NEWSDAY'S ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE

    Having probably contributed significantly to the defeat of 45 Long Island school budgets, Newsday, the self-proclaimed spokesperson for the public, attempts to parley its "election victory" by mapping out an ambitious anti-union education agenda in their June 5, 2005 editorial.

    To hear them tell it, if we could just tame the powerful teacher unions, the plight of the Long Island taxpayer could be eased if school districts were merged to give "schools more clout in negotiations, if laws could be changed "to level the playing field for taxpayers" in labor disputes, and if state lawmakers could just be prevailed upon to stop voting for "increases in pension payments and advantages in labor laws for their public labor friends. Then, if boards of education would simply get "tougher in contract negotiations, exacting cost-saving concessions on health care and other benefits within their control," and if class size were to be increased and teachers did more work for free, the taxpayers would be getting the break they so richly deserve.

    What unmitigated bunk! And, what’s more, Newsday knows it. Surely the editors of Newsday know that New York State has one of the toughest public sector labor laws in the United States. The so-called Taylor Law while granting public workers collective bargaining rights tilted the playing field decisively to management’s favor when it outlawed strikes, punishing strikers with a loss of two days pay for each day on strike and placing heavy financial sanctions on their striking unions and jailing their leaders. The law additionally limits the issues that may be bargained and creates a state bureaucracy to oversee the law that frustrates the ability of public sector workers to find justice in the workplace. How any responsible newspaper can call for more draconian public sector labor laws is beyond imagination. The real question for "liberal New Yorkers" should be how do we tolerate a law that does not permit people the right to withhold their labor when they believe themselves to be unjustly treated?

    But, how about those increases in pension payments? In 2004, retired teachers who had the misfortune to live long enough to see their pension checks barely cover the ever-escalating cost of their health insurance, were given a reasonable supplementation by the State of New York and were further granted a mechanism to provide for an-going increase tied to the increase in the cost-of-living. Just take a look a what Newsday would have liked to stop. Teachers retired for at least five years and who are at least sixty-two years of age can get a COLA of from 1% to 3% based on a calculation of 50% of the CPI. Notice, a retiree has to suffer the erosion of her buying power for at least five years before getting an increase that doesn’t match the increase in the cost of living which is currently 4% in the New York metropolitan area. Newsday doesn’t tell their readers that when a teacher retiring today was hired in the 60s or 70s, boards of education were paying as much as 20% of payroll into the retirement system where today it is a tiny fraction of that.

    What outrages members of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers more than anything about Newsday’s venom is that our union would agree that the Long Island taxpayer has a right to scream. We are taxpayers, too, taxpayers who very often can’t afford to live in the community in which we teach. We have spoken out against administrative bloat in Long Island school districts, with levels and levels of supervision that contribute little or nothing to the education of children and which often get in the way of that enterprise. Long before Newsday discovered the need to finance education through a more progressive tax than the property tax, our union and others were lobbying their legislators and working within our state unions to build support for financing education through the graduated income tax. When the Nassau County Legislature was first formed and candidates were running for the first time, we tried to find ones interested in a proposal introduced to us by then Plainview Board of Education Member Mario Colleluori to have the county give local school districts one half of a cent of the sales tax revenue, with more of that money going to the neediest districts. This union has argued with superintendents and boards of education to control the growth of spending by curbing the endless expansion of educational programs, many of them duplicative efforts. We have had the nerve to suggest that we work with management and our federal legislators to streamline the special education laws which we believe could be changed to serve children better and save money. We have advanced the thesis that we can elevate the academic standards of our district by working smarter, not harder and saving the taxpayers money in the process. It would be nice if Newsday got behind our efforts instead of making us the enemy of the people.

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