Leading the Way for Working Families

Local 802 Joins Working Families PartyPresident's Report

Volume CV, No. 4April, 2005

David Lennon

Local 802 recently became the newest member of the Working Families Party of New York. Joining with over 80 other labor and community organizations, we are the first entertainment industry union to enter the Working Families Party. By becoming a part of this already successful coalition, we are helping build power for working people across New York.


The Working Families Party is a grassroots, community and labor-based political party with chapters throughout New York state. The goal of the Working Families Party is to more forcefully inject the issues of working-class, middle-class and poor people into the public debate, and hold candidates and elected officials accountable on those issues.

The Working Families Party was formed in 1998 to provide a strong independent voice for working people in state politics. The idea is simple: build a political party with a ballot line that will fight for issues like living wage jobs, education, affordable housing, health care and campaign finance reform. WFP has helped elect dozens of candidates and received hundreds of thousands of votes.


Membership in the WFP does not require us to support endorsed candidates. In fact, most WFP members and supporters are registered in other parties, not registered in any party or not registered to vote at all. WFP membership does, however, provide an avenue to shape future public policy discussions in the labor movement.

The WFP uses a unique “fusion” strategy to achieve electoral success. New York is one of the only states to allow minor parties to cross-endorse a candidate of another party. (So, for example, in the last presidential campaign, you could have voted for John Kerry either on the Democratic ticket or on the Working Families Party ticket.) Candidates can run on multiple ballot lines, receiving credit for all lines on which they run.

New York is, therefore, one of the few states in the country where a minor party, such as the WFP, can have a major impact. Because of fusion, our ballot line means something very real to the politicians in New York state. Our ballot line is both the “carrot” and the “stick” that is used to pressure politicians. When politicians support and fight for our issues, they get the reward of an extra ballot line and the additional votes it provides. Likewise, when they don’t support us, they face the “stick” option – we can run our own candidate on our line, or support the opposing party’s pick.


By voting for a candidate on the WFP line, voters show their backing of an agenda that supports working families. The WFP mostly endorses Democratic candidates, but has also supported several labor-friendly Republicans. Also, WFP occasionally runs its own candidates, such as Letitia James. James became the first third party candidate elected to the New York City Council in several decades and, since being sworn into office, has been a steadfast voice for working people.

Besides supporting and electing candidates, the WFP has a far-ranging public policy agenda.

Again, the WFP stands out as one of the few progressive organizations in 2004 to win major victories at the state level.

Several important legislative priorities were accomplished, most notably achieving a two-dollar increase in the minimum wage. When the new wage is fully phased in on Jan. 1, 2007, over 1.2 million workers will benefit. The increase will mean an additional $1 million an hour in the pockets of working New Yorkers. This was the culmination of a six-year campaign. The State Assembly has supported an increase every year since 1999. However, the Republican-controlled State Senate refused to act on the bill. The WFP aggressively targeted several key Republican senators, engaging in grassroots organizing across New York.

By threatening to withhold endorsement from candidates who did not support the bill, the WFP forced a veto-proof majority in both chambers. When Gov. George Pataki vetoed the bill, 18 Republican Senators joined with their Democratic colleagues to support the increase. As a result, more than one million New Yorkers will receive a long overdue raise.

In another victory, WFP backed an insurgent candidate for district attorney of Albany County. The election became a referendum on Rockefeller drug law reform. David Soares, the WFP’s candidate, made drug law reform the signature issue of his campaign and defeated incumbent Paul Cylne, who was a national spokesman for Rockefeller-style mandatory minimum sentencing.

Soares’ election demonstrated that elected officials could be made to pay the ultimate political price for obstructing reform.


In addition to over 80 member organizations, the WFP has nearly 20 activist chapters. Chapters and clubs across the state conduct the day-to-day work of the WFP. Membership in the WFP means more than signing a form or writing a check. It means being an active participant in the local party, with a full voice in all decisions.

As the only union representing entertainment workers in the WFP, Local 802 will have a major voice in all discussions focused on our industry. Local 802 members can have an impact on this process by joining their local chapter.

Probably the single most compelling reason why Local 802 joined the Working Families Party can be summed up by the following paragraph found on their Web site,

“We build from the bottom up – from local communities and the elections that are decided in them – rather than the top down. This isn’t a flashy approach, but it gets us something real: experience, capacity, organization, and a meaningful and actively participating base in communities across the state. We use our ballot line as a tool – to reward candidates who fight for our issues, punish those who don’t, and encourage everyone to put their money where their mouth is.”

We now have a choice. We can spend the next four years lamenting over opportunities lost, or we can strategically organize ourselves to leverage real political power. The WFP has been doing just that for the past seven years. We are proud to join them.

WPF chapters are active all year round. A number of areas with large concentrations of musicians, such as the Manhattan Plaza and the Upper West Side, do not have active chapters.

If you are interested in helping build the WFP in your locale or in general, there will be a preliminary meeting of all interested 802 members:

WHEN: April 20, from 12 noon to 2 p.m.

WHERE: Local 802 Executive Board Room (fifth floor).

Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP with Heather Beaudoin, 802’s public relations director, at (212) 245-4802, ext 176 if you plan to attend.