Monday, September 6, 2010
Opinion: LABOR, BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
Public employees unions must make sacrifices for sake of the state
By ANDREW CUOMO
Today, we celebrate Labor Day. Besides signaling an end to summer, Labor Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate the essential role that organized labor plays in our society — one that benefits this state’s workers and by extension all New Yorkers.
Indeed, the foundation of our economy and way of life is built on the ingenuity, devotion and commitment of our workforce. At its best, the labor movement can embody the essence of the American spirit — working together for the greater common good.
Today, we need that spirit of commonality more than ever.
New York stands at a crossroads. Faced with the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, our state government is functionally bankrupt. For too long the state has lived far beyond its means, leading the nation in virtually every major category of public spending.
Though times are tough, they are not without precedent. During the great fiscal crisis of 1975, New York State and City were in even worse shape. At one point, the city was hours away from having to declare bankruptcy. The federal government turned its back on us with the still memorable message from President Gerald Ford to New York: “Drop dead.”
The story of how we averted disaster is grippingly told in a new biography of Gov. Hugh Carey by Seymour Lachman and Robert Polner, entitled “The Man Who Saved New York City.” The authors recount how Carey’s determined and creative leadership brought New York back from the brink of civic and financial catastrophe. In the end, the state recovered through shared sacrifice and a balanced approach that did justice to the interests of both business and labor.
But Carey did not act alone. He enjoyed a relatively effective and productive partnership with the state Legislature.
Beyond that, though, the book’s most poignant relevance to today’s crisis lies in its portrayal of the vision and statesmanship of public employee unions, which played a crucial role in saving the city. Famously tough labor leaders, like District Counsel 37 head Victor Gotbaum and Albert Shanker, president of the United Federation of Teachers, came to the rescue. The former agreed to shelve pay raises for municipal workers; the latter helped stave off bankruptcy by buying city bonds with pension funds.
In a time of great public need, public employees stepped up to the plate and took the long view. And their sacrifices paid off. New York City survived, stabilized and strengthened, and so did they. By rising to the occasion, public employees and their unions earned the respect and gratitude of all New Yorkers. They also left a legacy of selfless sacrifice that should never be forgotten.
Andrew Cuomo is the attorney general of the state of New York (2006 to present) and the Democratic Party candidate for governor. His father, Mario Cuomo, served as the 52nd governor of the state of New York from 1983 to 1994, succeeding Governor Hugh L. Carey.
Andrew Cuomo on ‘Man Who Saved N.Y.’September 7, 2010