President Joseph A. Colangelo
The summer is behind us and fall is just around the corner. As is the case whenever we have the summer break and no membership meetings, there is a lot to discuss.
The biggest item is, of course, the outcome of the Janus v. AFSCME decision that the United States Supreme Court issued on its last day of the session, as we all anticipated. The Court overturned a four-decades-old precedent set by the case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that allowed unions to collect fair share fees from those who were covered by the bargaining contract but did not want to be union members.
Unions knew all along what the outcome would be, so it definitely did not come as a surprise. The issue now is how many other cases, not just ones related to unions, are going to be revisited and possibly overturned. Since the entire makeup of the Court has drastically changed in recent years, more challenges to previous decisions are expected to surface, with new decisions made more along ideological lines than concrete lines. Many scholars believe that this Court has entered into dangerous territory with its Janus decision. By using the plaintiff’s first amendment rights as the weapon to overturn the precedent, the door is opened for other cases to be challenged along those same lines.
A few years ago, in the case known as Citizens United, the Court used the first amendment to decide that a corporation’s free speech was being violated. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a landmark U.S. constitutional law, campaign finance, and corporate law case dealing with regulation of political campaign spending by organizations. The Supreme Court held (5–4) on January 21, 2010, that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations. That decision, of course, has allowed for uncontrollable amounts of money to be used for political campaigns. Our elections today are no longer being decided on the merits of a position a candidate might take, but are more about who has the greatest amount of money to spend on an election.
With one seat currently vacant on the Supreme Court, and the current nominee facing strong objections based on his personal beliefs, tensions are mounting. Protesters are taking to Washington en masse. Supreme Court Justices, who are supposed to remain politically neutral and just interpret the Constitution, too often do just the opposite. The justices are supposed to base their decisions on their interpretation of both legal doctrine and the precedential application of laws. Partisan politics has no place in the court room; yet, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus leads us to believe otherwise. It will be interesting to see where we head from here.
On a different topic, I have been invited to provide testimony at a public hearing by the State Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service and Pensions regarding the use of 9/11 line-of-duty sick leave. Currently, members of the uniformed services receive unlimited sick time, giving them unlimited days if they develop a 9/11-related illness. Civilian union members, however, accrue 12 days of sick leave annually, thereby leaving them with no where near enough time off in case of a 9/11-related illness.
Those individuals who might run out of their accrued sick leave must make a choice to either retire on a disability to lock in a pension to protect their family and loved ones, or go out on Workers’ Compensation and receive a lower payment then if they remained on payroll in hopes of recovering and returning to work.
The bill introduced in Albany would extend unlimited sick leave to civilian employees who are suffering from 9/11-related illnesses. This would be a great help for those facing this type of health battle as it will allow them to focus on getting better without worrying how they will support their families.
As you may remember, our union fought for and won 9/11 World Trade Center Disability pension protections with legislation we had introduced in Albany. Since our members serviced equipment outside the recovery zone, we were adament that they be included for coverage and pension protections. We were grateful at the time to then-Governor Elliot Spitzer for signing our bill into law that afforded necessary protections to our members. We now agree with this latest bill to extend unlimited sick leave to all civilians who unfortunately come down with debilitating illness related to their work on and after 9/11.
A topic I know is on everyone’s minds is that of new contracts. As you know, the largest unions are the first to negotiate with the City, and that sets the “pattern” for bargaining for the rest of the unions. District Council 37 finalized its negotiations and members overwhelmingly ratified their new contract. We are currently reviewing all the details of those terms as the basis for our next round of bargaining.
As the summer was coming to an end, I received the sad news that active member Joe Witkowski (Auto Mechanic — San) passed away. Joe was a great guy and although I did not have the pleasure of knowing him personally, the expressions of sympathy by those who worked with him said it all. He made a lasting impression on those fortunate enough to have worked with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Michele and daughter Angelina.
Midterm elections are coming up in November. As a union, we have never really endorsed specific candidates by asking members to vote for them. The important part of any election is just to get out and vote, especially in these smaller-turnout years. Before you head to the polls, it’s important to read up on the candidates and see where they stand on labor issues. In light of Janus, we need all the friends in government we can elect. We need officials who support our causes and know that unions deserve to exist because of all the good we do for the members we serve. Remember, as a group, labor can be successful. Just look at our overwhelming defeat of the Constitutional Convention proposition.