Laborers International Leader Calls On Puerto Rico Governor To Resign

A top leader at the Laborers International Union of North America on Tuesday called on Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign amid ongoing protests on the island territory.

The union, which has thousands off New York City members, has done a lot of work in Puerto Rico in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

But the protests, launched over dissatisfaction with Rosselló’s handling of multiple crises as well as texts considered sexist and inappropriate that have been made public, have led officials in New York, including Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Attorney General Letitia James, for him to step down.

“For the governor not to recognize that he is a distraction from the vast amount of work still left to do to rebuild the island is careless,” said Raymond Pacino, the union’s eastern region vice president.

“Again, we are grateful for the progress for the working men and women of Puerto Rico in partnership with the governor. But as we look into the future, it is critical that the hard-working men and women have sustainable, ethical leadership of their government.”

Influential Labor Leader Hector Figueroa Has Died

Hector Figueroa, a prominent and influential labor leader in New York and national politics died Thursday evening, 32BJ SEIU, the labor union he led, announced in a statement.

“For those of us who have worked with him to further the well-being of our members and working people everywhere, and felt his personal and principled concern for our members, our staff and others this is a devastating loss,” the union said in a statement. “In his many years of service to our union, to the labor movement, and to our communities, he consistently joined together a clear vision about the empowerment of working people with compassion and energy.”

Figueroa was a prominent voice in issue advocacy on immigrant rights as well as economic matters, like boosting the state’s minimum wage to $15.

Figueroa became 32BJ president in 2012, representing workers in service industries that include window cleaners, airport workers, doormen, security officers and maintenance workers.

“Hector also stood up for progressive values and used his position to advocate for immigrant rights, environmental protection, expanded voting rights, and racial, social and economic justice,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“Hector Figueroa was more than a political ally, he was a dear friend, and I am deeply saddened by his untimely passing. My thoughts are with his family, especially his wife Deidre and his children, Eric and Elena, and all those who loved Hector. I hope that his memory will be a blessing and inspiration for us all to continue his work building a better state and nation.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Figueroa a champion for working class people.

“I am beyond heartbroken to learn of the sudden passing of Héctor Figueroa – a towering figure in politics and a hero of the labor community who did untold good for the working people of this state and this nation,” he said.

Empire Center Urges State And Public Employers To Comply With Janus ASAP

Fiscally conservative think tank the Empire Center for Public Policy sent a letter Tuesday to state and local public employers across New York urging them to quickly comply with new obligations as a result of the Janus S. AFSCME Supreme Court ruling.

The center pointed out there were “immediate implications” of the decision that employer cannot deduct fees for state and public sector-unions from employees who have not consented to pay. Union leaders have decried the ruling as a major setback for the labor movement across the country.

Regardless, the Empire Center said the language of the ruling is not ambiguous.

“As we celebrate another Independence Day, complying with the Janus ruling is a way for public employers to protect the newly clarified First Amendment rights of government employees,” Executive Director Tim Hoefer said. “Prompt compliance also will protect taxpayers from having to absorb the costs of any employee litigation that might otherwise needlessly result from the continued collection of agency fees.”

Hoefer also noted state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has said he will comply with the ruling starting this month. Other local governments, like Erie County and Buffalo, said they are currently looking at how to proceed.

32 BJ Splits the Democratic Primary Baby

The building workers union Local 32BJ is out with its endorsements for the upcoming Democratic state primaries in September – a list that, as expected, includes one of the insurgent candidates seeking to oust an erstwhile IDC member.

As has already been announced, the union is bakcing Alessandra Biaggi, a former counsel for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is challenging state Sen. Jeff Klein, the former IDC leader.

Much was made of this endorsement, which led to a war of words between 32BJ head Hector Figueroa and Sen. Diane Savino, another erstwhile IDC member, who slammed the union leader for questioning in a New York Times interview whether the IDC is really indeed dead following a deal negotiated by Cuomo earlier this year, likening the conference to a “zombie,” adding: “Only a blow in the head, (meaning Klein), can kill a zombie.”

As Nick Reisman noted last week, 32BJ played a key role in brokering the agreement to bring the IDC back into the fold with the so-called “regular” Senate Democrats. It seems that deal has been endangered – if not outright upended – by the surprise victory last week of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez ofer Queens Rep. Joe Crowley, with a number of elected officials, including NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, rushing to demonstrate their solidarity with the left by backing the IDC primary challengers.

But when it comes to members of the former breakaway conference other than Klein, it appears the union is actually opting to stay on the sidelines.

According to the list released today, 32BJ isn’t picking favorites in the 13th Senate District, where Queens community organizer Jessica Ramos is running against Sen. Jose Peralta. It also declined to back former NYC Councilman Robert Jackson, who is trying to unseat Sen. Marisol Alcantara in the 31st Senate District.

The union is also taking a pass on endorsing anyone in the 20th Senate District, where affordable housing advocate Zellnor Myrie is running against Sen. Jesse Hamilton.

In addition, no endorsements were made in the 11th Senate District, represented by Tony Avella, or the 23rd Senate District, which is represented by Savino. The same goes for the 38th, which is home to Sen. David Carlucci; and the 53rd, held by Sen. David Valesky.

Here’s Figueroa’s official statement on the endorsements:

“Right now, more than ever, New York State needs champions of that will fight for workers’ rights. Union members are focused on electing progressive candidates to represent working New Yorkers in Albany.”

“In the face of unprecedented attacks on working families, we are endorsing candidates who will fight for good jobs and help more New Yorkers join and form unions. Together we will champion legislation to protect immigrant communities, defend voting rights and access, achieve bail reform, and stand up for policies to protect the environment.”

“Thousands of 32BJ SEIU members will get involved in political action this year to remind voters, candidates and elected officials that New York needs unions to build the middle class.”

Flynn Lands 1st Labor Endorsement in NY-19 Dem Race

From the Morning Memo:

Brian Flynn, one of seven Democrats vying for the right to challenge freshman Republican Rep. John Faso in NY-19, is poised to announce he has landed the first labor endorsement of the primary battle.

Flynn, a businessman from Hunter, is being backed by the Transport Workers Union, a national labor organization, whose international president, John Samuelsen, (also FORMER president of TWU Local 100 here in New York), said in a statement to be released by Flynn’s campaign that the candidate is “a leader who understands that the economic security of families must be the highest priority of Congress, and that unions are a necessary partner in that mission.”

“From his advocacy to strengthen airport/airline security after his personal loss in the Lockerbie bombing, to his complete grasp of labor struggles, including the expected impact of Janus, Brian Flynn is the ally the entire TWU membership needs in Washington,” added Angelo Cucuzza, chairman of the New York TWU Conference, comprised of locals across the state.

The TWU represents more than 140,000 men and women in the airline, railroad, transit, service, utility and gaming industries across the U.S., and 43,000 of them are members of Local 100 in New York City.

Flynn has a long-standing and very personal tie to this union. One of its founders and first president, Michael Quill, was Flynn’s great uncle. He successfully organized New York City subway workers in the 1930s, and then secured contracts for them that – for the first time – granted them weekends off, pensions and health care coverage.

“To be the first and only candidate endorsed by labor in this race, particularly by an organization that holds such a deep and personal legacy for my family, is a profound honor,” Flynn said. “Unions are a powerful weapon in the fight against inequality, wage stagnation and a system that doesn’t represent the needs of a large majority of American workers.”

“They work to tackle racial and gender inequality by raising wages of women, black and Hispanic workers. I believe in an America That Works For All of Us. That’s why reinvigorating unions is a major tenet of my Plan For the American Worker. At the end of the day, this is about economic justice.”

Flynn is the only candidate in this race – actually, the only candidate in the entire state – whose campaign staffers have unionized, which, apparently is something of a mini-movement at a handful of congressional campaigns (all Democratic candidates) across the country.

So, TWU in New York is, as mentioned, pretty much a downstate entity. But in a Democratic field this crowded, any small leg up – via organizing, or independent expenditures, or phone-banking, or what have you – could make a difference leading up to the June primary.

AFL-CIO Nods Go To Donovan, Maloney And Crowley

The New York AFL-CIO on Tuesday endorsed two Democrats and a Republican in their re-election bids: Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Joseph Crowley and Dan Donovan.

“All three of these candidates have proven track records of fighting for issues important to the middle class,” said the union’s president, Mario Cilento. “We need them advocating on behalf of all New Yorkers to ensure working people have a strong voice in Washington. The labor movement is committed to working hard to get them reelected.”

The endorsement for Donovan comes as he is embroiled in an increasingly nasty re-election campaign in a Republican primary against former Rep. Michael Grimm. It also comes after it was reported over the weekend that Donovan help his domestic partner’s son out of a heroin-related arrest on Staten Island.

The AFL-CIO, meanwhile, also endorsed two Democrats running to fill vacant seats in the state Senate, Shelley Mayer and Luis Sepulveda, both current members of the state Assembly.

Cuomo Nets Another Union Nod (Updated)

From the Morning Memo:

A number of organized labor groups have lined up to provide early endorsements to Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he seeks a third term this fall and faces a new primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, with the latest nod coming from the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1500, New York’s largest supermarket workers union.

The union’s president, Anthony Speelman, is poised to formally announce this endorsement today, explaining that the governor has earned his members’ support by demonstrating a “track record of achieving meaningful progressive victories.”

“It is easy to talk a progressive talk, but Andrew Cuomo walks the walk,” Speelman said in a press release, an early version of which was obtained by SoP.

“Thanks to the leadership of Andrew Cuomo, low-wage workers saw their paychecks increase, companies who steal from workers face the toughest penalties in history, and marriage equality is a reality in New York. New York is a better place because he governs it, and he has clearly earned another term.”

Speelman specifically pointed to the governor’s work strengthening the Wage Theft Prevention Act, which he said Local 1500 led efforts to pass in 2010. In 2014, the Cuomo administration, working with Local 1500 and other stakeholders, strengthened the law by establishing important provisions to hold violators accountable.

This is not a big surprise.

UFCW Local 1500 has long been a Cuomo ally, dating back all the way back in 2010 when he first ran for governor.

UPDATED with correction: RWDSU, not Local 1500, was in fact the first union to announce its support of then-AG Cuomo’s gubernatorial run in 2010, making its endorsement even before he had formally entered the race, and also before then-Gov. David Paterson announced he wouldn’t be seeking a full term.

The union has been a stalwart of support for the governor even as his relationship with other unions – particularly those in the public sector – has been rocky, due to his intermittent battles with teachers and state workers.

Another longstanding Cuomo labor ally, SEIU, the health care workers union, has also provided the governor with an early endorsement this year. So did another longtime Cuomo backer, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which actually was the first to announce its endorsement in the governor’s race this year.

Another early nod for the governor came from the National Organization for Women-New York.

The governor is seeking to quickly shore up support among his left-leaning Democratic base – a group with which he has not always seen eye-to-eye – particularly since Nixon, also a public education activist, announced she would challenge him in a primary in September.

When Zephyr Teachout, then a little-known Fordham Law School professor, challenged Cuomo in a primary four years ago, one of the state’s largest public workers unions, PEF, endorsed her, while NYSUT decided to sit out the governor’s race entirely, declining to pick a favorite.

Also sitting on the sidelines that year was the AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization of New York labor.

Cuomo and PEF announced a three-year labor deal back in 2016, and he struck a five-year deal with the largest state worker union, CSEA, in 2017.

CSEA President Danny Donohue, who in the past has not been shy about sharing some choice words about Cuomo, has left the door open to possibly endorsing the governor as he seeks a third term.

Since Nixon entered the race, there has been considerable speculation about what the labor-backed Working Families Party will do. The WFP initially wooed Teachout, but ended up backing Cuomo in 2014. The party needs to receive at lest 50,000 votes on its line in the race for governor in order to maintain ballot status for the next four years.

UFCW Local 1500 also will be announcing its endorsement of LG Kathy Hochul, who is facing a primary challenge from Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, who enjoys support from groups that were active in backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary bid against Hillary Clinton.

In explaining the union’s support for Hochul, Speelman recalled that she was “instrumental in saving Medicare from (House Speaker) Paul Ryan and the Congressional Republicans. He also noted that as Cuomo’s No. 2., she has tackled “critical issues” like the opioid crisis, economic development and and sexual assaults on college campuses.

There has been some speculation that Cuomo might seek to replace Hochul with another candidate who would have ticket-balancing appeal in light of recent developments in the race.

Names that have so far been floated include Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, who has said she isn’t terribly interested in the job, and hasn’t been approached by Team Cuomo; and former NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who found herself in hot water last week after calling Nixon an “unqualified lesbian” – a statement she later walked back.

Cuomo has said publicly that Hochul will again be his running mate this fall.

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.