A Concise History of the Civil Service Employees Association – Our Union
CSEA, the Civil Service Employees Association, is proud that even though our rank and file has grown tremendously since 1910, we still keep in touch. Through the years the increase in our members has also paralleled a similar increase in the range of benefits we provide. Indeed, no other union today even comes close to matching all that we offer. But it didn’t just happen overnight.
The CSEA Union organization represents 300,000 workers in all jurisdictions of New York. We have members in locals and units working in State, County, Town, Village, School Districts, Special Districts, and Private Sector work sites.
This union was built on the hard work and dedication of thousands of members, officers and staff. And that same hard work and dedication is still present today.
Hierarchy of our Union Affiliations:
AFL-CIO, Washington, DC
AFSCME, Washington, DC
CSEA Local 1000, Albany, NY (statewide)
CSEA Local 860, Westchester
CSEA Unit 9200 Westchester County Employees (Our union)
We are part of CSEA Locals 860 & 1000, of AFSCME, and of the AFL-CIO.
Click here to see other Westchester Units in Local 860.
Who We Are
Today, CSEA is one of the major labor unions in the United States. We are the largest affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) which, in turn, is one of the largest affiliates of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor- Congress of Industrial Organizations).
Our members are employees of New York State and its counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, library systems, authorities and public corporations.
Together with private sector members and 50,000 retirees we form a union more than 300,000 people strong.
CSEA‘s growth has been impressive from its modest beginnings in 1910 when membership was limited to a handful of state employees who decided that they could win better wages and working conditions by organizing. Later, membership was opened to non-competitive class Civil Service employees and by 1929 our rank and file totaled 600.
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A major turning point occurred in 1947 when membership was opened to local government workers. Westchester County employees joined first in August 1947 and it was just the start of an extraordinary growth that continues to this day as we represent workers in every community in this state! In 1948 the union’s ranks swelled to 44,000 members. At the same time, CSEA purchased its first building to house statewide headquarters in Albany.
Today, CSEA has evolved into the most effective union in New York State. Our membership is many times what it was when the first local government employees joined in 1947. And we have used this position of strength to consistently negotiate a better deal for our members.
Yet throughout these years of growth and change, our fundamental purpose remains the same. It is best expressed in CSEA‘s mission statement which declares:
“Our mission is simple: to represent our members as best we can in any way we can; and to continue our role as a leader among labor unions.
“To Accomplish these goals, we will promote and protect union democracy. We will improve the quality of our member’s work life. We will organize workers and represent them in the best, most effective manner possible.”
What We Do
CSEA provides a full range of services to its members. In fact, a network of staff and shop stewards has evolved so that today the union provides services — on and off the job — not even dreamed of by the activists who guided CSEA in its infancy.
Our major responsibility is to negotiate a contract. The union assigns professional negotiators to work with your negotiating committee and help hammer out the wages and conditions under which you will be working.
The Research Department assists contract talks by doing budget research and analysis and putting together the facts and figures that we need to make our case. They keep track of statistics such as unemployment rates, the cost of living and comparative wage and benefit levels for the public an private sectors. They also develop proposals for upgrading and reallocating members’ jobs.
Later, staff helps enforce the contract and protect your rights because contracts are only as good as their enforcement.
Legal assistance is available if management violates the contract or unjustly disciplines or fires an employee. Every case won — every job saved — contributes to a better working environment for all of us.
Other departments also deliver essential services:
The Communications Department gives the news media our side of the story. Members are kept up to date through our union newspaper, The Public Sector. The department circulates flyers, videotapes, brochures and other informational materials to promote communications within the union. And, communications associates are assigned to each of CSEA‘s six region offices to provide front-line services.
The Occupational Safety and Health Department makes sure our members have the working conditions they are guaranteed by law. Staff works to uphold the Public Employee Safety and Health Act and the Right-to-Know law.
The Education and Training Department keeps members alert to their rights and responsibilities as both public employees and union members. Classes, workshops and seminars are offered to help leadership, shop stewards and staff maximize their effectiveness. Moreover, we tap the resources of our International union, AFSCME, for additional services in the area of education and training, safety and health, communications and research.
AFSCME also lobbies for us on national issues, while here in New York State we have our own lobbyists to watch out for our interests. Our Legislative and Political Action Department has a sophisticated network of political action committees and utilizes state-of-the-art technology to get our message across to political candidates, elected officials and the general public.
How We Do It
CSEA is the most democratic of labor unions.
We flourish on grassroots participation and are proud that officers and leaders at every level-units, locals, regions and statewide-are popularly elected by secret ballot. So, too, are our Board of Directors who meet regularly and our delegates who meet annually or, in necessary, more often.
All decisions, then, are made either directly by the members (for example, contract ratification) or by their duly elected representatives.
CSEA leadership also reflects the democratic nature of our union. Women and minorities who have always been a large and active segment among our rank and file hold office at every level.
To maintain responsiveness as our numbers grew, CSEA created six geographic subdivisions, each with its own officers, constitution and by-laws, committees and budgets.
The regions are:
Long Island: (Nassau and Suffolk Counties);
Metropolitan: (New York City);
Southern: (seven counties of the mid-Hudson area);
Capital: (14 counties surrounding Albany);
Central: (20 counties with Syracuse at the hub);
Western: (14 counties extending to Buffalo and the western-most part of the state).
Modeled after the CSEA Headquarters in Albany, the regional offices (augmented by satellite offices in some of the larger areas) are designed to serve you. They are staffed by labor relations specialists, negotiators, office professionals, communications specialists, organizers and political action coordinators.
The Early Years
CSEA, through hard work and diligence, has scored many achievements:
From 1910 to 1920, although working conditions were generally miserable, we won legislation improving salaries and other terms of employment.
In the 1920’s, we succeeded in strengthening the merit system and State Retirement Plan.
In the 1930’s, CSEA lobbyists won the long fight to have the 72-hour work week abolished in state institutions.
In the 1940’s, the union obtained overtime pay for state employees as well as extra pay for hazardous work. We also won unemployment insurance for state workers. We began organizing local government employees.
In the 1950’s, we gained the right to a disciplinary hearing for competitive-class employees. State and local government workers won Social Security coverage and the State Health Insurance Plan was established.
In the 1960’s, CSEA lobbyists won grievance procedures for local government with more than 100 employees. The State Health Insurance Plan expanded into local governments in a decade that also saw significant pension improvements. 1967 was a milestone. On Sept. 1 of that year, the Public Employees Fair Employment Act (the “Taylor Law”) took effect, replacing the Condon-Wadlin Act, which was violently anti-labor.
The Taylor Law
The Taylor Law is the “bible” under which public employees organize in New York State.
It mandates collective bargaining (requires the boss to recognize and negotiate with the worker’s union) for public sector workers who want a union to represent them.
At the stroke of a pen, CSEA entered a new era.
Formerly, management was not required to bargain with employee organizations. So the law turned CSEA from an informal, socially-oriented organization into a powerful labor union with the goal of negotiating–and strongly enforcing–contracts for its members.
The Taylor Law sets procedures to follow when employees decide they want union representation. It also sets procedures for the conduct of negotiations which mandate that both sides “bargain in good faith.” A Public Employment Relations Board, usually referred to as PERB, was established to oversee representation elections and resolve disputes when either labor or management believe its rights have been violated.
Unfortunately, the Taylor Law continues the old Condon-Wadlin provision which not only outlaws strikes but also imposes harsh penalties on both the strikers and their union. Employees found “guilty” must pay a fine of two days’ pay for every day on strike. These harsh penalties did not stop CSEA members in the Hempstead Sanitary District and Mayville Central School District from standing up for their rights at the outset of the Taylor Law. Yet the law imposes no penalties on elected officials or their representatives who may have provoked the strike. It also permits, as a final step, public employers to impose a “legislative settlement” once negotiations reach impasse. Fortunately, this was partially eased in 1982 by the Triborough bill, a long-sought CSEA legislative goal which puts restrictions on contractual items that can be reduced when a settlement is imposed.
CSEA believes that the right to withhold one’s labor is a basic right of all Americans.
Unions have strength in numbers. Indeed, only unions with large, active memberships command strong positions at the bargaining table.
In the years immediately after passage of the Taylor Law, some state employees reaped the benefits of union negotiations without ever paying a cent to the union which won them better benefits and pay. And even though an overwhelming majority of state employees were dues-paying members, “freeloaders” hampered the union’s effectiveness.
Then in 1977, after intense lobbying, a historic “Agency Shop” law was passed. Non-members represented by the union would be required to pay an “Agency Shop” fee in lieu of union dues. All state workers would have to pay their fair share. The law also allowed unions to negotiate “Agency Shop” provisions into local government contracts.
Fair play and common sense won the day. And with it CSEA membership grew because workers realized that it made sense for them to join the union so that they could vote on contracts, attend meetings and have a voice in union policy.
Achievements mounted in the ’70s. We won a generous increase in supplemental pension benefits for our retirees. We began to chip away at some of the Taylor Law–for example, the mandatory probationary penalty for employees found “guilty” of striking was repealed. But our victories were not confined to the legislative arena.
Midnight, March 31, 1972.The first strike–ever–by New York State employees begins. Thousands of workers walk off their jobs to protest meager contract offers. The strike ends two days later with employees winning a better contract what includes a salary hike and “productivity” bonus, maintains increments, establishes career ladders and initiates streamlined grievance procedures.
CSEA flexed its muscles and won new respect and increased power.
Meanwhile, the union started organizing retired public employees. Growth is so rapid that a Retirees Department is established. Locals soon expand into all parts of the state once the former civil servants realized the benefits of joining together and having lobbyists in the State Capitol.
Also in the ’70s, services were expanded to meet the special needs of school district employees–grounds-keepers, mechanics, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, aides and support staff–who work under hours and conditions unique in the membership.
Summer, 1975. One thousand Dutchess County employees stage a one-week walkout.
Their strike, the first–ever–by county employees, attracts national attention.
The result? Members win a better contract which they overwhelmingly ratify.
The union was also active on the legal front.
When the State Legislature mandated that public employee pension funds must be invested in risky New York City bonds, CSEA went to court and won a ruling that such a mandate was unconstitutional. While other unions were caught sleeping, CSEA aggressively defended our retirement funds to guarantee our members’ financial security.
And then there was “lulu”.
Angered by state legislators who turned their backs on us during contract negotiations and then voted themselves a big increase in their “lulus” (or payment in lieu of expenses), CSEA took the lawmakers to court claiming that such increases in “lulus” were unconstitutional. Again we were upheld – to the great satisfaction of our members and all other taxpayers in New York State.
CSEA ended the 1970s by joining the mainstream of the American labor movement. In 1978, we undertook a “trial” affiliation with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) which became permanent three years later. AFSCME broke through the 1,000,000 member mark in 1978 after the affiliation with CSEA.
Click for info and printable poster from AFSCME
AFSCME is the nation’s largest and most powerful public employee union.
Its record of achievement is similar to our own. Moreover, affiliation gave us access to AFSCME’s numerous resources in such fields as research, negotiations, education and training, communications, and health and safety.
We now had a lobbying voice in Washington and the political clout of being part of a 1.3 million (now larger) member union.
Affiliation also won us protection under the AFL-CIO constitution from “raids” on our membership by other AFL-CIO affiliates. Previously, CSEA spent entirely too much time and money beating off challenges by other unions for the right to represent our members. Now, at last, we could devote more time and resources to delivering services.
Although we made progress on many fronts, there was still an area where public employees remained 2nd class citizens: when it came to their health and safety at the workplace.
Private sector workers were protected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA); public employees were not.
The double standard continued despite research which showed that the state was spending more money on workers’ compensation claims for its own employees that an OSHA program would cost.
The inequity galvanized the union. Our leadership and lobbyists made enactment of a public sector-OSHA law their top priority. CSEA was on the move again.
The union compiled statistics which revealed that the number of deaths per 100,000 public employees in the state was more than double the national average death rate per 100,000 private sector employees.
Our political action committees demanded to know how candidates stood on the issue.
CSEA undertook an information campaign to put out the message that every day without such a law costs lives.
At last, in 1980, the public sector-OSHA law was passed by the State Legislature and signed by the governor.
We now had the same right to a safe and healthy workplace enjoyed by our brothers and sisters in the private sector.
Fighting sex-based wage discrimination was also a major goal of the 1980s.
In 1985, for example, we negotiated a system of pay equity adjustments for state employees. We also undertook a local government pay equity project designed to facilitate ending “wage gaps” through the collective bargaining process.
In 1988, when the Internal Revenue Service decided to tax public employees’ unused benefits (such as vacation leave, sick leave, compensatory time, severance pay, disability pay and death benefits) CSEA mounted a fierce counter-attack. Thousands of people petitioned their federal legislators against the tax which would have cost every public employee several hundred dollars annually.
The IRS backed down. Unused benefits were not taxed. CSEA members won. IRS lost.
Finally, a major staff restructuring took place in 1989 to make CSEA more responsive to our members.
More CSEA Benefits
As time evolved, and CSEA gained strength through numbers, the union began to tap that vast consumer power.
Since the 1950s, for example, we have sponsored life, accident and sickness, automobile, renters and homeowners insurance programs on a voluntary, payroll deduction basis for our members. Rates are competitive and often less costly than comparable products available only to individuals.
As the years progressed, CSEA began winning bigger and better benefits at the bargaining table. So much so, in fact, that in 1979 we established a CSEA Employee Benefit Fund (EBF) to administer contractual benefits for state employees.
The EBF was soon running an improved dental program, one of the best prescription drug programs in the nation and an outstanding vision-care program.
EBF does not make a profit and is not required by the state to pay taxes. It pay no sales commissions and gives no rebates on dividends to employers. Its accumulated surpluses are used to improve benefits.
The fund, which for the first time ever let the union administer insurance programs previously run by the state, is managed by a board of trustees consisting of CSEA members. Their mission is to make the best possible benefits available to participants.
The EBF has done such an outstanding job that in 1980 local governments became eligible to join up.
To help members cope with personal crises and difficulties, CSEA was instrumental in establishing an innovative Employee Assistance Program.
EAP, as it is called, is a confidential service which provides help and referral to employees whose problems may be adversely affecting their work. It is a cooperative effort by both labor and management.
The union has a full-time coordinator in CSEA Headquarters, Albany, to promote EAP.
Our award-winning newspaper, The Work Force, discusses issues and describes events affecting all CSEA members. Published monthly and mailed to the homes of all members, it keeps them up to date on union activities as well as workplace issues.
The union also taps its consumer power to continuously expand member benefits. A discount buying service, The Buyers Edge, is a buy-by-phone service that helps members save money on major purchases. The AFSCME Advantage Mastercard features one of the lowest interest rates. The Magic Kingdom club offers discounts to both DisneyWorld in Florida and Disneyland in California. Affordable legal services for personal legal matters are available through the Union Privilege Legal Services Program. CSEA members also benefit from innovative home mortgage programs developed through CSEA and AFSCME to make the dream of home-ownership a reality. These are just a sample of the wide variety of benefits that makes CSEA membership a real value.
The 1990s are an exciting time for CSEA.
We have a large and active membership; we are offering better and more varied services; we are affiliated with an international union (AFSCME) which is leading the drive to revitalize the AFL-CIO; we are administering our own employee benefit fund; and yet, through all these developments, our democratic structure remains intact.
Many of our recent accomplishments have been impressive.
We succeeded in protecting the New York State Employees and Local Government Retirement Fund from being raided by the state’s elected officials. When they tried to use pension funds to bail themselves out of a budget crisis, CSEA fought back. We won a case in the state’s highest court guaranteeing that pension funds will be used exclusively for the benefit of retirees.
We succeeded in winning Local Government Agency Shop in 1992.
We undertook a successful organizing campaign to sign up non-members so that they, too, could join the CSEA family.
We won pension supplementation for retirees.
What, then, are the major challenges facing us in the years ahead?
First of all, we must continue working to win better contracts and better working conditions for our members in the front line of providing services. Foremost, we must protect hard won gains. We also need to reach out and organize the unorganized.
This is especially important because we live in an era of downsizing. CSEA, in response, must continue using every means available — including up to date marketing techniques — to promote the value of the work we perform.
The union is renowned for highly effective advertising campaigns which get this message out.
Equally important will be continuing the fight against privatization or contracting out of services – a politically popular quick fix that eventually leaves taxpayers footing the bill. CSEA believes that front-line employees themselves know best how to improve services. The work we do is a valuable resource that should be treated as an asset.
We must continue to help our members prepare for new technologies that are changing the workplace. Our goal is to make technology work for people; not people work for technology. We will continue to work for safer and healthier workplaces. The cold-blooded murder of four CSEA workers in a Social Services office in Watkins Glen in 1992 is a constant reminder that more still needs to be done. CSEA’s response to the tragedy (county-by-county assessments of worksite security) demonstrates that meaningful change is possible through labor/management cooperation.
We will fight for a direct voice in the management of our funds invested in the Employees Retirement System. We need to have a say in how our money is invested.
We will eagerly participate in the resurgence of labor initiated by AFSCME and now pursued by the leadership of the AFL-CIO. Working people are learning that unions are their best defense against overpaid executives and bosses who put dollars before people.
We will expand our activities in the field of political action and promote the interests of working people.
We are strong today and will be even stronger tomorrow because of the solidarity of our membership. And this solidarity inspires us to overcome any challenge – because we are in touch with you.
CSEA Timeline Graphic on Albany Web site
The year 2000 started off in January by seeing over 20,000 CSEA members, together with other NYS unionists, mobilize and surround the State Office Building during Governor Pataki’s State of the State address. This action jump started stalled contract negotiations. In June of that year, CSEA helps enact the Cost of Living Adjustment for retirees on pensions after years of effort in NY State.
In Sept 2001, CSEA mourns the loss of 5 of its members due to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Membership reaches 265,000 members throughout New York State.
In 2004, the CSEA Schenectady County Unit is the first to establish a cost savvy prescription drug program utilizing Canadian pharmacies; this saves taxpayers as well as CSEA members.
In 2005 the campaign for affordable health care commences. Also that year, all unions mobilize to save Social Security which is threatened in Washington with changes involving investments in the stock markets.
In June 2009, 8,900 New York State Workers’ Jobs Were Saved Due to Massive Union Involvement for 4 Months. CSEA and PEF mobilized to counter the planned layoffs of the Paterson administration with several rallies in Albany, radio and TV commercials, and 1on1 visits to NYS Legislators.
Membership approaches 300,000 members throughout New York State.
In 2010 CSEA commenced its 2nd century as New York’s Leading Union. 100 years strong.
SUNY Albany: June, 2010: History of New York’s Civil Service Aided by UAlbany Archives A wealth of historic materials preserved at the University at Albany’s M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives fueled the research for a new book on the CSEA: A Century of Service: The Story of CSEA’s First 100 Years.
Portions copied from CSEA1000 Website.