A Different Type of UnionPosted: June 30, 2014
The following story about a local unaffiliated union, the Binghamton Civil Service Forum, comes from an interview with Tom Marcello, the President of the union from 1976-1991. Tom was interviewed by Dave Duncan.
How Did the Forum Come Into Existence?
The BSCF existed from 1972 to 1991. It was formed after the passage of the NYS Rockefeller Laws that allowed civil service employees to organize. Previously the group had been a lobbying and social organization.
How Many Members Were in the Forum? Where Did Your Funds Come From?
The BCSF had 124 members. They were employed by the city as secretaries, clerks, code officers, meter readers and others who were in non-policy making positions. Dues were $130 per year, $5 every pay day. There could be no change in the dues structure without a vote of the total membership. All members were given a ballot to register their vote on any change in dues. The Forum also raised about $1300 a year from a beef roast and a yearly 50/50 raffle.
How Was the Money from Dues and Fundraisers Spent?
The major focus of the Forum was to protect the rights of the members through the use of the grievance process. Over 70% of our annual budget was used to pay for legislating employee grievances. We won about 95% of our grievances. The rest of the funds were spent for printing costs, a monthly newsletter for the members and an annual Christmas party for children.
The Forum had no paid officers or staff. The elected officers were not sent to any national conventions. The money raised each year was all spent locally. We did not contribute to any politician’s campaign, although we were often asked to, and we did not endorse any candidates for office. We did not believe that mixing with politicians was a good idea.
How Were Decisions Made?
We had local leadership that was elected by the members. Monthly meetings of the board of directors were publicized and open to all. Any member could attend and speak their piece. We were democratic in how issues were decided.
With All of These Plusses for the Forum, Why Does It No Longer Exist?
The Forum was raided by the NYS Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). CSEA put on a dinner for all of the Forum members, passed out CSEA buttons, glossy promotional literature, and promised that with their bigger organization they would provide the people with more clout. More clout would mean better contracts and better job protection. While it was a close vote, a majority of our members were sold on the ‘bigger is better’ theme. Some of our members were unhappy that I did not fight back against the takeover by CSEA but I was tired after 15 years and did not put in much of an effort against such a well-organized and financed campaign. We were always a bare bones operation. No buttons, no slick literature, no sending officers to national conventions and no salary for the officers and no paid staff. I also thought that if the members believed that CSEA would provide better clout, it was their right to vote for the change.
How Did the Change to CSEA Work Out?
The few people I heard from were worried that decisions about grievances and other employee matters would now be decided at the State level and not the local level. Now the State CSEA staff does not know the local workers and the local situation. Some members were worried because the Forum’s last bank balance of about $22,000 was taken by CSEA. While we made mistakes there was more democracy. Every member had a say.
What do you think about powerful state and national unions today?
I don’t like the presidents of big unions going out golfing with the politicians or the presidents of corporations. Workers have their own struggles and workers are not management. Management is out to get all they can from the workers. Workers and their union representatives have to recognize that. The politicians haven’t been friendly to labor. Public employees especially have been hit hard.
Tom is a retired code officer and lives in Binghamton
Former Member of the Forum Speaks About the Change
Tom Martin, a retired City employee and a former member of the Forum said that he voted to change to CSEA. “I believed that bigger was better. But shortly after the changeover I realized that we had lost something. CSEA is a big bureaucracy while the Forum was smaller and more intimate. The Forum people, especially Tom Marcello, knew the local situation, the workings at City Hall and all of the people involved. The local CSEA representatives could not make decisions and had few answers to give to members with questions. I wish we had stayed with the Forum. I cannot say enough good things about the work of Tom Marcello.”