An endorsement by the labor movement can be very powerful, but not every union member might know how one comes about. The New York State AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education held its convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel at the end of the summer, and I was there along with fellow Local 802 Executive Board member Sara Cutler and former Chief of Staff Chris Carroll. The bulk of the agenda at these events is to vote for the political candidates the NY State AFL-CIO will endorse. The biggest contingent was from the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers, the largest New York State union – with an entire section of the room taken up with their delegates. Second to the teachers was the Civil Services Employees Association, with 300,000 members and a delegation about half the size of the teachers. There were also a number of building trades unions, representing the largest private sector union membership. Votes were taken to endorse candidates in the statewide primaries (which took place on Sept. 13) and the general election, scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 6.
On statewide positions, the votes were almost unanimous to endorse U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for re-election and NYC Public Advocate Letitia James for New York Attorney General. Governor Andrew Cuomo had been endorsed in early July. Gov. Cuomo addressed the convention as did Ms. James and Mr. DiNapoli.
Local 802 did not make any endorsements in those statewide races because with its relatively small size and limited resources, the local has employed a strategy of selective endorsements. We stick with districts that contain a heavy Local 802 population, major venues, or seats that could swing either way. We focus on races where a particular outcome would influence 802’s issues, like employee misclassification, housing and transportation, to name a few.
Most endorsements that were recommended by the NY State AFL-CIO Executive Committee passed automatically. Others were “pulled” from the list of recommendations for floor debates and votes. The convention hall got heated a few times. There was an argument between the Civil Services Employees Association and the New York State United Teachers over whether to endorse the Republican State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. CSEA likes him because he pushed a bill that stipulated standards for elevator inspectors. NYSUT doesn’t like him because he pushed for more charter schools. For an endorsement, there must be a two-thirds vote in favor. That didn’t happen – so the motion to endorse failed. There was another similar moment when a motion to endorse Republican State Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn failed. The uniformed public services unions, such as police and fire fighters, like him because he supported post-9/11 health care. But other public sector workers claim he crossed a picket line. After that motion failed, a motion was made to endorse his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gounardes. That also failed, narrowly. Local 802 took no position on either race.
Local 802 did endorse Democrat Zellnor Myrie, who was running against Democrat State Senator Jesse Hamilton. Hamilton had been a member of a breakaway group of Democrats (the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC) in the State Senate and in doing so, handed majority rule to the Republicans even though Democrats held a majority of seats. There was a motion to endorse Mr. Myrie that did succeed at the convention. On Sept. 13, Mr. Myrie beat Jesse Hamilton in the primary election. (In fact, six of the eight former IDC members lost to their challengers on Sept. 13.)
The COPE Convention this year was a study in how local politics can divide allies. However, the NY State AFL-CIO can unite when it needs to. When the statewide labor movement felt the threat of a state constitutional convention two years ago, everyone pulled together to defeat that initiative.
Local 802 endorsements can be found on our Political Action page.
Martha Hyde is a member of the Local 802 Executive Board.