ALBANY – Democratic legislators joined labor leaders Tuesday in a direct challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul and key parts of the $227 billion state budget she has proposed ahead of an April 1 deadline.
“We worked very hard to get you elected because we believed in you,” George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU told thousands of members assembled in an Albany arena.
“But it’s time for us to tell you, with love, we don’t work for you – you work for us,” he added.
The $2.5 billion push by 1199 – one of the most powerful unions in New York – to increase funding for hospitals and nursing homes, increase worker pay, and eventually raise the minimum wage statewide to $21.25 is just the latest fiscal headache Hochul has gotten from organized labor in the budget process.
She is also fighting the state teacher’s union over expanding charter schools in New York City alongside clashes with Teamsters over banning flavored tobacco weeks after an broader array of unions over her failed pick to lead New York’s top court.
And AFL-CIO state honcho Mario Cilento said at the Albany rally on Tuesday that attacks on one union amount to taking on the whole labor movement.
“The beauty of our movement is that we come from everywhere,” he said before adding: “And if you pick up on us, you have to deal with all of us.”
The state Senate and Assembly backed many of the budgetary requests from 1199 in the one-house budget resolutions they passed last week, which also rejected Hochul’s proposals on charters, minimum wage, and the proposed ban on flavored tobacco.
State lawmakers want to raise the minimum wage before pegging it to inflation while Hochul – whose proposed health care spending is not as high as 1199 wants – is only proposing the latter.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and other top Democratic legislators praised the pandemic contributions of front-line workers represented by 1199 while saying Tuesday they could count on the legislative supermajorities in negotiations with Hochul.
“We appreciate you so we will make sure that this budget reflects that,” Assembly Health Committee Chair Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) said.
While powerful unions are lined up against Hochul on some of her topic budget proposals, some labor groups have sided with the embattled governor on other fronts.
The AFL-CIO has previously spoken favorably about a “cap and invest” plan to charge polluters as well as her minimum wage plans while the Teamsters and unions repping performers are backing her controversial proposal to increase state tax breaks for TV and film productions.
“Labor’s responsibilities is first and foremost to its membership and posturing is always to be expected, but there’s a difference between standing up for your priorities and lobbing attacks. The savvy unions know this,” Democratic political consultant Jake Dilemani said.
Construction unions and Local 338 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union have also expressed support for her housing push in the budget amid resistance from suburban lawmakers concerned about upending local zoning rules.
Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays expressed optimism Tuesday that ongoing friction with organized labor could get resolved in a final budget deal.
“Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget makes transformative investments to make New York more affordable, more livable and safer, and she looks forward to working with the legislature on a final budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers,” she said.
Powerful labor groups have aligned with state lawmakers before when it served the interests of their members, but political experts say this year is different given the relative strength of the Democratic supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly.
Democratic lawmakers are also resisting Hochul over her proposed changes to bail reform, raising taxes on the wealthy and the enforcement mechanism of her housing plan while expressing support for requiring downstate and upstate localities to respectively increase units by 3% and 1% each year.
“It’s about money and power,” Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said. “She’s got power but it’s not the same because the Legislature doesn’t have to do anything she wants. Those supermajorities change everything.”
An Albany insider said her rejected court pick hardly helped though the labor unions that opposed her court pick have a record of backing policies to the left of the relatively centrist governor.
But ideology did not stop disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo from cozying up to organized labor when it suited his political purposes – an arrangement that appears beyond the control of his successor on key items in her first budget since winning a full term last year.
“Andrew Cuomo didn’t cozy up to labor unions because he was a true believer,” the insider said. “He did it for political expediency because there are more than 2 million union members in the state and he wanted to co-opt potential opponents.”
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