Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Photo:  Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y. Facts are facts-- and they are disturbing. Regardless of your social ideology or where you place yourself on the political continuum, the fact is CEO pay is going through the roof while average working Americans are losing control over their spending power and personal financial freedoms.

I would argue that most sane people would think that these results are hardly fair and totally unacceptable-- and very detrimental to a stable functioning democracy.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, when the 111th Congress extended the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent of the wealthiest, it has provided Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corporation, with an estimated $1.3 million tax break.  Think about that for a moment-- he pays no tax and even gets a huge return.  That is money that is owned and generated by the American people.  

Tom Donohue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has urged American corporations to ship jobs overseas, will receive an estimated $215,000 tax break from this deal.

Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, whose bank received a bailout of over $160 billion from the Federal Reserve, will receive an estimated $1.1 million tax break from this deal.

Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, a bank that got more than $2.5 trillion in near zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve (our tax dollars), will receive an estimated $785,000 tax break by virtue of the Bush tax cuts.

Ken Lewis, the former CEO of Bank of America, a bank that got nearly a trillion dollars in low interest loans from the Fed, will receive an estimated $713,000 tax break.

The CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, whose bank got a $25 billion bailout, will receive an $813,000 tax break from this deal.

The CEO of Morgan Stanley, John Mack, whose bank got more than $2 trillion in low interest loans from the Fed, will receive a $926,000 tax break from this agreement.

Ronald Williams, the CEO of Aetna, will receive a tax break worth $875,000.

David Cordani, the CEO of Cigna will receive a $350,000 tax break. And, on and on it goes.

Facts are facts. The rich are getting richer, the poor are get poorer, and the middle-class is disappearing. Today, income inequality in the United States is the third worst in the world of developed nations. Today, the top one percent earns over 20 percent of all income in this country, which is more than the bottom 50 percent earns.

Did the United States grow more unequal while Republicans were in power? It sounds crude, but Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels has gone a long way toward proving it. Bartels looked up income growth rates for families at various income percentiles for the years 1948 to 2005, then cross-checked these with whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat. He found two distinct and opposite trends. Under Democrats, the biggest income gains were for people in the bottom 20th income percentile (2.6 percent). The income gains grew progressively smaller further up the income scale (2.5 percent for the 40th and 60th percentiles, 2.4 percent for the 80th percentile, and so on). But under Republicans, the biggest income gains were for people in the 95th percentile (1.9 percent). The income gains grew progressively smaller further down the income scale (1.4 percent for the 80th percentile, 1.1 for the 60th percentile, etc.).

Knowing what we do from this study, economically speaking, why would anyone in their right mind who makes less than six-figures a year ever vote for a Conservative or a Republican?  Over a recent 25 year period, 80 percent of all new income went to the top one percent. In terms of the distribution of wealth, as hard as it may be to believe, the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 155 million Americans.

America will not survive without a strong middle-class economy. When you strip average folks of their spending power, it leads to strained public services, social unrest, crime, high unemployment and a poor quality of life for the majority of taxpaying citizens. People die-- and families suffer. Nobody wins in this scenario-- except the architects of this master plan-- namely those insulated from any harm like the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove’s CEO cronies and their bought and paid for GOP political puppets.

Let’s get something straight here. Republicans in Washington have never believed in Medicare, Medicaid, federal assistance in education, or providing any direct government assistance to those in need. They have always believed that tax breaks for the wealthy and the powerful would somehow miraculously trickle down to every American, despite all history and evidence to the contrary.

So, in that sense, it is not strange at all that they would use the deficit crisis we are now in as an opportunity to balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor, and work to dismantle every single successful government program that was ever created.  The uber-conservative right often refer to working families as parasites-- not breathing, living human beings.

And, that's exactly what the intent of Ryan Republican budget plan is-- you know, the one that was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year and supported by the vast majority of elected Republicans?  The GOP Ryan Budget Plan is so wrong on so many levels.  It is a damn shame that the American people are not paying more attention to what is happening in our nation's capital.  History has proven that this ideology is flawed-- all the economic indicators were practically the same in 1929 when compared to 2008.  At the end of Bush 43's second term in 2008, America was plunging into another Great Depression because of his failed policies.

Is this the America we had in mind when you thought it was a good idea to vote for the radical GOP and Conservative candidates in 2010? Is this the America you had in mind when your kids got out of college and are still unemployed? Is this the America you had in mind when you forgot to vote in the last election? Is this the America you had in mind when you were thinking about a better future for your children? Is this the America you had in mind when you actually had a job? Is this really the America we had in mind?

-Ove Overmyer
These comments are the author's views and do not represent CSEA as an organization.


From the Democratic Ledger:

Rochester, N.Y.--  Republicans in the Monroe County Legislature have blocked another Democratic proposal; this time to institute oversight of the Brooks Administration's practice of borrowing to pay pension costs.

In the last year, without any legislative oversight, the Brooks Administration deferred $6 million of pension costs from the New York State Pension Fund, in essence delaying these payments that must now be paid back with 5 percent interest. This means that taxpayers will be footing the bill for $300,000 per year in interest payments.

When the county borrows funding for construction projects, the Brooks Administration is required to get a two-thirds vote of approval from the legislature before it can issue the debt. However, a loophole in state law has allowed the County to defer pension payments, adding new liabilities for taxpayers without legislative or public oversight.

Legislator Paul Haney (D-Rochester), the sponsor of the proposal, said, "Anytime taxpayers incur debt there should be a robust system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, when it comes to borrowing for pension costs, there is currently no oversight whatsoever. And now, because of last night's vote, there will continue to be a critical lack of oversight of these taxpayer dollars."

The measure was defeated June 27 during a meeting of the Agenda/Charter Committee.


Photo:  Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y.--  At a time when the richest people and the largest corporations in our country are doing phenomenally well, and, in many cases, have never had it so good, while the middle class is disappearing and poverty is omnipresent, it is absolutely imperative that a deficit reduction package not include the disastrous cuts in programs for working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor that the Republicans in Congress, dominated by the extreme right wing, are demanding.

In our view here at the Voice Reporter, the President of the United States of America needs to stand with the American people and say to the Republican leadership that enough is enough. It is shameful to balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor, who have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost homes, and lost pensions.

Yes, we demand that millionaires and billionaires and the largest corporations in America contribute to deficit reduction as a matter of shared sacrifice. Yes, we will reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon. And, no we will not be blackmailed once again by the Republican leadership in Washington who are threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States government for the first time in our nation’s history unless they get everything they want.

Instead of yielding to the incessant, extreme Republican demands, as the President did during last December’s tax cut agreement and this year’s spending negotiations, the President has got to get out of the beltway and rally the American people who already believe that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice.

If you believe that deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice, if you believe that it is time for the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share, if you believe that we need to reduce unnecessary defense spending, and if you believe that the middle class has already sacrificed enough due to the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, the President needs to hear your voice, and he needs to hear it now.

Call or write the POTUS using this link.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Well over 3,000 union folk took to the streets of Rochester last year for the
 annual Labor Day celebration saluting America's working class.  The parade
is sponsored by the Rochester Labor Council.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y.--  Perhaps the Rochester Labor Council’s most visible event is the annual Labor Day Parade, revived by the Council in 1986 after 64 years.  This year's theme is WE ARE ONE:  DEFENDING WORKER RIGHTS.

Last year, forty unions participated in the march that highlighted more than 3,000 members. Several bands, over one hundred vehicles, and several community groups accompanied the marchers.  Parade organizers estimated over 5,000 Rochester area residents came out and supported local labor last year.

Affiliates of the Council are encouraged to participate in the planning process by sending representatives to planning meetings. 2011 parade planning meeting dates are listed here.

Key aspects of the parade's planning and execution include:

*parade planning meetings involving delegates from Labor Council affiliates and other groups participating in the parade

*developing the actual parade formation including the sequencing of divisions and units within divisions

*distributing parade posters and other publicity materials

*publicizing the parade route

*ordering official parade t-shirts

*recruiting and orienting parade Marshals

*communicating parade information to affiliates and their members

The CSEA Monroe County Local 828 Parade Committee is hard at work right now, and we have several members who are part of the Labor Council's decision-making process this year. 

Our Local 828 is additionally planning a picnic for our members and our families at Seneca Park immediately after the parade.  Tickets will be distributed on a first come, first served basis.  Details are forthcoming-- stay tuned to the Voice Reporter for up to the minute reports from our Parade Committee.  And, for more information about this year's Labor Day events, click on the Rochester Labor Day WE ARE ONE button on the right column of this page or go here.

WNY CSEA members gather with CSEA President Danny Donohue before the
2010 Rochester Labor Day Parade to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our organization. photo:  Ove Overmyer

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Rochester residents thank Gov. Cuomo
for his leadership on Marriage Equality
on June 25, 2011 at Washington Sq.Park.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y.--  In what most progressives believe is a historic landmark victory for civil rights, the GOP-led New York state senate approved a same-sex marriage bill on June 24, making New York State the sixth and largest state to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The 33-29 vote is an enormous victory for first-year Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who pledged during last fall’s campaign to push for gay marriage. It comes after an intense public and private lobbying campaign from a wide cast of politicians, labor unions, celebrities and athletes, including Lady Gaga and former President Bill Clinton.

Cuomo signed the bill almost immediately. The bill will become law in 30 days.

The state-by-state battle over gay marriage has become a contentious U.S. social issue ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. Now, New York joins Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia to allow same-sex marriage.

Four states including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey have approved gay civil unions. Same-sex marriage is specifically banned in 39 states.

In California, a judge last year overturned a ban on gay marriage. No weddings can take place while the decision is being appealed. It could set national policy if the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.

Three states -- New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island-- do not explicitly prohibit gay marriage but have not endorsed it, according to DOMA Watch, an advocacy group that supports limiting marriage to men and women.

This marks the second time that the GOP has stamped its will on the most important gay rights legislation in New York state history. In 2002, the New York senate Republican majority approved SONDA, the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act. Then Republican Gov. George Pataki signed that bill into law. It became effective on January 16, 2003, and protects individuals who are discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation from that date forward.

The NYS Assembly passed a gay marriage bill four times-- most recently on June 15. Former Rochester Mayor and now Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy presided over the last session of the senate when the marriage bill finally passed the legislature.

Suspense and drama up until the last minute

After weeks of suspense, Sen. Stephen Saland, a Poughkeepsie Republican announced himself on the senate floor as the 32nd senator to back the legislation, tipping the balance in favor of it passing. Saland defined his vote as a matter of conscience during a stirring legal defense of an amendment exempting religious organizations from the law.  The Voice Reporter suspected Saland would be a supporter of the bill more than a week ago.

“I have defined doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality,” Saland said. “And that equality includes the definition of marriage. I fear that to do otherwise would fly in the face of my upbringing.”

Saland was joined in announcing his newfound support for gay marriage on the senate floor by Mark Grisanti, a first-term Buffalo Republican who did not declare how he would vote until his floor speech Friday night. Grisanti had been against same-sex marriage when he was elected last year, but changed his mind after an intense lobbying campaign.

“I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage,” Grisanti said.

Two other GOP senators came out early to support the bill, including Rochester area Sen. Jim Alesi and Sen. Roy McDonald. 

The senate bill’s sponsor, openly gay Democrat Tom Duane, introduced the legislation with a tearful speech detailing his life from when he came out to his Catholic parents as a teen to his adult life fighting for gay rights and his partner.

“Marriage says that we are family,” Duane said. “Louis and I are family. And marriage strengthens all family. It’s going to strengthen my family and all New York families.”

Rochester residents gathered for
a candlelight vigil in a downtown park
before the senate vote on June 24, 2011.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
Day of the vote

It was not clear until late Friday afternoon whether a vote would even take place on the matter. Rochester residents gathered downtown at a candlelight vigil and waited anxiously for news from Albany. The crowd grew to almost 200, where attendees sang songs, lit candles and prayed.

But shortly before 6 p.m., the state senate’s Republican majority leader, Dean Skelos, announced he would call a vote on the legislation. That was good news to the crowd, who burst into spontaneous applause. The message was clear-- Cuomo would never let a bill come to the floor of the senate if it did not have enough votes to pass.

While party leaders almost always direct their members how to vote in the New York legislature, Skelos said decisions on the gay marriage bill would be “a vote of conscience for every member of the Senate.”

Local reaction from elected officials and labor leaders

Minutes after the senate voted on the bill, Rochester area NYS Assembly member Harry Bronson (D-131) talked with The Voice Reporter.

He said, “Like many of you, it is difficult to put into words the emotional tide engulfing me at this historical moment. For years, many of us have fought to have our love, our commitments and our relationships treated with the respect and dignity opposite sex couples enjoy.”

He added, “It is a proud day for New York as we now recognize the legitimate union of two loving adults without discrimination. With the passage of marriage equality, we will not longer be treated as second class citizens. With pride, I thank you for giving me the privilege to be part of this landmark legislation that honors our ideals that all people are to be treated as equals.”

Jim Bertolone, president of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, sees the passage of a marriage equality bill in New York as a watershed moment in American civil rights history.

He told the Voice Reporter, "Today, local labor including our LBGT brothers and sisters celebrate the passage of Marriage Equality in New York state.  Just as the civil rights legislation extended human rights and gave hope to young African-Americans for a future of dignity and equality, this victory continues the forward evolutionary progress of freedom and democracy for all."

He added, "With the backing of Senator Jim Alesi, a longtime supporter of working people, the Republican barrier was broken on marriage equality.  Marriage Equality of New York, our local chapter of Pride at Work, and many other labor unions and progressive coalition groups appealed to Senator Alesi's heart and sense of justice.  He individually broke the logjam.  We thank him and will stand by him when those radical Republicans and religious conservatives in his party target him.  We believe you cannot be against labor unions and at the same time for civil rights."

Area labor activists feel resolve; some warn the fight is far from over

Hours before the senate vote, Rochester Equality founder and long-time community activist Anne Tischer, along with her wife Bess Watts, took the opportunity to tell hundreds of marriage equality supporters a personal story about how they became accidental activists.

Bess Watts
photo:  Janice Gavin
“In 2004, Bess Watts and I were the first same-sex couple to request and be denied a marriage license in the City of Rochester. Former City Clerk Carolee Conklin had a folder of information ready and encouraged us to find a way to fight the denial. The next day a dozen supportive clergy participated in our public wedding ceremony right here in this park. With such demonstrated support, Bess and I knew then that marriage and ultimately full LGBT equality was inevitable. All that is needed is the persistence to keep demanding the rights we are guaranteed as American citizens. Today is a good day.”

Watts, a local labor leader, who is president of CSEA Monroe County Local 828 and the president of the Rochester and Finger Lakes Chapter of Pride At Work, said “This is the culmination of years of activism by labor folks who have always been on the forefront of equality for LGBT people. It really takes everyone to create social change and I'm proud to be a part of an organization that models inclusion.”

Deacon Mary Ann Sanford of Unity Fellowship Church of Rochester and a Pride At Work, AFL-CIO member, who is married to CSEA Local 828 V.P. T. Judith Johnson, took a more pragmatic look at the nature of politics.

She told The Voice Reporter, “It’s about time. I am not real big on handing out awards for politicians doing their job and representing me which they promised to do when I voted for them-- but in this case it took courage. I applaud them for making history.”

Despite all the celebration surrounding this landmark legislation, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand reminded New Yorkers and the nation there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to achieve full equality.

In an email to constituents dated June 25, Sen. Gillibrand said, “The Defense of Marriage Act is truly damaging. Every day, thousands of legally married LGBT men and women around the country are unable to take advantage of rights and privileges-- from hospital visitation to inheritance rights to health benefits-- that straight married couples take for granted. We must end this unjust policy.”

She added, “But much like the historic vote last night in New York, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and our collective grassroots advocacy. And I believe it’s going to take telling more of our stories.”

To view a slide show of images from the Rochester vigil (June 24) and victory celebration (June 25) after Gov. Cuomo signed the bill into law, you can go here.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Todd Plank (left) and Jo Meleca-Voigt organized a vigil in Rochester's Washington
Square Park this evening where participants gathered in solidarity to urge the
New York State Senate to hold a vote on the Marriage Equality Bill.  The event was
sponsored by New Yorkers United for Marriage Coalition.  photo:  Ove Overmyer

Rochester, N.Y.--  Senate Republicans said today that they would hold a vote on whether to legalize same-sex marriage, after weeks of debate and protests at the Capitol by groups on both sides of the issue.  The Marriage Equality Bill has captured the attention of all New Yorkers, and indeed our nation.

CSEA, along with almost every major labor union in New York state, including the Rochester & Finger Lakes Chapter of Pride At Work, have built an unprecedented coalition of marriage equality supporters and have been working very hard with their coalition partners to make this bill a reality.

Today, Senate Republicans emerged from an eight-hour, closed-door meeting around 5:30 p.m., confirming their plans to allow a same-sex marriage bill to come to the floor for a vote.

But it is not a done deal.  The Senate is still publicly one vote shy of the 32 needed for its passage after the Assembly passed the measure last week.  But marriage supporters are cautiously optimistic, referring to Cuomo's efforts of not bringing a bill to the floor of the Senate if it doesn't have enough votes to pass.

"After many hours of deliberation and discussion over the past several weeks among the members, it has been decided that same-sex marriage legislation will be brought to the full Senate for an up and down vote,” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said in a formal press statement.

The decision was made after a chapter amendment to the bill that passed by the Assembly was introduced earlier today.

The amendment was drafted at the request of Senate Republicans, and includes expanded legal protections for religious organizations and non-profit groups that refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bill now will also ensure that state and local governments couldn’t penalize organizations that don’t want to recognize gay couples, essentially ensuring that state aid or state licenses couldn’t be revoked as a result.

A coalition of civil rights groups said the amendment was acceptable.

"The amended marriage equality legislation protects religious liberties without creating any special exceptions that would penalize same-sex couples or treat them unequally,” read a statement from New Yorkers United for Marriage. “The legislation strikes an appropriate balance that allows all loving, committed couples to marry while preserving religious freedom.”

Rochester vigil focused on love, prayer and peace

Anne Tischer and Bess Watts tell their story at a candlelight
vigil in downtown Rochester on the eve of the NYS Senate vote
for marriage equality.  photo:  Ove Overmyer
More than 200 people from the progressive, labor and faith communities gathered early this evening in Rochester's historic Washington Square Park to commiserate and share their excitement over the possibility of marriage rights being extended to same-sex couples. 

Many elected officials also attended to show support, including City Council members Matt Haag, Elaine Spaull, Dana Miller and Jackie Ortiz.

The founder of Equality Rochester and Pride At Work member Anne Tischer spoke eloquently and directly to the vigil attendees. 

She said, "In 2004, Bess Watts and I were the first same-sex couple to request and be denied a marriage license in the City of Rochester.  Carolee Conklin, then City Clerk had a folder of information ready and encouraged us to find a way to fight the denial. The next day a dozen supportive clergy participated in our public wedding ceremony right here in this park."

She added, "With such demonstrated support, Bess and I knew then that marriage and ultimately full LGBT equality was inevitable. All that is needed is the persistence to keep demanding the rights we are guaranteed as American citizens. This is a good day."

CSEA Monroe County Local 828 President and Pride At Work President Bess Watts thanked the entire labor community for it's undying support, including Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo and IAFF City of Rochester Firefighters Union President Jim McTiernan.


Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-131) addresses
1,100 New Yorkers at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center
at the Equality & Justice Day on May 9, 2011.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
 Albany, N.Y.--  For five openly gay state lawmakers, the wait for Senate action on same-sex marriage bill is truly agonizing-- and it got worse Thursday when the chamber failed yet again to take it up last night.

Senator Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan) and Assembly members Matt Titone, Daniel O'Donnell, Deborah Glick and Harry Bronson have been getting some added attention of late-- and are sharing their personal stories as the drama unfolds in our state capital. Titone called the climate in Albany, "real difficult."

Civil rights advocates gained momentum last week when the Assembly approved gay marriage again and five senators jumped aboard, including two Republicans.  After the Assembly vote, Bronson took the opportunity to convey a message to his constituients.

He said, “Marriage equality is an issue that affects me personally, and being able to join my Assembly colleagues in the passage of this important legislation cannot sufficiently be described in words. Today is emotional as I join in advancing civil, human rights for my community. The Assembly has taken the lead on this issue before and I am proud that this year I was able to assist in the passage of this equal-rights legislation."

But since then, it has languished as Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders continue to struggle to close out other end-of-the-legislative-session issues, like expanding rent regulations and easing mandates on localities.

Sen. Tom Duane
photo:  Ove Overmyer
Currently, 31 senators publicly support the bill-- one shy of the 32 needed for passage.

The Senate did not meet as expected last night about whether to allow a vote on same-sex nuptials before breaking for summer recess. Instead, they'll return today and try again to close down the session.  As of 1:35 pm, the Senate has not returned to session.  It's become a big waiting game.

Assembly bill sponsor O'Donnell (D-Manhattan) said the ongoing negotiations are "mostly draining, keeping an eye on the moving parts, but I remain confident the votes are there in the Senate to pass it." Senate sponsor Tom Duane confessed he'd "like to pass marriage equality; it's a passion of mine."

Added Glick (D-Manhattan), "Everything I have fought for has been about younger generations not going through the same level of isolation or hostility."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Albany, N.Y.--  CSEA – New York’s leading union – has reached a tentative contract agreement with New York state on a five-year deal to avert impending layoffs of CSEA-represented state employees and keep people working. The agreement was reached after challenging negotiations with the Cuomo administration that will provide long term benefits to both to the 66,000 CSEA-represented state Executive Branch employees and New York taxpayers.

“I applaud CSEA’s leadership for their hard work to reach this deal which is a win-win for CSEA members and the State of New York,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo. “I commend the union and its leadership for making a significant contribution to help get the state’s fiscal house in order and making the shared sacrifices these difficult times require. Working together, we will turn this state around and get our economy moving once again.”

Danny Donohue at yesterday's
press conference at CSEA HQ.
photo provided
“These are not ordinary times and CSEA and the Cuomo administration have worked very hard at the bargaining table to produce an agreement that balances shared sacrifice with fairness and respect,” said CSEA President Danny Donohue.

“CSEA stepped up to help produce the labor savings that Governor Cuomo sought while the governor responded to CSEA’s concerns about job security along with a wage and benefit package that recognizes the pressures on working people,” Donohue said.

“CSEA believes our members and all fair-minded New Yorkers will see this agreement as a responsible labor-management approach to facing the challenges in front of our state,” Donohue said.

The agreement includes provisions to keep CSEA-represented state employees on-the job delivering essential services to New Yorkers. It will rescind imminent plans to issue layoff notices to CSEA-represented employees included in the 9,800 reductions previously announced by the Cuomo administration. It also provides other job security assurances for the life of the contract.


•• No across the board salary increase in FY 2011 and 2012;

•• $1,000 (not added to base pay) starting April 1, 2013; ($775 lump sum payable April 1, 2013 / $225

lump sum payable April 1, 2014)

•• 2 percent across the board increase payable April 1, 2014;

•• 2 percent across the board increase payable April 1, 2015;

•• No changes in payments of step increments;

•• No changes in Longevity payments.


•• Five unpaid days off in FY 2011; (The value of the five days will be spread over the remaining pay periods equally.)

•• Four unpaid days off in FY 2012. (The value of the four days will be spread equally over pay period in the fiscal year – employees will be reimbursed for the value of these days starting in year five of the contract.)

Health Benefits:

•• Grade 9 employees and below – 2 percent increase in premium; (Individuals – 10 percent increasin to 12 percent and family coverage – 25 percent increasing to 27 percent of premium cost.)

•• Grade 10 employees and above – 6 percent increase in premium; (Individuals – 10 percent increasing to 16 percent and family coverage – 25 percent increasing to 31 percent of premium cost.)

•• Various incremental changes in coverage provisions, co-payments and prescription drug benefits;

•• Maintains funding for dental, prescription eyeglass and other benefits provided through the CSEA Employee Benefit Fund;

•• No change in ability to use sick leave credits to help defray the cost of health insurance premiums in retirement.

The agreement would also maintain all side letter labor-management agreements currently in place between CSEA and New York state and establishes a committee to address the state’s use of temporary employees, consultants and contractors to determine how state employees can be better utilized to fill this role. The tentative agreement must be acted upon by the state legislature and ratified by CSEA rank and file members. CSEA will be conducting informational meetings and providing full details of the agreement to all members prior to the ratification vote.  CSEA Ballots will be mailed out July 22nd and are expected back in mid-August.

CSEA negotiating team is comprised of 23 CSEA state employees selected to represent their coworkers. They were led at the table by CSEA Director of Contract Administration Ross Hanna and the union’s professional negotiating staff.


Albany, N.Y.--  CSEA – New York's Leading Union – will hold a news conference Wednesday, June 22 at 2 p.m. at the union's Headquarters at 143 Washington Ave. in Albany (two blocks from the state Capitol).

CSEA President Danny Donohue and members of the CSEA negotiating team will have news on the status of contract talks on behalf of 66,000 CSEA-represented state executive branch employees.  CSEA Statewide Local Presidents and staff were summoned to the Desmond Hotel this morning for an hour and half work session.  Details of the meeting were not immediately disclosed. 

The Voice Reporter has learned from it's sources that the state worker negotiations team and the Cuomo administration have come to terms on a contract-- saving taxpayers nearly 450 million while preventing thousands of layoffs.

The tentative deal includes zero pay increases and furloughs in the first two years along with increases of between 2 percent and 6 percent in health care coverage premiums for 66,000 executive branch employees.

The union said the deal “balances shared sacrifice and respect.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo commented the union and it leaders “for making a significant contribution to help get the state’s fiscal house in order and making the shared sacrifices these difficult times require.”

CSEA President Danny Donohue echoed Cuomo’s statement in a press release just distributed, insisting that these are not “ordinary times.”  Stay tuned to the @voicereporter on twitter for up to the minute updates.

Contract details emerge

Base Wages: Under the five year agreement, there will be no general salary increase in Fiscal Year 2011-12; 2012-13; 2013-14. Employees will receive a 2 percent increase in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Savings: The 2011 wage agreement is $2.5 billion less costly to the state than the 2007 agreement, if adopted through the state workforce.

Health Care System Redesign: The agreement includes a series of reforms in the employee health care system which saves $61 million annually in the CSEA contract and $263 million over the contract term. If adopted by all bargaining units, these reforms would save $1.27 billion.

The components of the health system redesign are: Health Care Contributions: The agreement includes substantial changes to employee health care contributions bringing public employee benefits more in line with the private sector. The contribution for health care benefits have not changed in 30 years, while the cost of the state's health care program has increased 100 percent in the past decade. The agreement reflects a two percent increase in contributions for Grade 9 employees and below, and a six percent increase for Grade 10 employees and above. (Under the agreement, for example, the state will pay 69 percent of family coverage for a Grade 10 employee and above, and the employee will pay 31 percent. The prior split was 75 percent state/25 percent employee. For individual coverage, a Grade 10 employee and above will pay 16 percent and the state share will be 84 percent. The prior split was 10 percent employee/90 percent state).

Savings: The CSEA agreement results in $30 million in annual savings from this provision, and $141.7 million over the contract term. If adopted for the entire workforce, this change will save $165 million per year, and $764 million over the term of the contract.

Health Care Opt Out: For the first time, the state is offering an opt-out option. Health care premiums cost $16,600 for family coverage and $7300 for individual coverage. Employees electing to opt out of the health insurance program must provide proof of alternative coverage and will receive $1000 or $3000 for the cessation of individual or family coverage, respectively. This will save the state thousands of dollars for each employee who opts out.

Savings: The opt-out will save $7.3 million annually and $31 million over the contract term for CSEA alone. The opt-out achieves $21.6 million in annual savings, and $91.8 million over the five year term if adopted statewide.

Health Benefit Redesign: The health benefit plan system of co-pays, deductibles, and programs has been redesigned to encourage healthy choices and control costs of pharmaceutical products. For example, for the first time the plan will cover the use of nurse practitioners and "minute clinics" and encourage employees to use these services when appropriate instead of hospital emergency rooms.

Savings: The CSEA savings for this provision are $22.3 million annually and $95.7 million over the contract term. If adopted by all bargaining units, these changes generate $85.5 million annually when adopted statewide, and $361.4 million over the term of the contract.

Deficit Reduction Leave: Under the agreement, employees will take a five day unpaid deficit reduction leave during fiscal year 2011-12 and four days unpaid leave during fiscal year 2012-13. The value of the days taken not worked will be deducted from employee pay over the remaining pay periods equally during the fiscal year in which they are taken. Employees will be repaid the value of the 4 days from 2012-13 in equal installments starting at the end of the contract term.

Savings: The furloughs will yield $360 million in savings if adopted by all bargaining units.

Performance advances, longevity and retention payments: Performance advances and longevity payments will continue to be in effect. Current employees who remain active through 2013 will earn a onetime retention payment of $775 in 2013 and $225 in 2014 in recognition of working without a wage increase for three years.

Patient Abuse Reforms: Both CSEA and the State agree that the system in place for investigating allegations of abuse of patients at state facilities does not adequately protect our most vulnerable population in state care. While CSEA employees are dedicated caretakers, allegations of abuse must be dealt with thoroughly. Under the agreement, the State and CSEA will take a number of steps to improve the quality of care, including creating a completely new Select Panel on Patient Abuse with A-list arbitrators and creating a table of penalties for increasingly severe acts of misconduct, along with a number of other reforms.

Review of Temporary Employees: The State and CSEA will form a joint committee to review the use of temporary employees and contractors and make recommendations to the Division of Budget and Department of Civil Service.

Layoff Protection: CSEA employees will receive broad layoff protection for fiscal year 2011-12 and 2012-13 arising from the $450 million budget gap. Workforce reductions due to management decisions to close or restructure facilities authorized by legislation, SAGE recommendations or material or unanticipated changes in the State's fiscal circumstances are not covered by this limitation.

The tentative agreement must be ratified by CSEA rank and file members.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Rochester area activist and Pride At Work member Anne Tischer proudly
displays confidence that marriage equality will one day be legal in the Empire State.
photo: Bess Watts
Albany, N.Y.--  Unlike last week, when the major story every day at the state capitol building was the Senate Republican majority’s inconclusive discussions about whether to allow a vote on the marriage bill--  approved last Wednesday evening by the Assembly-- the attention on Monday was mostly focused on whether a rent agreement had been reached.

Late yesterday afternoon, some legislators were saying publicly that the rent guidelines would not get another temporary extension, suggesting the Senate and Assembly would work long into the night and forge an agreement. Instead, GOP Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver emerged from a meeting with the governor to announce they were still far apart and a subsequent vote approved the one-day fix instead.

For three successive days at the end of last week, Skelos spoke to reporters after meeting with his Republican colleagues to signal they were not yet prepared to move the marriage legislation-- which has 31 public supporters of the 32 needed, including two of the 32 Republicans. On Monday, however, a number of GOP and Democratic senators made comments about taking up the marriage question only after the rent deal was resolved.

photo:  Ove Overmyer
The clear implication of that was that while the Republicans were looking for leverage on the rent issue, an eventual vote on marriage was widely expected.

Over the past six days, a group of three Republicans who say they are undecided-- Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, and Long Island’s Kemp Hannon-- have been in discussions with Cuomo over what they say is the need for greater religious protections in the bill the governor proposed last week.

That three lawmakers sat down with Cuomo early Monday.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, the lead sponsor of marriage equality in the Assembly, told reporters on Saturday that any revised language would reflect provisions already in New York law-- made explicit in the context of marriage equality by incorporating them into the bill approved.

“I can assure you that my speaker [Silver], this governor, this governor’s secretary, this governor’s counsel, and I would never, ever agree to write discrimination into this bill,” he said. “There will not be in there any language that reflects a reduction in the rights of gay people.”

Cuomo has repeatedly said that if the bill is allowed to go to the Senate floor for debate and a vote, he is confident of prevailing.

It is expected that if Republican concerns about religious protections are addressed to their satisfaction, one or more of the three senators negotiating the issue with the governor will provide the margin of victory.

Marriage Equality supporters gather at the West Capitol
Park on May 9, 2011 at Equality & Justice Day.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
As New York's progressive community waits, activists have staged a number of rallies in recent days.

Meanwhile, marriage equality supporters like Rochester resident and Pride At Work member Anne Tischer and the New Yorkers United for Marriage Equality, the coalition of leading union and LGBT advocacy groups leading the charge in Albany, were out in full force today. 

They planned a rally at the West Capitol Park this afternoon, which is immediately adjacent to the Capitol Building where the lawmakers are struggling to find a way out of this legislative quagmire.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Marriage Equality advocates and their
detractors are filling the halls of the
people's house to voice their opinion.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
Rochester, N.Y.-- One vote stands in the way of New York state becoming the sixth and most populous state to pass gay marriage legislation. The Senate just went back into session around 3:30 pm, and have furiously been passing a multitude of noncontroversial bills. You can follow the proceedings here, courtesy of

And sources close to the Voice Reporter say that the vote for marriage might come as late as Thursday, or not at all if opponents get their way. That does not preclude Governor Cuomo from extending this session or calling a special session to get the people's business done later on this summer.  If that happens, the Assembly would have to approve a new marriage bill for the fifth time.

After the marriage bill passed the State Assembly last week in an 80-63 vote, state senators are scrambling to garner enough support to pass the bill once and for all. Now, either Staten Island Republican Andrew Lanza and Poughkeepsie lawmaker Stephen Saland could provide the deciding votes. Should Lanza vote in favor, the New York state senate could pass the bill by the time the legislative session closes at 11:59 p.m. this evening.

Although the Senate has not yet scheduled a vote, state legislators worked through the weekend in anticipation of one very soon, soliciting opinions from constituents over Twitter and fielding as many as 70 phone calls an hour. Reports from the behind-closed-doors negotiations in Albany sound promising for the gay rights activists supporting the bill.

CSEA, along with almost every major labor union in New York state, have built an unprecedented coalition of marriage equality supporters.

Supporters and opponents make last ditch efforts

Supporters and opponents of gay marriage made 11th-hour appeals yesterday and today as state lawmakers were beseeched by throngs of activists inside and out of the state capitol building.

New York's Archbishop, Timothy Dolan, reiterated his and the Catholic Church's opposition to gay marriage on Sunday, vowing to oppose "any radical bill to redefine the very essence of marriage."

"One has to wonder why the proponents of this radical redefinition, who claim overwhelming popular support, would not consider" a referendum "on such a drastic departure from traditional values?" he wrote on his blog.

Dolan wrote that the "government presumes to redefine" such sacred words as father, mother, husband and wife "at the peril of the common good."

In Albany, Senate Majority Leader Republican Dean Skelos has said the bill as written has prompted concerns over its religious clauses and exemptions.

Despite the claims of some opponents, the bill does not compel any member of the clergy to conduct same-sex marriages, but some Republican lawmakers are concerned the legal protection is not strong enough. Skelos said Cuomo has indicated he was open to including more specific exemptions for religious groups, but a change in the language of the bill is unlikely.

The governor has lobbied for passage and said he remains cautiously optimistic the bill will come to a vote and pass.

Hundreds of Rochester marriage advocates rallied on Sunday

Meanwhile gay marriage advocates, including many long time activists in the Rochester and Finger Lakes area, rallied on Sunday afternoon.

Rochester resident Todd Plank speaks
to marriage equality supporters at a
rally on the steps of the Monroe
County Office Building on Sept. 26, 2010.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
"Our demand today is simple: bring the Marriage Equality Bill to a vote on Monday," said Todd Plank, a spokesperson for Equality Rochester.  Speaking to hundreds of worshippers and advocates at a faith rally at the downtown First Universalist Church on South Clinton Ave, he added, “We’re waiting for the Senate to just get it to the floor and just pass this bill.”

Marriage supporters also held a "Last Day of Marriage Inequality" rally in Manhattan's Union Square, where supporters carried signs that read "'I do'" support marriage equality" and "Be a leader: introduce the bill." Many faith organizations and the New Yorkers United for Marriage also held over 30 rallies around the Empire State.

Just hours to go-- maybe

With just hours to go in this legislative session, the stakes are especially high.  New York would become the most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage approved by lawmakers, spelling a huge civil rights victory for LGBT advocates.  It would be a tremendous blow to ultra-conservative groups, like the Mormon and Catholic churches, as well as the very anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

The state-by-state battle over gay marriage is now becoming a contentious battle across the nation just as the 2012 presidential and congressional elections heat up.

Five states-- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont-- and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage, while four states have civil unions. Gay marriage is specifically banned in 39 states.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Assemblymember Bronson talks with
constituients in his Albany office.
photo provided
Assemblymember Bronson: NY Assembly Passes Marriage Equality Legislation to Bring Long-Overdue Rights to New Yorkers

June 15, 2011--  In a prepared statement to the media, Rochester area Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-131st) said this concerning the Marriage Equality vote before the state legislature:

“Marriage equality is an issue that affects me personally, and being able to join my Assembly colleagues in the passage of this important legislation cannot sufficiently be described in words. Today is emotional as I join in advancing civil, human rights for my community. The Assembly has taken the lead on this issue before and I am proud that this year I was able to assist in the passage of this equal-rights legislation."

CSEA, along with almost every major labor union in New York state, have built an unprecedented coalition of marriage equality supporters.  The bill now rests with the Senate, where it only needs one more vote to pass before Gov. Cuomo can sign the bill into law.

Elected to the Assembly in 2010, Bronson has hit the ground running for working families.  He has led the charge for ethics reform, he has sponsored legislation to improve education and library funding, and has publicly gone to bat for working families by explaining that public employees cost less to New York taxpayers than consultants and outsourcing.

With respect to the Marriage Equality Bill before the legislature, Bronson added, “This legislation will open the door for all same-sex couples to enjoy the rights and protections currently denied to them. This issue is mostly about love and committed relationships, but it also is about providing legal rights to same-sex couples currently enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. Today I stand with you in urging the Senate to pass this bill so we can legally validate our love.”

To view Bronson's 9:03 minute testimony on the floor of the Assembly Chamber, go can go here


Repost from the D&C by Jill Terreri

Rochester, N.Y.--  Monroe County was on the losing side once again regarding its interaction with part-time workers, according to a decision issued by the state Appellate Division.

The county's survey of part-time workers asking if they wanted to still be represented by a union violates civil service law, according to the court, which released a decision this week.

The county had queried part-time workers represented by CSEA after learning there were vacancies in the bargaining unit's leadership. The survey asked one question, whether workers wanted to continue to be represented.

CSEA filed an improper practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board, and an administrative law judge decided the county had interfered with employees' protected rights.

The county then brought its case to the full employment relations board, which affirmed the administrative law judge's decision, saying the survey was "inherently destructive of the rights of organization."

When the county lost with the board, it brought a suit against the board and CSEA to the state Appellate Division, which affirmed the lower decisions.

"What it means is that the county was found to have acted in bad faith and really overstepped the legal bounds of proper labor management relations," said CSEA lawyer Paul Bamberger. "In that sense, what we've been saying all along in that they had acted in a heavy-handed way with us and be more reasonable and work more cooperatively with us, that position has been vindicated."

The county had maintained, based on a contract with the union, that a secret ballot election could be held to determine whether employees wanted to continue to be represented if it first received evidence that 30 percent of the members questioned their represented status.

"The county felt that the ruling by the state agency was incorrect and denied us certain rights and benefits that we had negotiated with the union and that the union had agreed to," said county spokesman Noah Lebowitz.

"The bottom line is we think employees should have a right to choose whether they are a member of a union or not."

The employment relations board found the contract language did not give the county authority to actively solicit opinions regarding CSEA.

The county is considering whether to appeal the decision.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Danny Donohue (second from left) talks with the press
 about the Property Tax Cap in Albany, N.Y. on June 16, 2011.
photo:  property of CSEA
Albany, N.Y.--  CSEA President Danny Donohue joined with New York's top leaders at the state Capitol for a news conference to reinforce that the proposed property tax legislation would tie the hands of local government and school officials trying to balance budgets without providing real tax relief.

It will lead to loss of jobs and services without lowering taxes. Donohue, pictured above, is standing with New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi, New York State AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes and Public Employees Federation President Ken Brynien.  Donohue said the bill is political nonsense and its requirement of a super majority to override the tax cap is undemocratic.

Here are some simple truths:
*The cap will NOT reduce your property taxes

*The cap will NOT reduce mandates

*The cap will NOT cut waste

*The cap will NOT make homes more affordable

*The cap will NOT help the education system

*The cap will NOT create jobs

*The cap will NOT make the tax system more progressive

Here’s why that matters to people upstate: Legislators and Cuomo have linked the tax cap and rent regulations—meaning one won’t be done without the other (or so they say). How long rent rules are extended will help dictate how long the tax cap will last before being brought up for review.

It’s a coupling aimed at providing two blocs motivation to act on both: Property taxes are a big issue for upstate and Long Island homeowners, while rents are a major issue in New York City, where renting is much more common.

Twice this week, Cuomo criticized lawmakers for failing to act sooner. He has the power to force legislators to hold sessions whenever he decrees, and he has vowed to do so until rent regulations are handled (his statements have made no mention of the property tax cap).

Cuomo and legislative leaders from both parties touted an apparent agreement late last month to enact limits on property taxes, which are often the largest tax a business pays.

Still, no votes have been taken yet but sources close to the Voice Reporter believe there will be movement on this issue before legislators vacate Albany for the weekend.  The sticking point may be the financial threshold for what determines personal wealth.


NYS Senator Stephen Saland
R,I,C-41st, Poughkeepsie
Albany, N.Y.--  Several Republican senators in New York are urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to consider changing his proposed same-sex marriage bill to better protect religious institutions, addressing a concern that has emerged as one of the bill’s chief obstacles as the legislative session comes to an end.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who strongly supports same-sex marriage, met both Wednesday night and Thursday evening in his Capitol office with the lawmakers, who say they are worried that churches and other religious institutions that do not approve of gay marriage could face legal challenges or regulatory conflicts if same-sex marriage is legalized.

Mr. Cuomo’s handling of the concerns will determine the fate of the measure, the Republicans said, which has been endorsed by 31 of the 62 members of the State Senate and cannot pass unless at least one more Republican lawmaker signs on. The legislative session ends on Monday.

Senator Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island, who, along with Senators Kemp Hannon of Long Island and Stephen M. Saland of Poughkeepsie, met with the governor, said, “The concern that I have expressed, and others have expressed, is that we don’t want to create a vehicle that will allow anyone to make a challenge, to erode, what I think is a fundamental American freedom, and that is the freedom of expression when it comes to religion.”

“Our courts,” Mr. Lanza added, “are filled with litigants and lawsuits, and if we get the language right, we’ve got a better chance of protecting that which we seek to protect. If you get it wrong, then you expose our religious organizations to litigation.”

Senator William J. Larkin Jr., a Hudson Valley Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, said he understood his colleagues’ concerns: “Some of the people, in fairness, that were asking questions yesterday said, ‘Why don’t we take time and make sure it’s right?’ Without naming names, I can tell you I believe some of them will vote for it, but they want to make sure while they’re voting for it they’re not punishing the synagogue, the Catholic church, the Baptist church.”

A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo declined to discuss the negotiations on Thursday.

Neither Mr. Lanza, who said he was still a “no” vote, nor other Republicans would specify the precise changes they were seeking in Mr. Cuomo’s bill. And while Republican lawmakers described Mr. Cuomo as sympathetic to their broad concerns, it was not clear whether Mr. Cuomo would ultimately be open to changes in the language of the bill, which has already been approved by the State Assembly.

The legislation already includes language that exempts broad classes of religious institutions and private benevolent organizations from hosting or recognizing gay ceremonies, while indemnifying such institutions from lawsuits.

Mr. Saland, who met with Mr. Cuomo, is playing a pivotal role for the undecided Republicans, lawmakers and advocates for the bill said on Thursday.

Senator Saland, 67, told a reporter this week that he was undecided on same-sex marriage. Friends and colleagues described Mr. Saland as a legislator’s legislator, soft-spoken and scholarly, known for attention to detail and interested in children’s and family issues.

Senator John J. Flanagan, a Long Island Republican who voted against same-sex marriage two years ago but is thought to be reconsidering this year, praised Mr. Saland’s role in Republicans’ internal debates.

“I would say he’s extremely principled, he’s very thoughtful, and he has the ability to focus on the details-- which, in this case, are extremely important,” Mr. Flanagan said.

photo:  Ove Overmyer
With 29 Senate Democrats and 2 Republicans now supporting same-sex marriage, Republicans continued their private deliberations over the issue for a second day on Thursday. Their leader, Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, said that no decision had been made on whether to bring the legislation to a vote, and that no further support for the measure had emerged. Conservative religious leaders and representatives of the New York State Catholic Conference made the rounds of the Capitol on Thursday seeking to press their case against the measure.

“We are relaying our very serious concerns to members of the Legislature regarding the religious liberty implications of Governor Cuomo’s bill,” said Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the conference. “It should be noted that we will continue to strongly oppose any redefinition of the historic understanding of marriage, regardless of the strength of the religious liberty protections. However, should the bill pass without adequate protection, it will have potentially far-reaching consequences for our ministries, both in terms of contracts to provide services and potentially to challenges to not-for-profit status.”

New York City Mayor in Albany

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a supporter of same-sex marriage and the biggest single financial supporter of the state’s Senate Republican caucus, addressed the Republican senators privately as they met to discuss the bill. Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Bloomberg said he believed that the bill would pass, with several votes to spare.

“I still believe if they do vote their hearts and principles, New York State will become the next state to adopt marriage equality,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Because based on my conversations with senators, I believe that if the bill comes to the floor, it will pass.”

The mayor did not identify the lawmakers from whom he expected support, but he mentioned three Republican senators he had spoken with in recent weeks: Mr. Lanza, Mr. Flanagan and Mark Grisanti of Buffalo. “In all my conversations with senators,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “I could see how personal this was for them and their families, how carefully they were listening to both their parents and children, and how earnestly they are struggling to find the right answer.”

“This,” Mr. Bloomberg added, “is not an easy issue.”

Some potential votes for same-sex marriage appeared to be slipping away on Thursday. Greg Ball, a Republican senator from the Hudson Valley who had been heavily lobbied by advocates for the bill and Republican donors who support same-sex marriage, called Mr. Cuomo’s bill “an affront to religious organizations” lacking broad enough protections for religious institutions.

The bill, Mr. Ball says, “would open up a new era of lawsuits against individuals and religious organizations." 

Mr. Ball's assumptions and this religious fervor is unwarranted and factually baseless.  There are ample protections in this bill and other civil rights legislation that preclude protections for religious organizations.  The problem with writing specific protections for one class of people in the marriage law will result in a bill that makes discrimination legal against a protected class with respect to the existing Human Rights Law of the state constitution.

The NYS Assembly passed a marriage equality bill on Wednesday's legislative session (80-63), for the fourth time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Rochester, N.Y. -- There has been a lot of media speculation of late surrounding Republican Senator Jim Alesi’s courageous marriage equality vote and his political future, most of it warped and nonsensical.

Truth be told, Tom Cook and the local Conservative Party overestimate their relevance and sound very much like bitter, spoiled children now that Alesi is voting “with his heart.”  In an interview with YNN Rochester, Cook called Alesi "toast."

The Conservative Party did enjoy a bump in voter turnout in 2010, but that will always be the case when a Democrat wins the White House in the previous Presidential election. And, at the same time, more voters in Alesi’s district are more inclined to support him and the equal marriage bill than the Conservative Party could ever conjure up. He now should have the support of most Blanks, Independent and some Democratic voters-- that doubles the Conservative voting power in the 55th Senate District.  Plus, Alesi has made the labor movement much happier-- a constituency he must have to win re-election.  Additionally, the labor community has ten times the number of voters than the Conservative Party.

Here is what we mean:

As of June 1, 2011, according to the Monroe County Board of Elections, there are only 3,374 Conservative Party registered voters in the 55th District. That is compared to 67,797 Democrats, 65,653 Republicans, 44,515 Blanks, and 8,281 Independence Party voters. You do the math.  It's also important to understand that some pissed off anti-Obama Republicans no doubt voted on the Conservative line in 2008 and 2010, with Alesi pulling in a combined total of 7,762 in 2008.

According to a poll by ESPA, well over 55 percent of Alesi’s 55th District support equality for LGBT residents, unlike the divisive, “producer versus parasite” tax paradigm mentality of the Conservative Party. What is even more interesting is how low the disapproval rating is-- near 34 percent.  That puts the disparity ratio over 20 points.  Mr. Cook’s remarks about Alesi’s political future are hollow threats-- comments that have no lasting value or political significance. His bark has no bite.

Here is what we mean:

The Conservatives exacted no revenge after making similar warnings prior to passage of the state’s gay rights law (SONDA) in 2002. Alesi is mindful of his district-- the Conservative Party almost lost its ballot line just a few short years ago because of a lack of voters.

Independent polling suggests that a small number of Conservative Party endorsed senators could cast a pro-equality vote without facing re-election risk. Alesi just happens to be one of those senators. In most scenarios, the impact of a conservative backlash on a Republican voting yes on this bill is minimal at best. Even if the Conservative Party tries to primary Alesi, most pundits would agree that kind of effort would be a huge waste of resources and time for those "extreme" candidates.

The exclusionary policies of the Conservative Party are yesterday's news.  Marriage equality will be the law of land-- if not in a couple of days, then certainly in the near future-- and there is nothing the Conservative Party can do or say that will change that reality.

Alesi’s vote reassures the labor community

Another factor that Mr. Cook overlooks is that almost every major labor organization in New York State, for that matter the nation, support the right of same-sex couples to marry. Without labor's support on the ground during GOTV efforts, it's very hard to get elected to statewide office here in New York state. At a press conference on June 9, labor leaders from the Rochester area reaffirmed their support for marriage equality. The fact is, right now the Conservative Party is on the wrong side of history on this issue.

Alesi now stands on the side of equality

Alesi’s position has not evolved that much since two years ago, when a gay marriage bill was narrowly defeated. “Two years ago, I voted against a marriage equality bill, and it was a very anguishing vote for me,” Alesi said, adding that he has since apologized to advocates for his vote.

He added, “I believe that if you live in America and you expect equality and freedom for yourself that you should extend it to other people.”

On a personal note, it is so un-Albany-like and rare for a civil rights bill to be introduced on its own merit.  This is what is happening today in the people's house.  This is what true democracy looks like.

-Ove Overmyer


photo:  Ove Overmyer
Albany, N.Y.--  Following another day where momentum on the marriage equality bill continued to build in New York, Republican state senators were scheduled to meet this morning to decide whether to bring the measure to the floor for a vote, likely by Friday.

Senate majority leader Dean Skelos has said that although he personally opposes the bill, he would recommend it come to the floor pending consultation with his members. As of Wednesday morning, two Republican state senators who voted against the bill in 2009, James Alesi of Rochester and Roy McDonald of the capital region, have announced they would vote yes, bringing the measure within one vote of the 32 required for passage.

The decisive vote must come from a Republican senator, where since Monday, when three undecided Democrats from New York City who voted against the bill in 2009-- Joseph Addabbo, Shirley Huntley and Carl Kruger-- announced their support, all Democrats except the avowedly antigay Ruben Diaz Sr. plan to vote for the bill.

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo submitted a bill for consideration with exemptions for religious institutions that do not want to solemnize same-sex marriages or provide facilities for wedding celebrations. An apparent accommodation to concerns expressed by undecided Republican state senators, in particular Greg Ball, the language spells out existing provisions of the state’s human rights law, where such religious facilities already are regarded as private and not public accommodations. If passed, the bill would become law in 30 days.

The delivery of the bill provided a strong sign of confidence from Cuomo, who has said that he did not want to hold a vote that would fail. Coupled with the support from the remaining undecided Democrats, it also puts the burden squarely on senate Republicans.

As the 32-member Republican conference meets Wednesday, enormous pressure is being exerted on the handful of senators publicly identified as undecided including Ball of Carmel, Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, Kemp Hannon of Long Island, Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, and Andrew Lanza of Staten Island.

Groups lobbying strongly against the bill include the New York State Catholic Conference, where Archbishop Timothy Dolan wrote Tuesday that same-sex marriage could be compared to the social control of Communist countries such as China and North Korea.  Really?

If Republican senators decide to bring the bill to the floor, a likely day for a vote would be Friday, according to senate observers. Cuomo could also issue a message of necessity in an attempt to expedite the process, which could prove advantageous, particularly as lobbying and political calculations around the bill intensify while the legislature faces other unfinished business before it concludes on June 20.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly, which has passed the bill three times since 2007, is prepared to act pending assurances of success in the senate.

Passage of the bill would make New York the sixth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, with a marriage equality law. The home of 20 million people, New York would also become the most populous state with marriage equality outside California, where Proposition 8 repealed the law in 2008, effectively doubling the number of Americans who live in a state where same-sex couples can marry.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Marriage advocates rally on May 9 in Albany, N.Y.
photo:  Ove Overmyer
Albany, N.Y.--  Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this afternoon it’s now in the Senate Republican conference to support the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Cuomo’s comments came at a news conference this afternoon heralding the support of three formerly undecided Democrats in the yes column: Sens. Shirley Huntley, Joe Addabbo and Carl Kruger.

Both Huntley and Addabbo said their minds had changed when they polled their constituents, and the majority came back supporting gay marriage. Addabbo said that approximatley 6,015 people called or wrote his office on the issue of gay marriage.  An overwhelming number of them, 4,839 to be exact, were in support of the legislation. Kruger, meanwhile, said his switch was very emotional.

“I believe that what we’re about to do is redefine the American family and that is a good thing,” Kruger said.

And earlier today, a top aide to Mr. Cuomo, Steven M. Cohen, said that he expected the marriage bill to come to a vote in the days ahead and insisted that the measure had enough support in both houses of the Legislature to become law.

Senator Alesi leaning toward supporting the bill

Rochester area Senator Jim Alesi said today that he, too, is open to supporting same-sex marriage.

“If the bill comes to the floor the way that I would like to see it, I will support it,” Senator James S. Alesi, a Monroe County Republican, said before going into a meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Mr. Alesi did not elaborate during his brief public comments to the press.  There were Albany reports that former Rochester Mayor and now Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy also met with Senator Alesi today.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos says he is yet to conference the measure with his colleagues, but expects it to be discussed either Tuesday or Wednesday.

He’s also said he would allow a floor vote if there’s support for an up or down.

The governor, meanwhile, is meeting with gay advocates this afternoon to discuss the measure. Cuomo said at the news conference that he would decide whether to introduce the bill later today.

It’s likely that if it waits until later this week he would need a message of necessity in order to bypass the required three-day waiting period for bills to age.

This brings the total number of Senators publicly supporting the bill to 30.  The bill needs 32 yes votes to pass in the state senate.