President’s Report

Affordable Housing is a Union Issue

Volume CI, No. 4April, 2001

Bill Moriarity

Local 802’s involvement with tenant issues goes back to the beginning of the John Glasel administration in 1983. Both John and Judy West, then the union’s Public Relations/Legislative Director, understood that, for the labor movement to realize its full potential, its focus had to be broader than specific workplace or collective bargaining issues.

To them, this union – and all unions, large and small – needed to be concerned with a larger world: one that encompassed legal rights secured through legislation; the provision of social services whenever an individual experienced difficulties; and access to affordable, convenient housing that allowed musicians reasonable instrumental practice rights.

Local 802’s efforts in each of these arenas led to tangible results. Legislation was enacted at the city and state level to define musicians and performers as employees. A successful campaign rescinded the restrictive rules governing cabarets. The Musicians’ Assistance Program was established, and ultimately funded through the Local 802 Emergency Relief Fund, to provide our members with short-term help in times of need. A tenants’ clinic was created, which remained in existence from 1983 to 1995, while Local 802 continued lobbying and public relations efforts to address the twin problems of maintaining rent regulations and affordable housing.

On March 8, New York State Tenants and Neighbors – a statewide organization that was founded in 1974 and has been in the forefront of lobbying efforts on behalf of tenants – held a Labor Breakfast in the Local 802 Club Room. Representatives of xx union attended the event, whose goals were to stimulate union involvement in these issues and to coordinate activities to maintain and build affordable housing.

In my brief opening remarks I said that Local 802 had recently met with three of the announced candidates for Mayor of New York City in 2001 – Public Advocate Mark Green, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone. All three spoke positively, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm, about the need to maintain affordable housing and rent regulations. Green seemed to be the most passionate on the subject, and he is raising the issue forcefully among many constituencies. Reprinted below are substantial excerpts from his recent address to the Queens County Builders and Contractors Association, in which he outlined the scope of the problem and called on every sector of our community to become involved in solving it.

That is where we – the members of New York City’s unions – come in. Unions remain the only organized voice for progressive social change in this country. It is essential that we understand the urgency of the housing issue, and the necessity to mobilize our members around it.

I find it puzzling that the two issues – health care and housing – which need the most attention, and whose failures arguably have the most devastating impact on the lives of millions of people, are both issues around which no widespread grassroots urgency is evident (although dedicated activists have been fighting both battles for decades). Complacency will kill us on these issues.

The support for rent regulations among local and state elected officials is extremely fragile and, I believe, is maintained only because these officials realize that a great many voters are protected by such regulations. Unless union members and their unions are vigilant and involved, the whole thing could collapse.