The NYS Constitutional Convention: Why you should care

The constitutional convention is a source of contention in New York.
Source: NY Daily News

The constitutional convention is a source of contention in New York. Source: NY Daily News

Morgan Golliver, Assistant News Editor

On Nov. 7, New Yorkers will vote on whether or not to hold a constitutional convention to make changes to the state’s 230-year-old document. The vote for a constitutional convention occurs every 20 years and requires a “Yes” or “No” answer to decide if a constitutional convention will take place.

If a majority of the people say “No” there will be no constitutional convention, but if they say “Yes” voters will elect three delegates from their senatorial district in November 2018 to meet the following year to decide on any constitutional amendment changes that voters can approve or reject. The amendments that are approved to change will go into effect Jan. 1 of 2020.

With Nov. 7 approaching rather quickly, UC Students, as well as Central New York Labor Union Council Members, were eager to provide their thoughts on the matter.

Senior government and politics student Garrett Russitano spends the majority of his time studying politics, so the constitutional convention is one topic in particular he is familiar with.

“Since I focus on national politics and international relations, the NYS constitutional convention caught me off guard,” Russitano said.  “Local media has not given it the level of analysis that this issue warrants. This is likely due to the fact that local media companies are spread thin as per staff with finite airtime. This is somewhat alarming as a convention would have far reaching implications for the Empire State.”

Russitano also said that if there is a Constitutional Convention, there is subject to change, which some non-profit organizations may not agree with.

“Convening a Constitutional Convention could open a Pandora’s Box,” Russitano said. “Myriad issues would be open for alteration; gun control, abortion rights, public education, the environment and collective bargaining rights are but a few. The state could be dramatically different at the conclusion of such an event, and there is no guarantee we will like what we get.  Groups that oppose the Convention include major labor unions (like the A.F.L.-C.I.O), Planned Parenthood and even conservative advocacy groups weary of more regulations.”

One group that is actively opposing the New York Constitutional Convention is the Central New York Labor Union Council. William Perrotti, a longtime delegate to the Labor Council and a retired MVCC professor, spoke on the council’s behalf.

Perrotti addressed how the council feels about the delegate selection if the majority vote is “Yes.”

“Members of the Council and of organized labor feel sure that those who end up being delegates will either be corporate elite themselves or individuals or politicians who will do the bidding of very powerful monied interests,” Perrotti said. “No one in the working class believes that they will be appropriately represented when delegates are finally selected. Hence the belief that working people and regular citizens have everything to lose and nothing to gain in the process.”

Perrotti also said the council is opposing the convention because workers could potentially lose rights.

“Things like the right to organize and form unions and engage in collective bargaining, workmen’s compensation for injured workers, workplace safety regulations, pensions that guarantee a secure retirement and prevailing wage protections for construction of public projects are currently in the state constitution and could possibly be lost,” Perrotti said. “Also, a civil service system based on merit and against political patronage, the right of children to a free public education and freedom from discrimination based on age are framed in the constitution. Loss of even some of these protections would be devastating for working people.”

While young voters may not be aware of the convention vote, Perrotti believes that young voters should “care” as it has an impact on everyone.

“What if the ‘forever wild’ protections for the Adirondacks were lost to private or corporate development or elements of our social safety net were lost?” Perrotti said. “These could potentially impact any of us. Add to that our voting rights and access to absentee ballot. The constitution enshrines so many rights that shape our daily lives. To play roulette with these rights and protections is at best very unwise…there is simply too much at stake and too much to lose.”

Perrotti and the CNY Labor Union Council urge a decisive “No” vote on the constitutional convention on Nov. 7.