Newly Elected PEF President Vows ‘Courteous Dialogue’ With Cuomo

spenceWayne Spence took the helm of the Public Employees Federation on Monday — leading an often fractious labor group of mostly white-collar state workers that has feuded with Gov. Andrew Cuomo during much of his first term.

Spence becomes president at a key time for the labor group: PEF’s contract is up for renewal, a year after its membership voted to endorse Cuomo’s primary opponent, Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout.

At the same time, Spence raised concerns — as have other labor leaders — over the ramifications of a pending decision in the Supreme Court case Fredericks v. California, which could determine whether employees are compelled to pay union dues.

Spence was elected PEF president this year ousting Susan Kent, who only two years ago defeated longtime PEF leader Ken Brynien following a particular arduous contract negotiation with the Cuomo administration. More >

PEF Ousts Susan Kent

The Public Employees Federation on Tuesday ousted Susan Kent as its president and backed Wayne Spence.

PEF, in a news release, said Spence defeated Kent by a vote of 6,172 to 6,045.

The slate elected includes Kevin Hintz, a Buffalo-based DEC engineer, who ousted secretary-treasurer Carlos Garcia.

PEF has undergone leadership changes over the last several years.

It was only three years ago that Kent ousted longtime PEF President Ken Brynien after rank-and-file members were upset with the incumbent’s approach to the Cuomo administration and the agreement on new, less generous labor contract.

During Kent’s tenure, PEF endorsed Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law School professor who mounted a spirited primary campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014.

The union represents about 50,000 workers and is the second largest public-workers labor group in the state.

Newly elected PEF officers will be sworn in on Aug. 3 at PEF headquarters in Latham.

The newly elected officers will be sworn in Monday, August 3, 2015, at PEF headquarters in Latham.

UP4NYC Parts With 32BJ On 421a Proposal

As the Republican-led Senate introduces legislation that could be the basis for a “big ugly” compromise on the 421a tax abatement, the coalition of organizations pushing for a prevailing wage is distancing itself from SEIU 32BJ’s opposition to the measure.

In a statement, SEIU President Hector Figueroa this week criticized the proposal — which also includes a linking of rent control regulations for New York City — as “an insult” and a “gift to the 1 percent.”

“We are telling the Legislature and the governor that they cannot leave Albany without passing an expanded 421-a program that increases affordability requirements and expands wage and benefits standards for building workers. Instead of engaging in a real discussion of those issues, both houses of the Legislature have offered proposals in the last few days that would only increase income inequality in our city,” Figueroa said. “Time is running out and we urge the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to show their commitment to good jobs and affordable housing by coming to an agreement that works for all of New York City’s working families.”

But UP4NYC’s Pat Purcell, the executive director of the GNY LECET Laborers & Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, disagreed with SEIU 32BJ’s approach to the measure, and called the rhetoric from the labor group unhelpful.

“I respect 32BJ for many reasons, but their rhetoric isn’t helpful right now,” he said in a statement. “This critical juncture is not the time for divisive stunts. The Senate bill acknowledges that wage standards must be part of any long-term solution on 421-a, and has identified a pathway for negotiations – all parties should consider a six month extender to fix a broken public subsidy program. Public funds should have public responsibilities – 421-a was intended to help working families – both with more affordable units, and by paying workers a prevailing wage. Everyone agrees it’s broken and wealthy developers are getting too much for too little. Let’s put standards on the bill that are fair to all working class New Yorkers, and not just a select few whose leadership is out of touch with the current situation.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to expand affordable housing in a 421a tax abatement renewal, but did not include a prevailing wage component for the construction industry, though a service industry prevailing was included.

Rent control and the abatement expired last week for several days and was renewed on a temporary basis. Both measures expire tonight at midnight.

Labor Cheers IDA Reform Bill

The AFL-CIO on Friday praised the passage of a bill aimed at beefing up oversight for Industrial Development Agencies.

The measure was approved by the Democratic-controlled Assembly on Friday after it was passed in the Republican-led Senate earlier in the week.

The bill would set up a standard application process for each agency for financial assistance from individuals, companies and developers. IDAs would be required to seek a proposed project’s description, amount of financial assistance being sought and the estimated number of full-time equivalent jobs that are expected to be created and retained.

The bill, backed by Republican Sen. Kathy Marchione, who represents a suburban Albany district, and central New York Democratic Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, was a key priority for the labor group.

“Reforming the IDA process has been a priority for the Labor Movement for many years. These reforms will bring IDAs back on course to their initial goal, which is to stimulate private sector investment in communities and ultimately create solid middle-class jobs,” AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in a statement.

The measure was part of an effort to gather more precise job data and cost benefit analysis before tax dollars are spent on financial projects or tax exemptions are awarded.

Its passage was also praised by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who has oversight of IDAs and other quasi-governmental entities through his office’s auditing power.

“By increasing scrutiny of IDA project applications and requiring project agreements to include the recapture of benefits if job creation goals are not met, we can address many of the concerns raised in audits by my office over the years,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Equally important, these new oversight and accountability measures will also help improve the efficiency and transparency of the operations of our IDAs.”

AFL-CIO Officially Adopts Prevailing Wage Stance

The New York State AFL-CIO’s executive council on Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution backing the prevailing wage’s use in all 421a projects.

The resolution comes, however, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week said it was unlikely the abatement, due to expire in the coming days, will be changed in any meaningful way.

Cuomo has been sympathetic to the AFL-CIO’s concerns raised over the provision, but did not take an official stance himself on how he would like the abatement changed.

“Today’s vote by our Executive Council sends a powerful message,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO. “The labor movement is speaking with one very clear voice that there must be a return on the taxpayer’s investment, and in this case that return for giving developers more than $1 billion a year in tax breaks needs to be the creation of good jobs.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own abatement proposal put him crossways with the union.

The mayor sought an expansion of affordable housing under an abatement renewal and did not include a prevailing wage component, but for service workers.

Prevailing Wage Resolution Final by Nick Reisman

Labor Commissioner Backs Tipped Workers Wage Hike

Tipped workers working in the restaurant, hotel and other service-based industries will receive a $2.50 minimum wage increase at the end of the year, the Department of Labor on Tuesday announced.

The wage for tipped workers will grow from $5 to $7.50 based on the Department of Labor’s order issued this morning.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is touting the wage increase at a rally of the politically influential Hotel and Motel Trades Council in New York City this morning.

But the move was blasted by business groups that will be impacted by the wage hike.

“It’s troubling that the Acting Commissioner ignored legislative precedent and the pleas of nearly 1,000 hospitality industry representatives who asked him for a moderate increase phased in over time,” said Melissa Fleischut, President and CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association. “By rubberstamping an extreme, unprecedented 50 percent increase it becomes hard to believe New York is really ‘Open for Business.’”

State law requires tipped workers who earn less than the current $8.75 minimum wage be made essentially whole by their employers.

The state’s minimum wage is due to increase again to $9 by the end of the year.

Wage Board Order by Nick Reisman

AFL-CIO Backs Teachers Unions Versus Charters

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento backed the state’s teachers unions in their ongoing war of words with a charter school organization.

The Northeast Charter Schools Network on Wednesday released an open letter to New York State United Teachers union President Karen Magee and her downstate counterpart, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew that took them to task for their rhetoric knocking Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education policies.

Now, Cilento is showing some labor solidarity with NYSUT and the UFT.

“You ask where teachers have been in the fight for education,” Cilento wrote in the letter to the charter schools group’s CEO, Kyle Rosenkrans. “They’ve been in the classroom. They’ve been leading the charge for adequate funding for all children. They’ve been fighting for smaller class sizes. They’ve been pointing out the overreliance on high stakes testing which has left parents and students too often in tears.”

The education fight this year actually kicked off in December, with Cuomo’s top operations aide releasing a letter to the Department of Education outlining a series of possible reforms.

Cuomo in his state budget is linking a number of his education proposals to a large swath of school funding, which could total as much as $1.1 billion if the reforms are enacted.

Cuomo has angered the teachers unions by pushing for more stringent teacher evaluations as well as making it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers.

In return, the teachers unions have blasted Cuomo for being anti-teacher in a series of TV ads.

With Cilento, NYSUT and UFT are also getting the public backing from a labor group that did not back Cuomo in his 2014 bid for re-election (the teachers groups, along with the Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation, did not endorse in the race, either).

“In short, they’ve been where you should be, and all New Yorkers should be. So rather than simply advocating to expand the charter school empire, why don’t you join parents, teachers, and students in calling for real solutions,” Cilento wrote.

Mc to Rosenkrans by Nick Reisman

Labor Groups Write Lawmakers To Back Scaffold Law

A coalition of labor unions this week is writing to state lawmakers urging them to resist efforts that would change the state’s Scaffold Law.

The measure is a perennial political fight between trial lawyers and labor unions on one side, with business groups and local governments citing the law adding to New York’s difficult business climate.

Meanwhile, the coalition in the letter this week is urging lawmakers to pass a measure that’s designed to require insurance companies that provide coverage under the Scaffold Law to report each year detailing claims paid out under the law. The report would be submitted to the state Department of Financial Services.

“The insurance industry continues to make unsubstantiated claims about the law’s effect on insurance prices,” the letter says. “But they refuse to open up their books and actually show the data.”

Scaffold Safety Coalition Feb 9 by Nick Reisman

Teachers Unions on the Warpath

Not surprisingly, the statewide teachers union, NYSUT, is not at all thrilled with what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had to say this afternoon about education, releasing a statement from union President Karen Magee that hit inboxes even before the governor got to that portion of his Opportunity Agenda speech that accused him of “intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning.”

Cuomo spent a considerable amount of time laying out the argument for why the reforms he’s calling for are needed, listing a number of dismal data points (low student test scores vs. high teacher performance evaluations, for example, which led the governor to deem the current evaluation system “baloney”).

But NYSUT insisted the governor is misrepresenting the “reality” of public education in New York, which, according to Magee, has “has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation and a professional, highly dedicated teaching force. Gov. Cuomo should be celebrating that excellence.”

“Students, parents and teachers, who know better, aren’t buying this agenda, which everyone knows is driven by the governor’s billionaire hedge-fund friends,” Magee continued. “The truth is, there’s no epidemic of failing schools or bad teachers.”

“There is an epidemic of poverty and under-funding that Albany has failed to adequately address for decades. Nearly 1 million New York schoolchildren — including more than one-third of African-American and Latino students — live in poverty. The state’s systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably — while giving all teachers the tools and support they need — is the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug.”

Magee didn’t directly address Cuomo’s pledge to provide a significantly larger education funding increase – $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent – instead of the planned $377 million if the Legislature agrees to enact his reform agenda, which includes a teacher evaluation plan based half on student test scores and half on classroom observations by a superior or an independent reviewer.

The governor also wants to change the state’s teacher tenure system to require five years of positive evaluations before tenure protection is granted instead of the current three, and offer highly effective teachers $20,000 bonuses on top of their salaries.

On the charter school front, Cuomo wants to increase the current cap by 100 (up to 560) and make the entire cap statewide, without any regional limitations. He proposed a modest per-pupil funding increase for charters of $75.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who has enjoyed a close relationship with Cuomo in the past, paid the Democratic governor the ultimate insult by comparing him to former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, with whom the NYC teachers union often feuded.

“The governor’s speech was warmed-up Bloomberg leftovers – ignore the real problems, blame the teachers for everything that’s wrong, and toss in a few failed schemes like individual merit pay,” Mulgrew said. “I’m inviting the governor to drop the rhetoric of his hedge-fund pals who hate public education and come visit a real New York City public school, where teachers, kids and parents are working to make education a success.”

The Alliance for Quality Education, which receives funding for NYSUT, already put out a statement slamming Cuomo’s education reform agenda, saying it “is slamming the door shut on opportunity for hundreds of thousands of students in every corner of the state.”

“Governor Cuomo has failed to address the educational crisis of our day which is the dramatic inequality for students based on the wealth or poverty of their zip code,” AQE continued. “There is no denying the numbers–the Cuomo policies have increased educational inequality to record setting levels and this budget fails to address inequality.”

“The $1.1 billion proposed increase is half of what the Board of Regents and 83 state legislators have identified as what is needed. That is why on this very day students and parents from eight small cities are suing New York State for the Governor’s failure to fund our schools. No wonder he wants to distract voters by talking about high stakes testing, his flawed teacher evaluation system and privately run charter schools.”

Business Groups Push Cuomo On Design-Build

A coalition of business groups is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include a permanent renewal and extension of the design-build method for state infrastructure projects in his 2015-16 state budget proposal.

Cuomo successfully included a version of design-build, in which a single entity is responsible for construction and design, in a 2011 package that also saw changes to the state’s tax code.

But design-build requirements expired at the end of December following no agreement in the state budget last year.

At the same time, the groups are fighting an effort to require project-labor agreements on design-build projects.

“In the 2015-16 Executive Budget, we urge you to include a permanent extension of design-build and to reject the on-going efforts to impose mandated project-labor agreements on these projects,” the groups write. “We strongly oppose requiring the use of mandated PLAs on all design-build projects because it will negate the program’s benefits rendering the application of design-build useless. We strongly oppose requiring the use of mandated PLAs on all design-build projects because it will negate the program’s benefits rendering the application of design-build useless.”

Signing on to the letter, sent this week, included the leadership of the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Unshackle Upstate and the Associated General Contractors of New York State.

Design-build does have its detractors, including the Public Employees Federation, which is urging the method be scrapped.

The push to end the sunset on design-build comes as the state has $5 billion in windfall funds from financial settlements over the last year.

State lawmakers, as well Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, have urged the money be spent on shoring up the state’s roads, bridges and tunnels, considering the money is essentially a “one-shot” revenue source.

Cuomo has hinted at plans to propose using the money on a mix of infrastructure, merit-based education spending as well as aiding local government consolidation.

Business Groups Design Build Letter 2015 by Nick Reisman