United, we prosper. The New York City labor movement has never been as solid as it is today, but that hasn’t always been the case. As we celebrate the election of a new pro-labor mayor, it’s a good time to look back at our history and not take our current unity for granted.
The Central Labor Council, which was founded in 1959, is the flagship organization of the New York City labor movement. But for many years, the CLC was a moribund organization of about 400 union locals whose only mission was to sponsor the Labor Day parade and issue press releases supporting various labor causes. It did very little to encourage grassroots campaigns. All power resided in the presidency and there was very little accountability to the various local unions who actually made up the council.
In fact, the CLC was in real trouble during the 1990s when one of its presidents was convicted and jailed for embezzling funds. He was followed by another president who was forced to resign due to similar charges.
However, this all changed radically when the bylaws of the CLC were modified in 2011 to create a secretary-treasurer position, who would be second in command to the president. The new bylaws also required the CLC officers to report regularly to the executive board, which must approve all policies and programs.
Vincent Alvarez, a member of the electricians’ union (IBEW Local 3), was elected president in 2011, along with the first secretary-treasurer, Janella Hinds, of the United Federation of Teachers.
For many years, Local 802 was not really active in the CLC. With the election of John Glasel as Local 802 president in 1983, Local 802’s perspective changed radically. Local 802 started contributing bands to perform at the CLC’s Labor Day parade and the May Day rally at City Hall (see photos below article). Local 802 also sent musicians to play on picket lines and whenever other unions needed us.
In recent years, Local 802 has received specific support from the CLC for our Justice for Jazz Artists campaign. The CLC wrote letters to jazz club owners and will be active in lobbying for passage of a City Council resolution sponsored by Local 802 that supports collective bargaining in nightclubs.
In his first speech to the CLC’s delegates, President Alvarez said, “We are committed to working tirelessly at putting together a competent organization, comprised of intelligent and dedicated individuals poised to deal with today’s challenges and who are ready, willing and able to serve the labor movement.”
The CLC has, in fact, been following through on President Alvarez’s vision. He has stressed the importance of more grassroots participation and involvement in all CLC activities. Last November, for example, Bill de Blasio and many City Council members received tremendous support for their election campaigns from the CLC, whose staff worked hard to get out the vote. What does this mean for Local 802? When the mayor and City Council are strongly pro-union, they can be a powerful influence when we’re in negotiations on Broadway or Lincoln Center, especially if it comes down to a labor dispute or a strike. Elected officials who are friendly to us will help us achieve fair deals with employers and make sure they don’t engage in union busting.
A dramatic example of how union supported political leaders can directly affect workers is a recent settlement of labor law violation complaints filed by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on behalf of car wash employees. As a result of that settlement, car wash workers won $300,000 in back pay. Those workers are represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has negotiated contracts for some of the these car wash facilities and is organizing the rest of them. Schneiderman is a CLC-supported leader who has made it clear he will do whatever he can for working people and his efforts are paying off.
Finally, we should recognize that the CLC was active in the successful drive for state funding of pre-K education.
Currently, the CLC is concerned with the following campaigns:
- Contract negotiations between the city and its public employees. The public employee unions have already reported a radical change in the city’s bargaining stance. There is sympathy for the workers’ plight and serious consideration of their proposals. The contract with the teachers’ union reflects that new stance, and may set a pattern for contracts with the other unions.
- The Central Park horse-drawn carriage situation. The drivers of the carriages belong to the Teamsters, and the CLC has written letters to City Council and lobbied vigorously on their behalf. This is an example of a rare issue where the CLC may have a different take than Mayor de Blasio, but we have all been cautioned to see this as an isolated situation. President Alvarez has made it clear that the mayor has shown he is solidly in labor’s corner and that the drivers will get jobs driving antique cars. Moreover, President Alvarez has warned that there are many powerful, wealthy, anti-union people who want this mayor to fail and we cannot afford to let that happen.
- Immigration. The CLC is lobbying for both the state and federal “Dream Acts,” which would give the children of undocumented immigrants the right to earn scholarships and loans for higher education and would open up a path to citizenship for them.
These are only a few of the challenges the New York Central Labor Council is confronting. There are many others and we hope to keep all of you informed in future issues of Allegro.
Marvin Moschel is one of Local 802’s delegates to the New York City Central Labor Council. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.