In the crucial weeks before Election Day, the UFT and its members stepped into high gear to spread the word about why New Yorkers should vote “no” on holding a state constitutional convention.
The question will appear on the back of the ballot as Proposal #1 on Nov. 7 because the state constitution requires that this question be put before voters every 20 years.
If the voters approve a convention, it will trigger a lengthy and expensive process of reviewing and revising the state constitution. The UFT, along with many other labor and civil rights groups, opposes a state constitutional convention because workers’ rights and benefits as well as civil rights enshrined in the state constitution — in some cases stronger than those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution — could be jeopardized.
UFT members have been sharing graphics on social media, wearing Vote NO buttons on their lapels, putting Vote NO magnets on their cars, and placing Vote NO lawn signs in their windows and outside their homes — all in an effort to raise public awareness.
UFT chapter leaders gathered members together in schools across the city to fill out postcards pledging to contact five friends or family members about the importance of voting “no.”
Phone banks were in operation at all five borough offices in October as members called fellow members to ask them to turn over their ballot and vote “no” on Proposal #1.
The UFT’s faith-based breakfast has been a tradition for the past eight years, but the faith and labor leaders who assembled at union headquarters on Oct. 19 were in for something new. “This is the first time we’ve ever taken on a political issue at this breakfast,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who served as the moderator on a panel of labor and civil rights leaders at the breakfast. “We are gravely concerned because there are a small number of bad people who write big checks and they don’t care what anyone in this room thinks.”
Abraham Benjamin of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, one of the panelists, said a convention would give special interests the opportunity to accumulate even more wealth and power. “If you vote yes, the millionaires become billionaires and trillionaires, and we just end up in the gutter,” he said.
Other panelists stressed the importance of talking to family, friends, and co-workers about the threat posed by a constitutional convention.
Carmen Charles, the president of the New York City Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, urged union members to go back to their unions and spread the word. “Unions have built the middle class, and we have to fight like hell to preserve it,” she said.
Rev. David Ball of the Union United Methodist Church in Brooklyn said the ballot question leaves New Yorkers exposed to more threats than solutions. “Voting ‘no’ to a constitutional convention means yes to the rights of workers, immigrants and New York’s faith communities,” he said.
Organizations representing Hispanic and immigrant groups joined with labor leaders and elected officials at UFT headquarters for an Oct. 11 press conference sponsored by New Yorkers Against Corruption, a coalition of which the UFT is a member.
“We have a large and diverse coalition to say ‘no’ to the constitutional convention,” said Mulgrew, surveying the civic leaders in the room.
Steve Choi, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, pointed out that the New York State Constitution protects immigrant rights more than the federal government requires.
Eddie Rosario, the president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, warned that the corporate and anti-immigrant groups salivating at the prospect of a constitutional convention were “trying to slip it under the radar.”
“The same people attacking workers’ rights are pushing a constitutional convention,” said Rosario, scoffing at the notion that it would be a “people’s convention.”