As you are aware, the political landscape of New York State and Nassau Community College has changed quite a bit since last we met. At the State level, Governor Cuomo has delivered his gloomy State of the State address; at the County level, the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority just voted to take over the County’s budget . Meanwhile, here, at Nassau Community College, we lost hundreds of years of experience as faculty, staff and administrators took advantage of the NYS Early Retirement Incentive. As a result of these retirements, the Administration has restructured their organizational chart (you might want to use your NCCFT magnifiers to read it).
So, what does this mean to us as a union of professionals? First, make no mistake about it, there is a national effort to cripple, if not eliminate, the unions in this nation. This effort is being exercised on several fronts. To begin, many corporations are donating huge sums of money to organizations, media outlets and politicians in an attempt to turn private unions against public unions (www.privatizationwatch.org ). Their basic script is that competition breeds quality, therefore, we should allow private companies to compete for jobs that are currently held by public employees. This includes the proliferation of charter schools which are privately-operated public education institutions from pre-kindergarten through College. Check out the Robin Hood Foundation . While Robin Hood Foundation’s philosophy may make sense on the surface, it begs the question, are not public sector teachers striving to achieve the same goals this site extols? Of course they are! How many teachers do you know who are not trying to encourage their students to embrace education and become all they can be? In addition, many times these teachers are working against incredible odds: poverty, hunger, drugs, etc… If you peruse Robin Hood’s website, you will find it is connected to Uncommon Schools, KIPP, Teacher U and more anti-union charter and private schools. Teacher U, a teacher prep college within Hunter College, is focused on preparing teachers to teach in such schools. and, again, it begs the question, do these teachers not follow the same certification process as mandated by State Education Department requirements? The biggest difference between teachers in charter schools and those in regular public schools is not their training or their certification. It is their lack of union representation. Indeed, the American Federation of Teachers notes that charter school faculty have, despite steep odds, begun efforts to organize because they are “Frustrated by an increased workload, a lack of say in how their schools were run and a desire to have a bigger say in the quality of education available to students” Unions protect the conditions required for academic success.
Another attack on unions is to blame the financial mess the government finds itself in on public employee. The Governor has highlighted the public pension system, Education, and Medicaid as his priorities to “fix” the State’s financial problems. Why bother to address the tax loopholes that allow private corporations to pay their executives millions of dollars as stock options (subject only to capital gains tax on the increase between their original value and their value when sold) rather than paying them income which would be taxed according to marginal income tax rates? Why bother to address the fact that corporations are sitting on billions of dollars and are still reluctant to hire workers? And why bother to address the fact that we are not losing jobs due to high taxes, but due to the desire to generate greater profits by outsourcing? Public employees have earned their pensions. Shame on those who would villianize employees for attempting to protect that which they have earned. The discussion to eliminate these pensions is a paradigm shift from defined benefit to defined contribution. Again, this is not only a local argument but, also, a national debate. Look at Social Security.
Even Ed Mangano, our County Executive, blames the public unions for the mess Nassau finds itself in and wants to freeze pay and layoff untold numbers of public sector employees. I don’t recall his opposition to these contracts while he was a County legislator. When he starts laying off public workers, how much longer will you have to wait for a snowplow, sanitation truck, ambulance or police officer?
And when will the proverbial axe fall on us?
New York State has reduced its base aid to Nassau Community College to $2,260 per FTE, the lowest it has been in a decade. For the second year in a row Nassau County has failed to increase its contribution to the college by its previously standard 3.9%. The new NIFA takeover could result in a further reduction of County aid to the College. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher will, beginning in 2012, apportion state aid to campuses based on performance criteria including student course and degree completion using a formula as yet to be defined. And of course we all recall last year’s “Task Force”, charged with identifying areas for potential savings. Dr. Astrab has announced that the College faces a structural deficit over the next several years, assuming no increase in State or County aid, minimal tuition increases and a flat enrollment. Last semester, 32 NCCFT members took advantage of the Early Retirement Incentive and 25 Temporary appointments were made to replace them for the Spring semester. There is tenuous expectation that these lines will be renewed in the Fall 2011 semester. For the sake of the students we serve, we must work to maintain the integrity of our educational offerings by protecting faculty lines.
On the national level, there is an attack on tenure. Just look at Waiting for Superman. And, if you don’t think this attack has anything to do with us, think again. This Administration and Board of Trustees are setting the stage for their own attack on the tenure system.
We are asking that each of you be vigilant. Our contract sets out the conditions that support the high quality education we provide. In times like these we will need to work together to protect it.
Happy New Year!
NCCFT Vice President for Classroom Faculty