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president's perspective

Coming for your rights and benefits

New York Teacher

Michael Mulgrew Headshot

Michael Mulgrew

One of the most fundamental ways we as union members can make our voices heard is to vote. It is particularly important this year that each and every UFT member get to the polls to help defeat Proposal #1 on holding a state constitutional convention.

If voters approve such a convention, it would open up the entire state constitution for revision. A constitutional convention would be a big waste of money and a high-stakes gamble with potentially dire consequences for public school educators and other public employees. Your pensions, public education funding, the right to organize and more could be put in jeopardy if a convention were held. It’s a risk we can’t afford to take.

Particularly in a low-turnout election like this one promises to be, every vote counts. So please make the journey to the polls on Nov. 7 — and remember to turn over the ballot, since Proposal #1 appears on the back.

The same forces that would be gunning for your rights and benefits in a constitutional convention are also behind the Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up in its current term.

Our opponents want to take away your rights and benefits by weakening the union. They are now arguing in the courts that non-members should not be required to pay fair-share or agency fees to cover their portion of the costs associated with collective bargaining and union services that benefit all employees in the bargaining unit.

We faced this exact same threat two years ago in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers’ Association lawsuit, which was funded by the same anti-worker organizations. But before the court could rule in that case, Justice Antonin Scalia suddenly died. The remaining justices deadlocked 4-4 on Friedrichs in June 2015.

Republicans blocked President Obama from filling the vacancy with a more moderate jurist. With Justice Neil Gorsuch now occupying that seat on the Supreme Court, the expectation is the majority will overturn the 40-year-old legal precedent allowing agency fees and declare them unconstitutional in the public sector.

Mark Janus, the Illinois public employee named as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, is only a figurehead. The real drivers of this lawsuit are these deep-pocketed right-wing groups out to sabotage unions and take away pensions, workplace rights and job security from working people. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an organization funded by the Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires, is sponsoring the case.

It’s never been more critical for us to all stand together.

It is because we have a strong union that UFT members have the class-size limits, preparation periods, maximum teaching loads and other essentials that ensure our students receive a high-quality education. It is because we have a strong union that our members have a professional voice in school decision-making.

It is because we have a strong union that UFT members have job security. In states where teachers do not belong to unions, teachers are at-will employees who can be fired for any reason or no reason, at the whim of an administrator.

It is because we have a strong union that UFT members have premium-free health benefits, low-cost prescription drugs, dental and optical benefits and a secure pension. Sadly, these benefits are no longer the norm in other workplaces.

We cannot let our enemies divide us. When the Janus ruling comes down, our fate will rest in our own hands. Only if we stay united as UFT members will we stave off this attack on the hard-fought rights and benefits of every UFT member.