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

NYSUT Hits the Airwaves

Under fire from Cuomo, who has made clear that education reform will be among his top priorities this session, NYSUT is fighting back.

The state teachers union today is taking the wraps off a new ad campaign – worth close to $1 million – that calls on the governor to “move beyond politics and ensure the state adequately and equitably funds its public schools.”

First reported by the Daily News, followed by an early morning email blast from the union itself, the TV ad will run in Albany and New York City for the six days leading up to Cuomo’s State of the State/budget address next Wednesday.

In that speech, Cuomo is widely expected to continue to target teachers unions, portraying them as a roadblock to his push to improve the state’s public education system.

The 30-second “documentary-style” ad, which can be viewed below, features a narrator reading from a Jan. 5 New York Times editorial that deemed the real “crisis” in education to be the state’s failure to meet its constitutional requirement to adequately fund public schools.

The rift between the have and have-not schools was exposed in the 2006 CFE ruling, in which the state’s highest court ruled that Albany had systematically shortchanged high-needs schools – especially in New York City.

Then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer hammered out a plan to boost school funding for poor districts, eventually adding some $7 billion a year. But thanks to the state’s economic woes, that plan was never fully realized.

Now school funding is again the subject of a lawsuit, and Cuomo is talking – quite loudly – about the need for districts to do more with less, with his administration noting in response to a call from education advocates and the Board of Regents for some $2 billion in additional aid that New York has among the highest per-pupil spending rates in the nation.

NYSUT’s ad comes on the heels of a report from AQE that showed inequity in school funding has grown to record levels during Cuomo’s tenure.

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.”