NY: To Hold a Convention or Not? The Decision Could Affect Work Comp

02 Nov, 2017 Jim Thompson


New York City, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) - Labor unions concerned about a potentially negative impact on workers’ compensation and other workplace protections are part of a coalition that has apparently turned the tide against a proposal on Nov. 7 ballots that would set up a state constitutional convention in New York. 

According to numerous media reports, a poll by Siena College, an independent Roman Catholic liberal arts college in upstate New York, shows that nearly 60 percent of voters will vote “no” on a constitutional convention, which has the potential to bring significant changes to the document, on Tuesday.

The survey of 814 likely voters, released Wednesday, found 57 percent of respondents planning to vote against the convention, with just 25 percent saying they would vote for the convention, and 18 percent saying either they didn’t know how they would vote, or had no opinion on the issue.

Those results contrast with a Siena College poll conducted last month that found 44 percent of voters supportive of a constitutional convention, with 39 percent opposed to the move.

An Associated Press report on the latest polling on a New York constitutional convention credits aggressive work by a somewhat unlikely collection of opponents, including “labor unions, Planned Parenthood, anti-abortion groups, gun rights supporters, top Republicans and leading Democrats.”

Regardless of the recent polling showing waning interest in a constitutional convention, as of Monday of this week, the New York State AFL-CIO remains intensely focused on getting voters in the state to cast ballots against the gathering.

“Our constitution has some of the strongest worker protections in the country, including the right to collectively bargain, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, the eight-hour work day, civil service protections, public employee pension protections and prevailing rate,” Mario Cilento, president of the labor organization, told WorkersCompensation.com via email.

Cilento went on to contend that if there is a constitutional convention in New York, “corporate lobbyists will dominate the process.” Those interests, Cilento contended, “would like nothing more than to dictate which rights New Yorkers, including teachers, firefighters and construction workers will lose.” 

Cilento also pointed out that New York’s constitution can already be changed through an amendment process.

In fact, there are two proposed amendments on the ballot with the constitutional convention issue. One of the proposed amendments would, if approved, allow courts to reduce or revoke pension payments due to a public official if that official is convicted of a felony committed in connection with official duties. The second proposed amendment would authorize the use of forest preserve land for purposes including bicycle paths and utility lines.

Proponents of a constitutional convention have expressed an interest in having the gathering address issues ranging from campaign finance reform, redistricting, term limits and the legalization of marijuana, issues that they argue the state legislature would be unlikely ever to consider.

Interestingly, the call for a vote on a constitutional convention is embedded in New York’s state constitution, which requires that voters are asked every 20 years whether a convention should be held. In 1997, the last time the question appeared on New York ballots, voters rejected the calling of a convention by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin, with nearly 1.6 ballots cast against the proposal, and nearly 930,000 cast in favor of a convention.

If New Yorkers do vote "yes" on the convention question, delegates to the convention would be elected in 2018, with voters choosing three delegates from each of the state’s 63 Senate districts, along with 15 at-large delegates. T. Each of New York's 63 state Senate districts would elect three delegates. There would also be 15 at-large delegates.

The convention would be held at the Capitol in 2019, and any proposed changes to the state constitution would need voter approval.

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    About The Author

    • Jim Thompson

      Jim Thompson is a veteran award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience as a newspaper reporter and editor. During his career, he has covered state and local government in Georgia, the University of Georgia, and a range of economic development issues. A Georgia native, Thompson holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Georgia.

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