Labor

AFL-CIO Gives $15K To Senate Republicans

Is labor hedging their bets on who controls the Senate next year?

The New York State AFL-CIO contributed $15,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, 24-hour filings posted on the state Board of Elections website show.

The umbrella labor group’s contribution is eyebrow-raising, considering it backed in August a trio of upstate Democrats running in key Senate races: Sens. Cecilia Tkaczyk, Terry Gipson and Ted O’Brien.

But the contribution also comes as 1199/SEIU, a key labor group that is part of a coalition to give full control of the state Senate to Democrats next year, endorsed Republican lawmaker Marty Golden and made contributions to Senate Republican incumbents, including GOP conference leader, Dean Skelos.

Nevertheless, union contributions to Senate Democrats have not dried up.

The AFL-CIO on Thursday gave the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee $12,500, while the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union gave Democrats $50,000.

Poloncarz Denounces NYSUT’s Anti-Grisanti Mailer

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz deemed a domestic violence-themed mailer sent out by NYSUT’s political arm in opposition to GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti “disgusting” and said he has urged Grisanti’s Democratic opponent, Marc Panepinto, to disavow it.

Poloncarz said the mailer, which depicts a battered woman and proclaims that Grisanti “won’t protect her from her abuser,” is “inappropriate” and “disgusting.”

“I was texting back and forth with Marc today, he agrees,” the county executive told me during a CapTon interview that will air in full at 8 p.m. “He has a debate tonight, and I think he said he would disavow it. I called on him to disavow it. I disavowed it.”

“I think it’s a horrible piece of, of…it’s disgusting to say that a candidate doesn’t want to care about the protection of battered women. Mr. Grisanti may not agree with the entire Women’s Equality platform. I do. But, I know Mark Grisanti is not out there saying he doesn’t care about battered women, and that piece of mail, it bothered me.”

In fact, it bothered Poloncarz so much that he took to Twitter to publicly call out NYSUT’s political action committee, VOTE/COPE, for sending the mailer, saying the organization should be “embarrassed.”

A near replica of the mailer also popped up in the 40th SD race, targeting Republican Yorktown Councilman Terrence Murphy, who is running against Democrat Justin Wagner for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Greg Ball. Murphy, like Grisanti, has said he supports nine of the 10 planks in the governor’s Women’s Equality Act, expressing opposition only to the abortion rights proposal.

Because Republicans have refused to pass the Women’s Equality Act in its entirety, instead approving the other nine plans individually, Democrats have accused them of holding the act hostage and being opposed to everything from pay equity to cracking down on domestic violence and sex trafficking.

Poloncarz said he supports Panepinto in the four-way 60th SD race in which Grisanti is running on the Indpendence Party line after losing the September GOP primary to attorney Kevin Stocker. He also said he’s not concerned that his chastisement of NYSUT will cost him politically down the road, saying he believes his support among Erie County teachers is firm.

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After Teachout-Wu Loss, No Endorsement By PEF

Also from the Morning Memo:

The Public Employees Federation went out on a limb prior to the primary and endorsed the insurgent team of Teachout and Tim Wu – the only labor union to do so.

Now that the primary is over and Team Cuomo-Hochul has emerged victorious, PEF is joining several other unions in sitting out the general election, declining to pick a favorite between the Democratic ticket and the Republicans, Astorino and his running mate, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss.

“I don’t foresee that the Public Employees Federation will do an endorsement in the general election,” union President Susan Kent said during a CapTon interview lat night.

“I think we looked at all candidates prior to making our recommendation for the Zephyr-Wu ticket, and I think now that the primary’s over we will not be making an endorsement.”

“This wasn’t about ‘find a candidate to run against the governor,’” Kent insisted. “This was about Zephyr and Tim, who were candidates that matched up with us very well and our members were excited about it…This was really something that was really a positive movement for candidates that were aligned very well with our goals.”

Four years ago, PEF broke ranks with its fellow public sector unions – CSEA and NYSUT – and backed Cuomo for governor. This time around, Cuomo is running without the support of all three, and he doesn’t have the backing of the AFL-CIO, either.

Kent said the union’s focus will now move to contract negotiation preparation, noting that PEF has to return to the bargaining table next year – a year ahead of its fellow public sector unions.

I asked Kent if she’s concerned that Cuomo (assuming he’s re-elected in November) might retaliate against PEF for its support of Teachout-Wu.

“I’m not going to choose to believe that because the governor cannot get his own way with absolutely everything that he would be someone who would take that out at the contract table,” Kent replied. “…that’s not something I would put up with, as a union president.”

PEF’s Kent: Union Impacted Primary

The Public Employees Federation took a gamble on backing the insurgent primary campaigns of Zephyr Teachout and her running mate, Tim Wu, over Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

For the union of about 54,000 mostly white-collar workers, that gamble paid off, said President Susan Kent.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Kent called Teachout and Wu netting nearly 35 percent and 40 percent of the vote respectively “stunning” and an affirmation of the union’s “political power and clout” under her leadership.

“This campaign believed in what we, as a union, bring to the state of New York and highlighted the need for respect for public services, while speaking out against the negative impact of privatization and diminishment of vital state services,” Kent said.

PEF does not have the same resources or turn out operation that is fielded by the labor unions that back the governor, including 1199/SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council.

Nevertheless, Cuomo and his running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, did not do well in areas of the state where PEF likely has the greatest influence: the Capital Region, where the state workforce lives.

The Cuomo administration and the state’s public workers have an infamously truculent relationship.

Upon taking office, Cuomo drove a hard bargain with the unions, calling on them to accept concessions in new labor contracts or face layoffs.

The Civil Service Employees Association, which took a pass on endorsing Cuomo in 2010 and is yet to weigh in this year, ultimately took the deal, which included pay freezes.

But PEF’s rank-and-file rejected an initial contract agreement negotiated by the union’s previous leadership and the administration. In the end, and with a figurative gun to their heads in the form of looming layoffs, the labor group accepted a different, but revenue-neutral contract.

The frustration with Cuomo didn’t end there with public workers with a series of slights and flare ups.

Cuomo in 2012 successfully gained the passage of a new, less generous pension tier.

In an unusual episode, state Director of Operations Howard Glaser read the employee file of a Department of Transportation worker critical of the administration on Fred Dicker’s radio show.

Upset with the union’s leadership, PEF members tossed its president, Ken Brynien, in favor of Kent, who promised to take a harder line with the Cuomo administration.

PEF, which endorsed Cuomo four years ago, gave its nod to Teachout and Wu this year, which the labor union insisted wasn’t just about knocking the governor, but also holding up the rival ticket.

Today, Kent says the showing by Teachout and Wu should send Cuomo a message.

“We hope this learning moment for the governor will result in a true partnership with us, his professional workforce, and a more humanistic approach to the services we provide to the citizens of New York state,” she said.

PEF’s current contract runs through 2016.

Cuomo-Hochul ‘First Priority’ For 1199/SEIU

Getting its members out to the polls and voting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Rep. Kathy Hochul come Tuesday’s primary is the “first priority” for 1199/SEIU’s turnout operation, the labor union’s political director Kevin Finnegan said.

Finnegan who will be on Capital Tonight this evening, told me in an interview that the union’s much-vaunted GOTV campaign begins this weekend following a mail and telephone program.

“All of the staff will be completely dedicated to the various elections across the state,” Finnegan said. “The top of the ticket — the governor and Kathy Hochul — are first priority. We’ve done a mail program and a telephone program to our 275,000 members in New York.”

Door knocking at individual households begin this weekend.

Though the Cuomo campaign isn’t expected to spend much directly on getting out the vote next week, the governor’s re-election apparatus has allies that can do that for them, ranging from unions to county chairs.

And while 1199′s field work is often seen as most effective in New York City, Finnegan said the union will be working in western New York as well — the home base for Hochul, a former congressional representative from western New York.

“Buffalo is one the cities were we have a lot of density — a lot of members,” he said.

The labor union is a key backer for Cuomo. It helped broker his endorsement from the labor-aligned Working Families Party in May after Cuomo sought 1199/SEIU’s input — literally giving the health-care union a seat at the table — during the process to overhaul the state’s costly Medicaid program.

Overlapping with the statewide Democratic primary is a series of primary elections for state Senate races. In Buffalo, 1199 backs Sen. Tim Kennedy, who faces a primary opponent in Betty Jean Grant, an Erie County legislator.

Hochul, in particular, has been promoted heavily by the Cuomo campaign and the state Democratic committee. She is featured prominently in a TV ad touting her endorsements from Democratic luminaries, and she was the focus of a robocall from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released this morning.

Still, Finnegan said he is not that concerned about Hochul’s chances against Tim Wu, a Columbia University professor running with Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor.

“I’m not terribly concerned about losing that race,” Finnegan said. “I’m concerned that we don’t have the margin that will make it easier in November to say we have a mandate.”

Asked what the margin could be, Finnegan insisted Hochul will win by a healthy percentage, but suggested the New York Times’ endorsement of Wu is problematic.

“I would expect her to get 60, 70, maybe a little bit more than 70 percent of the vote,” he said. “There were some major papers, or at least one major paper, that endorsed her opponent and that’s always a concern because that’s free advertising.”

Nevertheless, Finnegan was dismissive of Wu’s chances.

“That spirited campaign has very little money, has very little ability to reach out to the general voting public, voting Democrats,” he said. “I’m very confident we’ll be successful on Tuesday.”

Watch Here >>

The full interview airs this evening on Capital Tonight at 8 and 11:30.

New Law Allows NYSUT Leaders To Accrue Pension Time

State lawmakers in June quietly approved a measure that would expand an existing law to allow the leaders of the statewide teachers union to accrue pension time while working for the umbrella labor group.

The measure, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on July 22, is considered revenue neutral: The New York State United Teachers union reimburses school districts for the cost.

NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said the law clarifies an existing measure that’s been on the books since 1972, which applied to local teachers unions. The law approved in June added the words “statewide affiliate.”

“It was a technical bill to clear up an ambiguity,” he said, adding he’s unsure if any of NYSUT’s board members will take advantage of the new law, though it’s likely some will.

NYSUT elected a new slate of leaders, including a new president, in April.

It’s also not unusual for public labor leaders to accrue hours towards their pension while working for their union. PEF, CSEA and Council 82 have similar arrangements.

It’s unclear why the statewide union didn’t qualify earlier for such an arrangement.

The measure sailed through both the Senate and Assembly with only a handful of votes opposed. Introduced on June 9 in the Assembly, the bill cleared both chambers by June 20.

Its passage came at the same time changes to the state’s teacher evaluation measure — which slowed aspects of the implementation of Common Core standards in New York — were negotiated. Union officials insisted the evaluation agreement and the pension bill’s passage were not linked.

The pension change has gone more or less unnoticed, save for advocate teachers blogs, though not all union members agree this is a give-away to the organization’s leadership.

E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for New York State Policy said that even while the law is revenue neutral, it’s still troubling.

“This is big favor,” he said. “It may not be unprecedented to have such an arrangement, but in fact it’s a huge gift to the unions.”

He added the state’s pension system remains backed up by taxpayers, saying it sets an example for other labor groups.

“The last thing we need to be doing by fact or example is expanding access to the pension system whether it’s quote-un-quote paid for or not,” McMahon said.

In Some Races, PEF Plays It Safe

From the Morning Memo:

Much was made last week of the endorsement by PEF, the state’s second-largest public workers union, of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout.

The nod was seen both as political muscle flexing by the union’s new president, Susan Kent, and a shot across Cuomo’s bow at a time when his relationship with several public sector unions is strained.

PEF also bucked the institutional Democratic trend and backed former NYC Councilman Oliver Koppell over IDC Leader Jeff Klein, despite the Cuomo-backed deal for Klein and his fellow renegades to abandon the GOP and strike a new deal with the so-called “regular” Democrats in exchange for (among other things) seeing primary challenges to IDC members dropped.

But a full list of PEF’s legislative endorsements provided to CapTon reveals the union wasn’t so politically provocative in all its candidate selections, even opting to sit on the sidelines rather than choose sides in races where incumbents have been charged with wrongdoing.

PEF did not issue endorsements in the Brooklyn race where embattled former Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson is fighting for his political life; or in the Binghamton race where Sen. Tom Libous, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, is doing the same.

Both Sampson and Libous have been slapped with federal corruption charges.

The union’s regional leaders recommended backing Sampson’s primary challenger Dell Smitherman, a former 1199 SEIU political coordinator, and Libous’ Democratic opponent, former Vestal Town Supervisor Anndrea Starzak; but those suggestions were not heeded when a final vote was taken at PEF’s conference last week.

PEF did back a primary challenger to another scandal-scarred senator, supporting former NYC Councilman Leroy Comrie over Sen. Malcolm Smith (another former Senate Democratic leader) in Queens.

On Long Island, PEF mostly stayed with the status quo, except in one notable case: It backed Democrat Ethan Irwin, a Levittown lawyer and former US Marine, over veteran GOP Sen. Kemp Hannon.

In two open seats on Long Island, PEF backed the Democratic candidates, choosing environmental activist Adrienne Esposito in the battle for GOP Sen. Lee Zeldin’s district (he’s running for Congress), and Dave Denenberg for ex-Sen. Chuck Fuschillo’s district.

PEF also opted for “no endorsement” in another Brooklyn district, which is represented by Sen. Simcha Felder – a Democrat who conferences with the Republicans.

In Western New York, PEF issued no endorsement in the 59th SD, which is represented by Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan. It is also sitting out the 60th SD race, where GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti faces a primary challenge from attorney Kevin Stocker and a general election challenge from Democratic attorney Marc Panepinto.

And PEF also passed up the opportunity to choose sides in the battle over retiring GOP Sen. George Maziarz’s seat in Niagara Falls, but did give a nod to Elaine Altman – a Democrat challenge Republican Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer.

Also seeing “no endorsement” votes in their districts from PEF were GOP Sens. Cathy Young (57th SD) and Jim Seward (51st SD).

In several contested races on which control of the Senate chamber could hinge, PEF sided with the Democrats. It backed Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk over her GOP opponent (for the second election cycle in a row) ex-Assemblyman George Amedore; Sen. Terry Gipson over Republican Dutchess County Legislator Sue Serino; and Sen. Ted O’Brien over his Republican challenger, former TV news anchor Rich Funke.

Inside NYSUT’s Endorsement Process

The three-day NYSUT endorsement conference that ended with the union opting not to pick a favorite in the governor’s race was a “grueling” process that took longer than expected due to internal debate over state legislative races – particularly in the Senate, a union official said.

The decision not to endorse Gov. Andrew Cuomo or any of his opponents for the second election in a row was pretty much “unanimous,” according to NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. But when it came to the Legislature, it was a whole different ballgame.

“There were discussions like you wouldn’t believe,” Pallotta said during a telephone interview this morning. “Last cycle, things were pretty clear. This cycle, we had very different opinions from very different parts of the state on what direction we should go in, and how good individual assembly members and senators have been. Discussions went on for hours. We came out with a lot of ‘no endorsements.’”

It was not unusual, Pallotta said, for discussions over whether to endorse a single senator to last up to five hours, and for there to be no majority opinion on how to proceed at the end of those marathon talks.

There was also no consensus among union leaders about the effort to flip the Senate into Democratic hands – a push that largely originated with unions during the labor-backed Working Families Party’s debate over whether to endorse Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout. In a deal brokered by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo ended up endorsing a Democrat-controlled Senate as well as the return of IDC members to the so-called regular Democratic conference.

But NYSUT members feel strongly that individual senators – both Republicans and Democrats – have been very supportive of their issues over the years, and they wanted to repay that loyalty with endorsements, Pallotta said. For example, NYSUT threw its support behind GOP Sen. Ken LaValle, longtime chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, even through it opted to take a pass in many of the Long Island districts – including the one represented by Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos. (Note: this line has been edited to correct an error; NYSUT did not endorse GOP Sen. Jack Martins over his Democratic challenger, Adam Haber, but stayed nuetral in that race).

NYSUT also remained loyal to the Senate Republicans’ second-in-command, Sen. Tonm Libous, of the Southern Tier, despite his indictment on charges that he lied to federal agents about helping his son get a job with a politically-connected law firm.

In several other contested races, however, NYSUT gave its support to the Democratic candidates, including Sens. Terry Gipson (Hudson Valley) and Ted O’Brien (Rochester) – both top GOP targets this fall.

It wasn’t a surprise for NYSUT to take a pass on backing Cuomo, given its 2010 “no endorsement” decision and rocky relationship with the governor since he took office in January 2011. Pallotta said he believes the governor wanted NYSUT’s endorsement, but was a little vague on whether Cuomo had formally sought the union’s nod, saying: “We’ve spoken with the different candidates…we’ve spoken with the governor, and he understands our situation and needs, as did (Green Party candidate) Howie Hawkins, and (Cuomo’s Democratic challenger) Zephyr Teachout.”

As for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, Pallotta said his name was brought forward, but “not as much” as Hawkins and Teachout were mentioned. That’s despite Astorino’s outspoken opposition to the Common Core, and effort to capitalize on the backlash to the controversial curriculum by creating the “Stop Common Core” independent ballot line.

Pallotta indicated NYSUT has not yet decided whether it will formally oppose Cuomo when the AFL-CIO holds its endorsement get-together in New York City next Monday. In 2010, the union did not back Cuomo, but also did not seek to block him from receiving the AFL endorsement, which is decided by a weighted vote of all its union affiliates.

“That will be exciting,” Pallotta chuckled. “We’ll see what happens…I can’t predict. It wouldn’t be fair to those who support the governor. There are folks coming to the convention who support the idea of an endorsement very strongly, and others who would want to see the governor get the endorsement. There’s a lot of freedom to speak at these conventions, and a lot of spirited discussions. We will let them come, and we will let them speak. We can’t keep our local presidents from speaking.”

NYSUT Passes On Cuomo, Again

The statewide teachers union is poised to unveil its endorsements for the upcoming 2014 elections, and once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has failed to make the cut.

An endorsement list obtained by SoP after NYSUT leaders met behind closed doors yesterday outside Albany, shows the union is – as we knew, thanks to the early decision on these races – supporting both of Cuomo’s fellow Democratic statewide officials, AG Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, for re-election.

There is no endorsement in the governor’s race.

It was not immediately clear whether Cuomo had even bothered to seek NYSUT’s support, or if the union had interviewed his opponents – Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Democratic Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout.

Efforts to reach the union’s spokesman to obtain answers to these questions were unsuccessful.

NYSUT’s new president, Karen Magee, was scheduled for a CapTon interview last night, but cancelled at the last minute because the endorsement meetings went long.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that NYSUT is sitting out the governor’s race. The union did the same thing in 2010, although it did not actively oppose then-AG Cuomo when it came time to decide the AFL-CIO endorsement, which is decided by a weighted vote. (He got the nod).

Magee has made clear since she ousted former NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi this past spring that her members were unlikely to back Cuomo this time around.

It would be generous to describe the relationship between NYSUT and Cuomo as “rocky.” The two have clashed numerous times over everything from the property tax cap and pension reform to teacher evaluations and the Common Core curriculum.

The union is also issuing a slew of legislative endorsements, backing mostly – but not entirely – Democratic Senate and Assembly candidates.

NYSUT chose sides in some, but not all, of the contested Senate races as the Democrats and Republicans battle it out (yet again) for control of the chamber.

However, there are a number of races on Long Island where NYSUT is sitting things out at the moment.

For example, the union did not pick a favorite in the 7th SD race where GOP Sen. Jack Martins is battling Democrat Adam Haber.

It did back Democratic environmental advocate Adrienne Esposito over Republican Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, who was tapped to run when Town Board Member Anthony Senft quit the race in the 2nd SD (Sen. Lee Zeldin is running for Congress).

NYSUT is holding out on a number of incumbent Republican senators. It did not back a candidate in the 4th SD where GOP Sen. Phil Boyle is seeking re-election, or the 6th, where GOP Sen. Kemp Hannon is running againn.

The union notably remained mum on Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, who is running for another term in the 9th SD.

NYSUT is backing all the IDC members save one: Queens Sen. Tony Avella (11th SD), who is facing a strong primary challenge from former NYC Councilman John Liu. Liu has garnered labor support even though the unions are supposedly all in for the IDC-regular Democrat reunification effort.
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The union made no endorsement in the 17th SD, represented by Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who sits with the GOP; or in the 19th SD, where embattled former Democratic Senate Leader John Sampson is fighting for his political life in the September primary; or in the 32nd SD, represented by conservative Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.

In other contested races, NYSUT supported Democratic candidates including:

Former NYC Councilman Leory Comrie against scandal-scarred Queens Sen. Malcom Smith (this is a primary); Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera over NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera (also a primary); Dave Denenberg for the seat of former Long Island GOP Sen. Chuck Fuschillo; Democrat Justin Wagner for the seat of retiring Hudson Valley GOP Sen. Greg Ball; Sen. Terry Gipson, who faces a challenge from GOP Dutchess County Legislator Sue Serino; and Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, who is trying to fend off a second challenge from former GOP Assemblyman George Amedore; Sen. Ted O’Brien, fighting a challenge from Republican former Rochester TV anchor Rich Funke; teacher Elaine Altman, who is challenging GOP Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer; and attorney Marc Panepinto, who is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti.

GOP Sen. Tom Libous made the cut with NYSUT, despite his health and legal troubles. He’s being challenged by former Democratic Vestal Town Supervisor Anndrea Starzak.

For the seat being left vacant by retiring GOP Sen. George Maziarz, NYSUT is backing Republican-turned-Democrat Johnny Destino. It also is supporting Sen. Tim Kennedy over his Democratic primary challenger, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

Avella Receives 1199/SEIU Endorsement

The campaign of Independent Democratic Conference Sen. Tony Avella announced Friday the Queens lawmaker had received the nod from 1199/SEIU, a key labor group that was instrumental in helping Gov. Andrew Cuomo receive the endorsement of the Working Families Party.

Avella faces Democratic former city Comptroller John Liu in a primary.

“From safe staffing to quality standards for healthcare, 1199 SEIU has been at the forefront of protecting healthcare workers and their patients,” Avella said in a statement. “It is my honor to receive their endorsement today, and I look forward to working with them in the upcoming legislative session.”

Following an agreement brokered by Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the independent Democrats are expected to form a new majority coalition with mainline conference Democrats after Election Day.

But primaries launched against the IDC lawmakers remain, including a contest between the conference’s leader, Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, and former city Councilman Oliver Koppell.

The WFP plans to officially stay neutral in these primaries, while 1199/SEIU previously indicated it would help IDC lawmakers in their re-election efforts.