A statewide election on Tuesday could have a devastating impact on working families and labor unions in one of the country’s most union-dense states.
New York voters will go to the polls Nov. 7 to vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention – or “con-con” to use common shorthand – and reshape the state’s constitution.
Opponents of a new constitutional convention – including the entire state labor movement – say it would put numerous progressive pro-worker amendments at risk.
“Prevailing wage is in the constitution,” says Buffalo Local 41 Business Manager Michael Gaiser. “Workers’ comp is in there. Funding for public schools. Public employee pensions are all guaranteed by the constitution.”
Under state law, voters must decide on holding a convention every 20 years. The last time New York voted ‘yes’ was in 1937, although a special Legislature-called convention was held in the 1960s.
“Vote no” supporters say big-money special interests would dominate a new convention and chip away at years of constitutionally protected rights and benefits.
“Special interests and their lobbyists would spend millions to rewrite our constitution and weaken workers’ rights and protections,” said New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.
Voters would elect delegates to a constitutional convention in a similar manner to members of the state Assembly and Senate.
Workers’ rights opponents and billionaire donors like the ultra-conservative Koch brothers could potentially funnel millions of dollars into low-profile delegate races and stack the convention with their supporters.
Con-con opponents also say that the money required to hold a convention would be better used to invest in infrastructure projects and public education.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan estimates that a constitutional convention could cost New York taxpayers close to $350 million.
While labor unions are helping to lead the movement against a con-con, Gaiser says the opposition is broad and bipartisan. “We’ve got gun control opponents and environmentalists against it. We got pro-life and pro-choice people against it. Liberals and conservatives oppose it.”
And the polling backs him up. A recent Siena College poll found that both Democrats and Republicans oppose a convention by at least 2 to 1.
Union members from Manhattan up to Buffalo have been organizing weekly precinct walks and phone banks to drum up “no” votes.
“We’ve been talking to our members for more than a year about it,” says Gaiser. “We’ve focused especially on getting them to talk to their families and neighbors about why they should vote no.”
Meanwhile, downstate, the influential New York City Central Labor Council, which represents more than 1 million union members in the United States’ largest city, is educating their members on why it is important to vote “no.”
“We will be doing member-to-member outreach in our [get-out-the-vote] operation, including coordinated labor walks in New York City specifically designed to defeat the constitutional convention,” said CLC President Vincent Alvarez.
Click here to get involved in the Vote No campaign.