Quiet Casino Winner: HTC

There was a host of obvious winners and losers following yesterday’s announcement regarding the awarding of three of four available upstate casino licenses.

But there was another, far less obvious winner, too: The New York Hotel Trades Council, otherwise known as HTC.

The small but scrappy and political potent union has standing labor agreements with all three of the casino projects that got the green light from the Gaming Facility Location Board.

That means the 32,000-member HTC is poised to significantly increase its upstate footprint, which is now almost entirely in NYC.

A source familiar with the three casino projects said the union is likely to gain more than 3,000 members – a 10 percent increase in its ranks, which would be almost unheard of in the modern labor movement.

HTC stood to gain even more jobs if one of the Orange County projects had been approved.

But that would have been a little to close for comfort, competition-wise, to the existing Resorts World slot parlor at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, which is staffed by more than 1,000 HTC workers who just won a major living wage ruling last fall.

The upstate casino HTC members aren’t likely to get the same deal, which doubled the salaries of Aqueduct workers overnight. But they will likely get a quite lucrative arrangement that would be “transformative” in rural areas, the source said.

HTC currently has seven unionized hotels in the Capital Region, and has been trying to expand. These three casino deals will help accomplish that goal, and undoubtedly increase the union’s clout on a number of levels.

HTC didn’t lobby for any specific casino bid, according to his source. The process was simply too difficult to (ahem) game out.

It did, however, work hard (and spend big) to get the constitutional amendment that allowed for the expansion of non-Indian-run casino gambling expanded in New York.

The union also successfully pushed for so-called “labor peace agreement” language to be included in the initial casino bill.

Kent: Teachout Endorsement Was About ‘Integrity’

Public Employees Federation President Susan Kent has no regrets about her labor group endorsing the long-shot candidacy of Zephyr Teachout.

Interview on The Capitol Pressroom on Monday, Kent told host Susan Arbetter that the endorsement of Teachout over Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary was about remaining true to the union’s values.

“When you are a union, if you don’t have integrity, and if you don’t walk the walk, then your members won’t have faith in you,” she said. “Our political endorsements mean something. They’re transparent. Our members know where their money is going.”

Kent faces something of a rebellion within PEF’s ranks, however, as she faces a leadership challenge in June over the Teachout nod.

Meanwhile, the union of some 50,000 mostly white-collar public workers has a pending contract negotiation with the administration in 2015.

But Kent insisted that the labor union remains stronger for backing Teachout over Cuomo.

“What I’m saying is, a union is there for a reason,” she said. “It’s not there to kowtow to management or be afraid of management.”

PEF was one of the few large public worker unions to issue an endorsement in the primary race for governor (it did not provide a nod in the general election).

The AFL-CIO declined to endorse Cuomo, as did the Civil Service Employees Association and the New York State United Teachers union.

NYSUT and CSEA had also declined to endorse in 2010 as well.

Cuomo did receive PEF’s endorsement in 2010, with the union’s leadership at the time thinking the move would give them better footing in contract negotiations.

But following a nail-bitter of a contract vote, longtime PEF President Ken Brynien was ousted from the post in favor of Kent, who pledged to take a harder line with the Cuomo administration.


Hospitality Industry Pushes Back Against Tipped Worker Wage Hike

Representatives of the restaurant, hotel and hospitality industries on Monday pushed back against efforts to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers, a day before a wage board convenes in Albany to discuss the issue.

Leaders of the New York State Restaurant Association, the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association as well as New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association at a news conference were joined by Brad Rosenstein, the owner of Jack’s Oyster House, a downtown Albany restaurant popular with lawmakers and lobbyists in pushing back against efforts to change the wage regulations.

Industry officials and representatives said changes to existing regulations could potentially impact both customers and employees negatively as well as impact their bottom lines.

Rosenstein pointed to what he said were growing increases in the cost of doing business, including a phased-in increase in the minimum wage for non-tipped workers, as well as new cost requirements for health care.

“There’s so many more expenses that are coming our way in addition to New York state being the highest taxed state in the country,” Rosenstein said.

The news conference was in response to the growing effort to have tipped workers included in the current minimum wage increase, which is set to grow to $8.75 at the end of this year and $9 by the beginning of 2016.

The current minimum wage in New York is $8.

Advocates for low-income workers and some liberal lawmakers were upset that tipped workers were not given an identical minimum wage hike that non-tipped workers received in the agreement struck by the Democratic-led Assembly, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate, which at the time was controlled by a coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats.

Under pressure to address the issue, Cuomo convened a wage board to review the minimum wage requirements for tipped workers, who typically fall within the service industry.

But industry officials say the changes to the existing regulations aren’t necessary, considering the requirement that those who earn under the minimum wage and receive tips must be made whole by their employer at the end of the day.

“Tips are wages and they are calculated as part of a cash portion that an employer is required to pay,” said Jan Marie Chesterton, the president of the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association, which represents hotels and motels. “They’re required to pay the difference. It’s not about the minimum wage, it’s about tips being added into that.”

They are quick to stress that any business that doesn’t adhere to existing regulations on tipped workers should be pursued, though point to most businesses complying with wage regulations.

The wage board is convening in Albany as calls grow for a faster increase in the state’s minimum wage, with some advocates pushing for $10.10 or even $15. Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is making a concerted push to allow local governments to increase the minimum wage on their own.

Fighting Words

Two nights ago on Capital Tonight – and subsequently highlighted on SoP – two progressive leaders warned of a significant backlash if state lawmakers dare to raise their own pay without also giving another boost to New York’s hourly minimum wage.

Strong Economy for All’s Mike Kink said there would be “widespread civil disobedience” if the Legislature doesn’t link these two issues together. He appeared on the show with Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York and co-chair of the labor-backed Working Families Party.

Kink’s words did not sit well with one New York City assemblyman, who, unlike many of his colleagues, was willing to speak publicly – and strongly – in favor of raising the $79,500 base pay for state lawmakers, who haven’t seen an increase since early 1999.

“I would have NO problem voting for an increase in the base pay for NYS legislators,” Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, a Queens Democrat wrote in an email.

“In fact, if legislators’ base pay was indexed to the increases to the minimum wage, (from 4.25 an hour to 8.00 an hour), the current salary would be $149,647.05.”

“As someone who is a staunch advocate for labor, there is absolutely no job title that has never received a cost of living increase for 16 years,” the assemblyman continued.

“I am completely supportive of increasing the minimum wage, as well as fair cost of living increases for NYS legislators.”

DenDekker is a relatively new member of the Assembly, first elected in 2008. He hails from a city with a high cost of living, where the base pay for a NYC Council member is $112,500 – thanks to the 25 percent increase the body approved in 2006.

The Assembly is a seniority-driven chamber, and there are far more members in the Democrats’ majority conference than there are committee chairmanships and leadership posts to go around.

That means most Assembly members have to wait years before they get a title that affords them a stipend – known in Albany as a lulu – on top of their base pay.

Of course, there’s always per diems that help offset the costs of travel, lodging and meals when lawmakers are in Albany. But the per diem system is under fire, with widespread calls for reform, thanks to abuse by several members that lead to criminal charges.

DenDekker said he was offended that any advocate could “even suggest” a worker should go 16 years without a pay raise – especially one who has, as he put it, “rallied for workers pay, walked picket lines and voted to increase the min wage in my current position.”

“I would also ask all the advocates: What was your pay 16 years ago?” the assemblyman concluded.

Kink and Scharff added their voices to a call for legislators to return to Albany before the start of the January 2015 session – when the Senate will officially be under GOP control – to take action on a measure that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, index future increases to the rate of inflation and also give municipalities the power to hike their own hourly wages as much as 30 percent higher than the state set “floor.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who did not endear himself to the Senate Republicans by helping the Democrats in their failed attempt to re-take the majority, yesterday called for the Legislature to approve an increase in the state minimum wage “whenever it first can be done.”

“I certainly look forward to talking to the governor about whether there will or will not be” a special session,” the mayor said.

But in a radio interview last week, the governor said he didn’t believe a special session was needed – not even to confirm his latest Court of Appeals nominee, Judge Leslie Stein.

A Cuomo aide told the Wall Street Journal: “We have not heard from any legislative leader that they have the votes or desire to pass anything.”

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.

Watch Here >>

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.