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Double standard: Employees of New York State United Teachers picket the union. Photo: John Whipple

Solidarity—Sometimes

Earlier this week, unionized employees of New York State United Teachers, one of the state’s largest labor unions, picketed their employer for asking of them what it wouldn’t ask of its members: givebacks in health insurance.

When education funding faced drastic cuts during state budget negotiations earlier in the year, school districts statewide asked their teachers unions for health insurance givebacks—changes in health insurance plans that would’ve saved districts money by increasing teachers’ insurance premiums. Although NYSUT, which represents half a million teachers, would not agree to any givebacks from its members’ insurance plans, the teachers union has apparently asked its professional staff for the very same concessions.

More than 200 members of the Professional Staff Association, which represents NYSUT’s professional employees (researchers, organizers, graphic designers, etc.), picketed in front of the teachers union’s headquarters on Troy Schenectady Road in Latham Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 18-19). The picket included current and former PSA members from across the state angered by NYSUT’s request for health-insurance givebacks when their contract expires on Aug. 31.

“The organization has always stressed trying to hold on to or trying to increase the benefits for its members in negotiations. Now they are turning around and expecting us to take a cut, and I find that absurd,” said Joe McPartlin, a retired PSA member who used to negotiate teacher contracts for NYSUT members. “The implication was that when I retired in 1996, I would be able to maintain the health-care package that I had.”

PSA President Jeff Cassidy said NYSUT’s latest offer would require retirees like McPartlin to face health-insurance premium increases as high as $1,000 per year. NYSUT is asking current PSA employees to cut their accruable vacation days from 45 to 30, cut the number of sick days an employee can save from 400 to 200, and face health-insurance increases of $3,000 per year.

“The irony is that the very issues that we fight for . . . NYSUT members [to enjoy] are the very same issues that they want us to cut,” Cassidy said.

Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the teachers union, wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the negotiations but did say he expected PSA members to lobby hard to make sure their demands are met.

“We’d be disappointed if PSA wasn’t negotiating hard for a contract, because that is what they do for our members,” Tompkins said. “We look at this as part of the process.”

The two parties are scheduled to meet at the negotiating table later this week, and again the following week with a federal mediator if necessary. Cassidy said his union has a “no contract, no work” policy, and PSA members will go on strike if matters aren’t settled by Aug. 31.

—Travis Durfee

No New Map, No Primaries

It’s official. Last week, a federal judge accepted the recommendation of a lower judge and ordered Albany County to create a new voting district with a majority of minority voters before any election takes place. U.S. District Judge Norman Mordue also ruled that hearings, or possibly a trial, will be held to ensure that the new map is in line with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before it is considered acceptable.

The parties to the case are scheduled to meet next on Sept. 8—the day before the county’s scheduled primaries—making a postponement of the elections seem inevitable.

The ruling comes as part of a lawsuit filed in April by Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association, which argued that ethnic minority votes would be suppressed under the county legislature’s initial redistricting plan. Last month, U.S. Magistrate David R. Homer determined that an additional district is called for, and recommended an injunction preventing further elections until the issue is resolved.

Mordue approved Homer’s recommendations in their entirety last Friday, and sent the case back to him to “establish a scheduling order for submission of a revised redistricting plan and to conduct hearings . . . and/or a trial.”

Now it is up to the parties to the suit to agree upon a new map, and that will take some doing. The legislature’s Redistricting Commission will meet again this Friday to examine the county’s version of the new map, which the AHCCNA finds insufficient. According to The Daily Gazette, the county’s attorney, Michael Lynch, told Homer the county will present its version of the map on Sept. 8.

Judge Mordue did leave the case open for a trial if the hearings are not fruitful, and the possibility remains that the county may appeal the order.

With elections drawing nearer, and all 39 seats in the legislature up for election, voters and candidates appear no nearer to knowing when their primaries will take place.

Ashley Hahn


Photo: Joe Putrock

Remembering Bobbi Jo

Helen Montage Farrell stands vigil for transgender rights and to honor local transgender activist Bobbi Jo Hahn, who died Aug. 18, 2001. Other transgender activists gathered the same day at Hahn’s grave. Hahn was a decorated Vietnam Veteran and founded the Transsexual Clearinghouse, a resource guide for transgender people. Farrell organized the vigil in part to draw attention to the fact that gender identity is still not covered by state anti-discimination laws. Photo: Joe Putrock


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