By Luci Legotti
Once again Long Island teachers’ voices were heard as we came together in solidarity to protect what we have worked hard to establish and advocate for what is right for students on Long Island. Jeff Bernstein, Michelle Sorice, and Luci Legotti attended a public forum sponsored by Long Islanders for Educational Reform (LIFER) on May 8th.The event was organized in support of the passage of a proposed “Taxpayer and Mandate Relief Bill” (A8603), which would, among other things, eliminate Triborough protections.
Steve Levy, former Suffolk County Executive, moderated the discussion. He introduced a very one-sided panel of invited guests to an audience of approximately 400 (about 75% unionists). E.J. McMahon, Empire Center for Public Policy Inc., began with a very academic overview of the establishment of the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment, which led into a summary and justification of their proposed bill. Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, sponsor of the bill, asserted that the passage of this bill would make it easier for employers to change union contracts as a way to provide governmental fiscal relief in New York State. The panel spoke to reports, which were disputed once the floor was open for comments. The majority of the audience spoke against the proposed bill, questioning and dispelling the assertions presented by the panel and exposing the misrepresentations in the reports. NYSUT representative Matt Jacobs was invited from the audience to join the panel; he spoke eloquently, provided facts to dispute misinformation presented by the panel, and responded to audience members who spoke in support of the bill. As the night went on, the panel often could not respond with valid reasons as to how this bill would quantitatively improve New York State’s fiscal situation.
It is clear that the goal of the bill is to erode collective bargaining and workers’ rights. The meeting was very well attended by teachers and other union members who continually encouraged Assemblyman Fitzpatrick to steer his efforts away from this bill and towards reducing unfunded state mandates. In addition, he was challenged to find ways to get more of Long Island’s taxpayer money returned to the Island as a way of reducing taxes in Nassau and Suffolk County. What started out as a very one-sided forum in support of a bill proposing the elimination of workers’ rights shifted as speaker after speaker educated the panel by offering viable solutions to improve New York State’s fiscal situation that do not impinge on collective bargaining rights. This outcome speaks to the strength of union solidarity and the need for teachers to continue to make their voices heard.
For further reading: Why We Defend Triborough - NYSUT