From the Morning Memo:

The powerful SEIU union, a longtime ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has launched a TV ad praising his fast food wage board’s decision this week to hike that industry’s hourly pay to $15 an hour in New York, characterizing this as a move in keeping with his late father’s legacy as a liberal lion.

The ad, which hit NYC airwaves last night, is paid for by SEIU International, according to a source familiar with the effort. The buy is about $500,000. (Those familiar with the work of veteran political ad man Jimmy Siegel will recognize his signature touch here).

Here’s the script:

“They stand on the other side of the counter, but a world away from the American dream. Workers struggling to raise a family on $8 or $9 an hour. But they have a fighter on their side named Cuomo.”

“His father, Mario, used to say, ‘The best exercise for the heart is reaching down to lift someone up.’ Governor Cuomo is following that proud legacy by working to raise the minimum wage. Because working in fast food shouldn’t put you on the fast track to poverty.”

“It’s the fair thing. It’s the principled thing. And for a governor named ‘Cuomo’, it’s the only thing.”
Former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who had a close but complex relationship with his son, passed away at the beginning of the year. He is remembered as a champion of the left – a segment of the Democratic Party with which his son, the current governor, has had his differences.

SEIU 1199, which mainly represents healthcare workers in New York, has a long history of supporting Andrew Cuomo, and played a key role in helping him rebuild his political career and come back to win the state attorney general’s race in 2006 after his failed 2002 gubernatorial run.

The union has often stood behind the governor in a mutually beneficial relationship even as other members of the state’s labor community warred with him. Its leadership played a key role in pressuring the labor-backed Working Families Party to endorse the governor – not his far more liberal Democratic primary challenger, Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout – in last year’s election.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry was on hand for the post-wage board victory rally in New York City earlier this week, and she heaped praise on the governor for being a champion of the so-called “Fight for $15.”

The union has been a big player in the fast food worker wage movement, even though the effort has split its ranks – in part because the $15-an-hour increase will not (for the moment anyway) be directly impacting its members.

Some health care worker advocates have, in fact, expressed concern that raising the minimum wage in fast food will cause undue pressure in their industry, perhaps even sparking an exodus of home health aides seeking better pay elsewhere. (Though, to be clear, fast food workers still don’t have the right to unionize, nor do most receive benefits, both of which most healthcare workers already have).

But labor leaders looking at the big picture say the decision by New York’s fast food wage board could cause a cascade of similar actions across the nation – a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats approach.

The $15-an-hour recommendation is already having an impact on the 2016 presidential race. Several Democratic contenders – though not the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton – have expressed support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour at the federal level.

The fast food wage board and Cuomo’s pledge to continue pushing for a statewide boost in the minimum wage are part of a recent leftward shift by the governor that his labor allies hope will not be short lived.

This shift also includes an executive order naming the state AG a special prosecutor in unarmed civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement, and an effort to protect nail salon workers after a New York Times expose revealed widespread abuses in that industry.

There have also been other initiatives by Cuomo that received less attention at the national level, like his push to eradicate AIDS in New York, and his establishment of a labor task force to look at potential abuses in industries dominated by undocumented workers.

Some segments of the left remain wary – if not downright pissed off – at the governor, especially public sector employees and public school teachers. They’re also still smarting from his never-fulfilled promise – made in return for the WFP’s endorsement last year – that he would push hard to help his fellow Democrats re-take control of the state Senate.

Democrat control in the upper house would, ostensibly, have made some of what Cuomo has been forced to achieve through executive orders (due to the opposition of Senate Republicans) more easily adoptable in the Legislature.

The Senate Democrats will get another crack at taking back the majority in 2016, and they are hopeful the presidential election – and the possible presence of hometown favorite Clinton at the top of the ticket – will vastly improve their chances.

It remains to be seen whether Cuomo will assist the effort this time around. If recent history is any guide, he’ll be loathe to let NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose progressive agenda the governor has complicated and/or usurped at every turn, take the lead role like he did last year.

Yesterday, Cuomo surprised Senate Democrats by coming out of the box early to voice support for his former DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala to run for the seat of ex-Sen. Tom Libous after the Binghamton Republican was forced to vacate his seat after being convicted on a felony corruption charge.

Fiala, an ex-Broome County executive who’s currently serving as the interim chair of Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party, has not even formally announced her candidacy yet. She says she plans to do so next week.