Labor

Minimum Wage Deal Not Embraced By All On Left

Business groups that have been opposed to a minimum wage increase were uniformly displeased with the agreement in the state budget. But not all liberal organizations were happy with the outcome, either. 
 
In a statement from the labor-aligned Citizen Action last night, Executive Director Karen Scharff was critical of the deal, which increases the hourly rate over different time periods for three separate regions of the state. 
 
In her statement, Scharff, who is also co-chair of the labor-backed Working Families Party, laid the blame over the compromise at the feet of the Republican-controlled Senate. 
 

“When upstate workers are condemned to poverty, our state’s economy can never thrive,” she said.  

“New York City’s workers won a major victory with a guaranteed raise to $15. But, this deal shows how out of touch our state’s leaders are with the needs of upstate’s economy – compared to California, New York is a day late and $2.50 short.”

“Until control of the State Senate changes, the concerns of everyday New Yorkers will always be compromised away.”

 
Upstate New York will not hit $15 as quickly as the suburban counties and New York City, but rather reach $12.50 by the end of 2020. An economic analysis from the (executive controlled) Division of Budget will determine when the region north of Westchester County reaches $15. 
 
Not all groups on the left were upset.

George Gresham, the president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the chairman of the campaign for the $15 minimum wage push named after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s late father, praised the compromise. (The powerful health care workers union was a big financial backer of the campaign, too, and it has long been a close ally of the governor). 
 

“With this agreement, New York is taking an historic step toward fulfilling the promise of the American Dream that if you work hard, you can build a better future for you and your family,” Gresham said. 
 

“It is also very good news for our state’s economy, which will benefit from the increased spending power of working people who will be better able to shop in local stores, pay the rent and provide for their families,” he continued.

“This was a broad collective effort, sparked by the national Fight For $15 movement, and carried forward by thousands of community organizations, faith leaders, union members, and elected officials. What happens in New York does not stay in New York, and so through all of our combined efforts, our state is leading the way toward a more just future where hard work is rewarded with fair pay.”

 
Cuomo himself defended the agreement in his Red Room press conference with reporters, insisting the deal was the best he would achieve given the Republican opposition in the Senate. 
 
The governor framed the mechanics of the bill as one that is a cautious and “responsible” approach on the wage.  
 

“We believe the increase in the minimum wage can help the upstate economy,” he said. “But again, it’s all about that calibration and this is the smartest, safest way to go about it in my opinion.”

CSEA Sues Thruway Authority Over Retiree Costs

The Civil Service Employees Association on Thursday announced it had filed a class-action lawsuit against the state Thruway Authority after about 1,500 retirees had their health care costs increased.

The lawsuit itself was filed 10 days ago on March 7, the labor group said.

The legal challenge comes after the Thruway Authority in December told retirees their personal contributions in their health care premiums would increase by 6 percent starting April 1.

CSEA argues the increase fails to honor obligations that are covered by CSEA and the Thruway.

“It’s another in a continuing series of bad decisions and mismanagement of the New York State Thruway Authority that have undermined their credibility and demoralized the workforce,” said CSEA President Danny Donohue. “It says a lot about the misplaced priorities of the authority management that they can be lining up for a huge state bailout while at the same time putting the squeeze on retirees who devoted their careers to state service.”

The lawsuit itself also comes as about 500 workers represented by CSEA at the Thruway Authority are engaged in protracted contract negotiations. The workers have been without a contract since the last agreement expired on June 30.

CSEA has also filed a federal lawsuit over the termination of union-represented workers.

NYSUT Makes Trio Of Legislative Endorsements

The New York State United Teachers union on Monday issued endorsements to one Democratic incumbent in the Senate, while backing two Democrats running for open Assembly seats in an April 19 special election.

NYSUT issued an early endorsement for Sen. Marc Panepinto, a Democrat who was first elected in 2014 and faces a primary challenge from Amber Small, a community organizer in Buffalo.

NYSUT played a key role in Panepinto’s successful campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti, including a controversial mailer that depicted a domestic violence victim.

Downstate, the union endorsed Assembly candidates Jaime Williams, who is running for an open district in Brooklyn, and Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat running for ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s lower Manhattan district.

“Marc Panepinto has been an outspoken champion of what students and educators need in his Buffalo-area district and a lion in fighting for what working New Yorkers need to climb the economic ladder,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “Our members in New York City, too, have full confidence that Jaime Williams in the 59th A.D. and Yuh-Line Niou in the 65th A.D. will continue to fight for public schools and labor in the state Assembly.”

The endorsements for the candidates will come with some resources from the union, including phone banking, literature distribution and financial support.

Regular endorsements for legislative races are due to be issued at the union’s August conference.

CSEA’s Donohue Re-elected

Longtime Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue was re-elected to a seventh term as the leader of the state’s largest public workers union.

The union announced Donohue had won the vote, via mail ballot, on Thursday afternoon.

The new term officially begins on March 1.

“These are challenging times as CSEA members and other working people continue to be squeezed and undercut by the manipulation of our economy to benefit the greedy few,” Donohue said in a statement. “My priority is a stronger union that can better stand up and push back.”

Donohue has guided the labor group through some complicated budget years, including a tough contract in 2011, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened mass layoffs unless public-sector workers agreed to less generous contracts.

Donohue and CSEA have since patched things up with Cuomo in recent years, though the labor group withheld its endorsement in the race for governor in 2014, as they did in 2010.

Donohue has also been staunchly critical of Cuomo, once calling him a “monkey” and “a moron” and was deeply opposed to the governor’s successful push for the Tier Six pension reform measure.

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