During the early 20th century, the New York State civil service system was full of corruption and favoritism, and many state agencies also operated without a strong central authority.
This era was also marked by people not only fighting to end such corruption by establishing regulatory reforms, but fighting for improvements to living and working conditions.
The Progressive Era mindset likely extended to a group of New York State employees in October 1910.
On Oct. 24, 1910, this group met at the state Capitol and formed an organization intended to advance the concept of merit and fitness in the state civil service system and to improve the working lives of state employees. The association appears to have been the first organization of its kind representing the interests of state employees.
According to an Oct. 30, 1910, Albany Knickerbocker Press article, the founders were determined to make it one of the strongest such organizations in the state. “The Association of State Civil Service Employees which was formed Monday night promises to be one of the strongest organizations in the state,” the article noted.
The newspaper also reported that state workers had been considering the idea of forming the Association for months. “When the subject was broached several months ago as to the advisability of forming State civil service employees into an association, the question was raised as to who could be relied upon to take the initial steps to perform the arduous task of developing the plan and perfecting the details of its consummation…Those who were at first reluctant to join now admit its advantage,” the newspaper reported, as recounted in the January/ February 1933 State Employee magazine.
The association’s first president was William M. Thomas, a hearing stenographer for the state Department of Law. He served in the post until 1918.
The association’s earliest accomplishments included fighting for the establishment of New York State Public Employee Retirement System, as well as actively advocating for an overhaul of state government to establish clearer oversight and accountability. Association membership grew steadily, particularly during the Great Depression.
In 1946, the association was renamed the Civil Service Employees Association after the association opened membership to local government members. Westchester County was the first local government entity to join.
As we mark our union’s 111th anniversary this year, we are still committed to the same core values that helped us form our union, including fighting for fair pay, strong benefits, retirement security and safer working conditions. While the fight continues in our second century, we are stronger than ever.