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A Constitutional Common Core Convention?

Opening up the entire state constitution could lead to fights over many of the great initiatives that protect the working poor.

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 25, 2016

Is it fear of the unknown or throwing caution into the wind? With a stalemate in the U.S. Supreme Court, it looks like public employee unions right to collect fair-share fee's might be safe...for now. In New York, the next big upcoming threat to collective bargaining is a possible Constitutional Convention in 2017.  While the late ultra Conservative Justice Scalia might believe that the U.S. Constitution is not a living organism, the Constitution in the Empire State has the ability to be very much alive and drastically changed every 20 years.  So why should the average working Joe and Jill care about a constitutional convention, isn’t that a concern better suited for the academics and eggheads. The answer is a resounding NO, in fact every working person, union or non, in New York could be affected by the proposed changes to the State Constitution.

According to state law, at least once every 20 years the state is required to put a referendum on the ballot that asks the voters whether or not they want to hold a constitutional convention in the following year.  This gives the people of New York the unique ability to circumvent the legislature and elect delegates that are completely independent of the sitting legislature. These delegates then propose amendments to the constitution that come up for a vote in the next election, which would be November of 2019.  For a good overview of the process you can check out the Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse.  The last convention that occurred was in 1967 when voters overwhelmingly voted against the new constitution. 

While this process would seem like a great exercise in democracy, it also can be quite dangerous.  By allowing the constitution to be opened up and amended would allow big business and big money interests to attack many of the hard fought rights and protections that working people have earned in New York.  Think of all the hard work that unions do every year to fight back against the attacks on collective bargaining, due process and organized labor.  Things like the Scaffold laws for the trades, pensions for public workers, and even basic collective bargaining rights would be up for grabs.  With public opinion often being for sale (i.e. the influence of Citizens United and Koch Industries buying their way into public office) it's simple for the bad guys with unlimited financial resources to run campaigns that attack unions, brown people and anything just and civilized. Just look at what Donald Trump is doing, that can happen here too.

All of the rights and workplace standards that organized labor has fought and sometimes died for would simply need a majority of support in an off-year election to be removed from public law.  According to Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY, without a groundswell of support for the convention it will be easy for a small segment of the population to control the agenda just like in the last referendum.  Lerner goes on to say that there is a great concern that opening up the entire constitution would lead to fights over many of the great things in the constitution that protect the environment, the poor, and many of our individual rights.  Her group along with many advocacy groups in labor and environmental groups opposed the convention on these grounds. 

Over the next year, those on the side of favoring the convention will make the argument that all of the laws that you oppose could be overturned through the convention.  Do you Hate Common Core? then bring it to the convention; but is the cost of mouthing off over this issue to high of a risk to take?  In an effort to overturn Common Core, should all workers have to give up unique worker protections? Protections like the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, a $15 minimum wage or the Scaffold law which imposes liability on contractors when one of their employees gets hurt. 

No worker should trust big money interests like the Koch brothers to have a role in this process and union leaders along with their political advisers should not risk cutting off their nose to spite their face. This issue isn't hot right now, Trump's antics and whatever Yahoo! and FOX feed us seem to trend on the internet daily - but now is the time for organized labor to really think about what the headlines will look like in the Fall of 2019 if we let those who worship money tear apart a piece of paper that is essence holds us all together.

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