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.

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 >