Public-Sector Labor Groups Rally Amid Janus Arguments

The political clout of public labor unions in New York and around the country is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court — a challenge labor leaders say is coming from their political opponents.

“This is about a ring-wing conservative ideological attack on working men and women, the middle class and in fact organized labor, the public sector in particular,” said Mario Cilento, the president of the state AFL-CIO.

Public labor members rallied Monday in Albany as the Supreme Court heard the opening arguments of Janus v. AFSCME, a case that challenges automatic union dues paid by public-sector workers.

The case could have a wide-ranging impact for public unions in New York, with hundreds of millions of dollars in dues at stake.

Among those raising the alarm was Kim Wallace-Russo, a CSEA member who says her job’s benefits allowed her to care for her sick husband.

“I never feared for my job and couldn’t imagine having to fear for my job and make that choice, because there is no choice there,” said Kim Wallace-Russo, a CSEA member who works for the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

But fiscal watchdogs say the arguments labor is bringing to case to require union dues do not hold up.

“The unions have been trying to argue that people universally benefit from representation,” said Ken Girardin, an analyst with the Empire Center. “But that’s simply not true. Look at how many people change unions during the course of their career because one union is doing a better job than others.”

Public labor unions have drawn heavy influence in New York, both in the form of campaign donations and in public policy debates. If the high court rules against unions, state lawmakers say they are ready to take action.

“New York state is a union state,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat who represents the Capital Region. “This state’s success has been built with the hard work of many others and we need to do what we can to make sure we can maintain that structure for the state.”

New York also remains one of the highest unionized states in the country as membership elsewhere declines. Critics contend this makes the state less business friendly. Labor members the benefits won by unions at the negotiating table offer them peace of mind.

“I couldn’t imagine not having the protections that I had and those protections were from my union,” Wallace-Russo said.

A ruling in the case is expected by June.

Anti-Con Con Group Spends Big On TV

A group predominantly fueled by major labor unions has spent more than $500,000 on television ads opposing a constitutional convention.

A Board of Elections filing for the group, New Yorkers Against Coruption, show $598,112 was spent on the commercial opposing the upcoming referendum, which is held every 20 years.

The filing shows the organization has $1.6 million, with major donations coming from the New York State United Teachers, which gave $500,000, and $350,000 from AFSCME. The Civil Service Employees Association gave $250,000 to the effort.

At the same time, the group reported spending $148,627 on mail.

The group is a coalition of organizations — including the Conservative Party, gun-rights organizations and environmental groups — who worry a convention would be a staging ground for potentially losing hard-won rights in the existing state constitution.

New Yorkers Against Corruption also reported in-kind donations in the form mostly printing of palm cards and advertisements in the Chief Leader, a newspaper that reports on the labor movement.

DC 9 Protests Detainment Of Union Members

The labor union District Council 9 on Wednesday protested the detainment of two of its members by federal immigration officials.

Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nunez were arrested on their job site in May by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. An effort for the men to gain asylum status has been denied by the Trump administration.

Union leaders pointed Mejia has been in the country for the last 15 years and his children were born in the U.S.

“What’s happening to Hugo and Rodrigo is an unfortunate reality of the new administration we live under, but it is certainly not one that District Council 9 will stand for,” said Davon Lomax, the union’s political director. “We intend to fight until ICE returns these men to their families and continue to stand in solidarity with our union brothers and those who need representation.”

Labor members held a rally for the two men at the Javits Center in New York City, part of a campaign to protest their arrests.

CSEA President Opens Door to 2018 Cuomo Endorsement

To say CSEA President Danny Donohue and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have had a rocky relationship is something of an understatement.

Donohue, who heads the second largest state workers union in New York, is a tough-talking sort, and has never been shy about expressing his opinions about the governor in public, particularly when he feels his members are getting the short end of the stick.

In 2014, while voicing opposition to Cuomo’s decision to close several hospitals, prisons and mental health institutes, Donohue called the governor a “moron” and a “monkey” in front of hundreds of union workers gathered outside the Capitol for a rally.

Not long after that incident, Donohue was a guest on Capital Tonight, and said his union, which didn’t back Cuomo during his initial run for governor in 2010, probably wouldn’t be backing him when he sought a second term in 2014, either.

Though CSEA didn’t go as far as its sister union, PEF, in backing Cuomo’s primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, it declined to endorse him, as Donohue has foreseen – a move that helped convince the AFL-CIO to sit on the sidelines that year.

Even without union support, Cuomo went on to both win the primary and also defeat his GOP opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, in the general election.

But thanks to what appears to be a rather lucrative five-year contract deal – it’s hard to tell, exactly, because scant details on the agreement have been made public – Donohue appears to have had a change of heart where Cuomo and his political aspirations are concerned, though the union president’s newfound magnanimous attitude toward the governor likely won’t extend beyond 2018.

During a CapTon interview last night, Donohue said he hopes the new contract, which includes raises, longevity bonuses, overtime increases for some workers and no significant health care givebacks, will enable CSEA to “open a new page” with Cuomo. (CSEA members have yet to ratify the contract, and will be voting over the next several weeks. A decision is expected Aug. 8).

Donohue noted CSEA had endorsed Cuomo when he ran for AG, but then decided public employees “were the enemy” when he ran for governor, so there’s a lot of room for improvement.

“We are hoping that it’s a new beginning with the governor; he has a chance there,” Donohue said. “This contract is not overly generous…We think we’ve earned it. Now the question is can we administratively work together to get the kind of relationship he should have with his own employees, which at times he seems to forget.”

As to whether Cuomo should run for president, Donohue was sort of lukewarm on the idea, saying: “Andrew has proven he can do some things well, other things he can’t…Where I think he has fallen down, is can he put together the kind of coalitions he needs? You can’t be the conservative Democratic leader, that’s somehow inconsistent. Gay marriage and gun control have their points, but he lost the base.”

Donohue did stress that he would prefer “anybody” to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: President Donald Trump.

Moya Gets HTC Nod For Council Bid

Democratic Assemblyman Francisco Moya on Thursday received the endorsement from the politically influential Hotel Trades Council in his bid for the New York City Council.

“We have enthusiastically supported Francisco Moya since he was first elected to the Assembly back in 2010, and today, we are proud to endorse him for City Council,” said Peter Ward, President of the New York Hotel Trades Council. “Francisco has been a vocal and steadfast partner in our fight against illegal hotels, and he has been at the forefront of some of New York’s most important campaigns for working people. We have no doubt that Francisco will continue to build on the work he’s done in Albany by taking his tireless fight for working people to the City Council.”

HTC has played key roles in campaigns both legislative and statewide over the last several election cycles.

Moya is running for the seat being vacated by incumbent Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. He faces Hiram Monserrate, a former state senator who left politics under a cloud when he was expelled from office following a domestic violence case.

The HTC endorsement, in part, is meant to send the signal of institutional support hearing toward Moya in the race.

“It’s an honor to receive the endorsement of the Hotel Trades Council,” Moya said. “Our community is home many immigrant families who first enter the labor force in sectors served by the Hotel Trades Council. Their tireless advocacy helps ensure these newest Americans, and all hotel sector workers, receive the fair treatment and excellent wages and benefits they deserve.”

Labor’s Pragmatism Pays Off

Two of New York’s political key labor unions didn’t put all of their chips on one party in the race for control of the state Senate.

And the gamble to diversify their political investments appears to have paid off for 1199SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council.

HTC, a small but influential labor union that has played pivotal rolls at the Capitol in recent years on issues like the legalization of casino gaming, worked with the Real Estate Board of New York to counter a well-funded campaign backed by Airbnb.

In that fight, the 41st Senate district became a proxy war over the new law restricting online advertising of multi-family dwellings in New York City. Airbnb’s super PAC targeted Republican Sen. Sue Serino, boosting Democrat Terry Gipson in the process.

The real-estate interests, plus HTC, backed a counter campaign that shored up Serino, who won re-election.

On Long Island, meanwhile, 1199 — a health-care workers union that was instrumental in the $15 minimum wage campaign — also displayed pragmatism. The union gave its endorsements to Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate, but also backed Republican Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon.

Hannon is routinely targeted by Democrats in presidential election years and this year faced Ryan Cronin. He won by a relatively comfortable margin. The union also backed Sen. Bill Larkin, a Republican who faced a challenge from Democrat Chris Eachus. Larkin won as well.

As 1199 President George Gresham said in July, “1199’s motto has always been, we didn’t create it, but we live by it, and that is we don’t have permanent friends and we don’t have permanent enemies, we have permanent interests,.”

WNY Labor Wants Collins To Dump Trump

From the Morning Memo:

Members of Western New York’s Area Labor Federation rallied in front of Republican Congressman Chris Collins’s office Tuesday evening. In response to Trump’s comments about women late last week, the union members are calling on Collins to withdraw his support for Trump.

Local AFL-CIO President Richard Lipsitz said the recording of Trump was not the only reason they were rallying – just the latest.

“It was a pretty egregious example of what we’ve been saying about him from the very beginning. He has a mean streak in him. He’s a bigot of all kinds. He obviously has a strong misogynist streak,” he said.

Collins has been steadfast in his support of the Republican nominee. He said he doesn’t plan to back away from his role as a top surrogate for Trump.

“It’s not surprising to us but we’re here to appeal to his better nature, none-the-less,” Lipsitz said.

The congressman said while he respects the union members’ right to protest he believes their support for Hillary Clinton is misguided. Collins said it was Clinton-endorsed trade policies that sent union jobs out of Western New York.

“How was NAFTA? That’s Hillary Clinton’s plan. Trans-Pacific Partnership, we’ll lose more of our jobs. If you want jobs in infrastructure, if you want jobs in manufacturing, Donald Trump is the only candidate who has a plan to bring those jobs back to the United States,” he said.

Lipsitz said that’s not the experience he’s had with the Democratic nominee. He said when Clinton was a U.S. Senator for New York, she stood up for area labor.

Meanwhile, he said Trump’s record in the private sector has been clearly anti-union.

“He has a track record. In New York he was notorious for short-changing contractors who worked for him, many of whom had union workers on the job. We know he hired immigrant labor that was not legal in this country to undercut wages. We know he’s against increasing the minimum wage,” Lipsitz said.

WFP Touts Primary Wins

Lots of people and organizations are claiming victory this morning after seeing the results from yesterday’s (extremely low turnout) primaries, and that includes the Working Families Party, which informed supporters (and reporters) in a late night email that its candidates had won a “clean sweep” of the party’s “priority” contests.

According to the email, the WFP is particularly pleased that its candidates fended off challenges from the “billionaire-funded ‘New Yorkers for Independent Action’ SuperPAC seeking to privatize public schools,” adding:

“Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris in NYC and Assemblymember Phil Ramos on Long Island all won victories despite a massive, million-dollar independent expenditure from the SuperPAC in these races.”

Other incumbent Senate Democrats supported by the WFP who beat back challengers included James Sanders and Toby Ann Stavisky, both of whom represent districts in Queens.

The party also touted wins by its endorsed candidates running for open Assembly seats, including: lawyer and play producer Robert Carroll, who won the Park Slope seat being vacated by retiring Assemblyman Jim Brennan; and community board chair and coffee shop founder Tremaine Wright (NYC), who landed the Bed-Stuy seat currently represented by retiring Assemblywoman Annette Robinson; Anthony Eramo (Long Island), who was victorious in the fight for now-Sen. Toddd Kaminsky’s former seat in the lower house; Monica Wallace (Buffalo), who won the primary for the seat Republican Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak is giving up due to a sexual harassment scandal; and also Jamaal Bailey.

Bailey is a district leader and protégé of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. He won the fight for the Bronx/Westchester Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who departed to join the Cuomo administration earlier this year after losing a bid for Mount Vernon mayor in 2015.

The WFP did not pick a favorite in one of the biggest Senate primary brawls – a four-way race for the seat Sen. Adriano Espaillat is leaving after winning the June primary for retiring Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel’s seat.

Labor was divided in that race, which ended up being carried by Espaillat’s hand-picked successor, Marisol Alcantara, who was also backed by IDC Leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, and has indicated (though her spokeswoman, Lis Smith) that she will join the breakaway GOP-allied IDC conference after her all-but-certain general election win in November.

The party is most proud of the significant victory by Yuh-Line Niou, a 33-year-old Taiwan-born Assembly staffer who – as a WFP candidate – lost the April special election for the Lower Manhattan seat that used to belong to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Niou won a six-way primary in a field that included Silver’s special election successor, soon-to-be-former Assemblywoman Alice Cancel, (who finished fourth last night); and Paul Newell, a district leader and tenant advocate who unsuccessfully challenged Silver in a 2008 primary.

WFP State Director Bill Lipton credited Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom the party backed over hometown favorite Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, for energizing the progressive movement – an energy Lipton says continues and carried over into local races.

“Tonight’s results show that energy is only growing,” Lipton said. “WFP candidates swept our priority races tonight, fending off a million-dollar expenditure from billionaires seeking to privatize education and winning key open seat races that will shape the state Assembly for years to come. We congratulate all of tonight’s winners and look forward to working to send them to Albany and to winning a Democratic-Working Families majority in the state Senate in November.”

(Of course, the IDC – about to grow to six members strong – is probably going to have a lot more to say about who controls the chamber come January, but that’s a fight for another day).

The WFP took a gamble in backing Sanders and has lost the support of some of its big union backers (and their cash), whose officials groused that the party has become too ideological and dogmatic, leading to multiple fights with New York’s top Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

But Cuomo has been making (another) leftward lean of late, championing key WFP issues like a $15-an-hour minimum wage and Paid Family Leave, leading party leaders to take some credit for their role in pushing the Democrats – not just in New York, but across the nation – to the left.

The WFP has a big political challenge on the horizon as the Democratic elected official who is arguably its closest ally (not to mention Cuomo’s biggest nemesis), NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, is up for re-election next year, and, given his weak poll numbers, is facing potential primary battles from one – if not more – of his fellow Democrats.

AFL-CIO’s Cilento Re-Elected

Mario Cilento was unanimously re-elected the president of the New York State AFL-CIO on Monday, the labor group announced.

The election was held this morning at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel.

“I am honored, humbled and privileged to have the opportunity to continue to serve the Labor Movement in our state and I will work tirelessly over the next four years to improve the lives of working men and women and their families,” Cilento said.

Under Cilento, the union has played a role in the push for a $15 minimum wage — which was approved for New York City and the suburban counties earlier this year — as well as 12 weeks of paid family, which was also approved in the budget.

Meanwhile, the union has pushed for the passage of a service credit for veterans and keep upstate facilities such as the Alcoa plant in Massena and the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Oswego open.

“In addition, labor prevented changes to the workers’ compensation system that would have been detrimental to injured workers and ensured the Scaffold Law continues to help keep men and women safe on job,” Cilento said in a statement.

“These victories show what we can achieve when the Labor Movement coordinates its actions and makes its collective voice heard. Because, when 2.5 million members speak as one, we are impossible to ignore.”

Cilento was first elected the AFL-CIO president in New York in 2011.

AFL-CIO Endorses Stavisky, Bailey For Senate

The New York State AFL-CIO on Friday issued early endorsements in two state Senate races, backing Democrats Toby Ann Stavisky of Queens, an incumbent, and Jamaal Bailey, a Democrat who is seeking the Bronx-area district formerly represented by Ruth Hassell-Thompson.

At the same time, the labor group backed incumbent Assembly lawmakers Harry Bronson and Victor Pichardo.

Bronson is facing a closely watched primary from Rachel Barnhart, a former TV reporter in Rochester.

All of the candidates backed today by the AFL-CIO are facing primaries on Sept. 13.

“All of these candidates understand the priorities of the 2.5 million hardworking men and women of the NYS AFL-CIO,” said AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “They are committed to fighting hard for issues important to middle class families.

“With our early endorsements in place, we can now begin a grassroots campaign to get our members to the polls to ensure our endorsed candidates, and in turn an agenda that prioritizes the creation of solid middle class jobs and supports the vital public services all New Yorkers depend on, are successful.” added Cilento.