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Op-ed column: Editorial, opinion piece attack unions and worker rights

Op-ed column: Editorial, opinion piece attack unions and worker rights

I am writing to voice my opposition to your editorial of Feb. 26 urging Gov. Cuomo to repeal the Tri

I am writing to voice my opposition to your editorial of Feb. 26 urging Gov. Cuomo to repeal the Triborough Amendment, and to Ken Moore’s op-ed, also on Feb. 26, asking New Yorkers to consider “right-to-work” legislation.

Both opinion pieces support further curtailing the rights of public- and private-sector workers. Such proposals, if adopted, will only accelerate the downward plunge of living standards for working and middle-class Americans that has accompanied the de-unionization of the work force.

The Triborough Amendment to The Taylor Law, enacted in 1967, defines the bargaining rights of public-sector employees.

Your editorial neglects to mention that the law prohibits public-sector strikes, traditionally the main weapon used by unions to pressure an employer to agree to a decent contract. In return for a nonstrike guarantee, public employers are prohibited from unilaterally reducing or eliminating contract rights or benefits after a contract expires, while the parties negotiate a successor contract. As long as public-sector employees are prohibited from striking, this balance is needed.

No unfair balance

Contrary to the claims of the Gazette, Triborough has not tipped the balance of negotiating power unfairly to employees. Before the enactment of Triborough, there were numerous public-sector labor strikes in New York. Today, that is no longer an issue.

Further, Triborough does not guarantee automatic increases in salaries or benefits, because whether such increases occur is completely negotiable. The parties are free to agree that such increases will not occur unless agreed to in a new contract.

Repealing the Triborough Amendment would give every incentive to employers to stonewall negotiations past an existing contract’s expiration. The employer would then be free to alter the contract unilaterally. This will drive down the wages and benefits for police, firefighters, teachers and other public-sector workers. Collective bargaining will be turned into collective begging.

Breaking unions and lowering the standard of living of the vast majority of people is not the way forward.

Private sector

On the private-sector side of same anti-union coin is Mr. Moore’s op-ed calling for “right-to-work” laws in New York. Such laws allow employees to receive the salary and benefits of a union-negotiated contract without paying any of the costs of the negotiations or contract enforcement.

Thus, a member of a union can choose not to pay any dues to his or her union while enjoying the salaries and benefits gained by the union on behalf of all its members. Such a law would further tip the balance of power in favor of employers, which already have unfair leverage over rank-and-file employees.

Decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr. denounced so-called “right-to-work” laws. He warned that “we must guard against being fooled by false slogans as ‘right to work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘work.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining.”

The wisdom of Dr. King’s warning is apparent: States that have enacted “right-to-work laws” tend to have less union organization, and thus lower household incomes, more workers without medical insurance and pensions and higher rates of workplace accidents and fatalities. Right-to-work laws are nothing more than another way by employers to break unions, and to reduce the pay and benefits for ordinary working people, all to benefit the already most-advantaged Americans.

Twin assault

In all, your proposal to repeal Triborough, and Mr. Moore’s proposal to make New York a “right to work” state, constitutes a double-barreled assault on the rights of working people, the middle class, and specifically on collective bargaining.

It is ironic that the Gazette supports reducing the rights of union members. Schenectady had its finest moments when thousands of its residents had union jobs at GE, with decent pay and benefits. To now advocate for fewer rights for employees goes against what history has shown makes a better society for everyone.

Harold Eisenstein lives in Schenectady County and is a longtime union activist and attorney. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

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