikers' victory in Memphis led quickly to union recognition victories by black and white public employees throughout the South and elsewhere. They had passed a major test of union endurance against very heavy odds, prompting a great upsurge of union organizing and militancy among government workers.

As Lucy put it, it was "a movement for dignity, for equity and for access to power and responsibility for all Americans."

Anyone doubting that the labor and civil rights movements share those goals need only heed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Our needs are identical with labor's needs: Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.... The coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the blacks and forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined."