Races for Albany and DC
Every election is important, but for the labor movement the 2018 elections in November are a turning point.
It is the first time since the Janus decision was handed down – ruling that nonmembers in a bargaining unit are no longer required to pay agency shop fees to the union – that union members will be able to express their political agency at the ballot box. And since the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, union members have seen unabashed class warfare in terms of tax cuts for the rich, an anti-union reorganization of the National Labor Relations Board and the appointment of two anti-labor justices to the Supreme Court.
VOTE IN NOVEMBER
Union members have a chance to change things at the state and national level to turn things around. It’s of extreme importance that every PSC member who is registered to vote go to the polls on November 6, union leaders said.
Already this primary season, New York City politics have been upended by voter thirst for progressive change – an indication of both a move away from centrism and one that hopefully marks an upsurge in the mobilization of the progressive base. This summer, residents in parts of Queens and the Bronx voted out an entrenched and established incumbent congressman in favor of progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who seems all-but assured victory on election day given the nature of the district. New York City Democrats appear tired of business as usual when it comes to their representation and unwilling to sit back and accept the status quo in the era of Trump.
A few months later, New York Democratic voters sent a similar message at the state level, ousting most of the state senators of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), Democrats who caucused with Republicans, thereby robbing the Democratic Party of a majority in the upper house and blocking the chance of any kind of large-scale, ambitious progressive legislation from making its way to the governor’s desk. Among the new progressives who are likely heading to Albany next year are Jessica Ramos of Queens, Robert Jackson of Manhattan, Alessandra Biaggi of the Bronx and Westchester and Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn.
The union has already reached out to many of these likely lawmakers-to-be – many of whom ran on anti-austerity, pro-public-service platforms – about the importance of pushing for full state funding of CUNY and SUNY.
“They’re all eager to work with us and to fight for CUNY once they’re elected,” PSC Legislative Representative Mike Fabricant said.
John Jay College political scientist Susan Kang, who was active in the anti-IDC primary campaigns, told Clarion, “These IDC challengers are committed to public higher education and funding CUNY, and many of them support $7K for adjuncts. We’ll find that we have new strong allies in the State Senate who will be willing to meet with the PSC and prioritize the needs of our students in Albany.”
Union activists throughout the state have an opportunity to flip the State Senate not only back into Democratic control, but with a group of new, progressive Democrats. A narrow Republican majority in the Senate has suppressed lots of union-friendly legislation over the years. “We want to have a strong Democratic majority so strong progressive legislation that goes through the State Assembly can go through the Senate in a way that will meet the needs not just of the CUNY community, but all New Yorkers,” Kang said. “CUNY funding is important, because not only do we have stagnating wages and rising tuition, we have crumbling infrastructure, a failure to hire full-time faculty and we need to have fully funded programs and services for students.”
But not all of the new insurgent candidates are assured victory on November 6. John Liu ousted IDC incumbent Tony Avella in Queens, but he faces a strong Republican, Vickie Paladino, in the general election.
Worse yet, Avella has not accepted the drubbing lightly and has indicated he will stay on the ballot on the Independence and Women’s Equality Party lines, issuing the implied threat of possibly splitting the Democratic Party vote to sway the outcome toward Paladino. Liu, who served in the City Council and one term as city comptroller, will still need rank-and-file union supporters doing door-to-door work to win in a district that has trended toward Republicans and conservative Democrats in the past.
HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPORT
Liu said that if elected to the State Senate he would work to increase the state’s funding of CUNY.
“Public higher education is a substantial part of the state annual budget, but that seems not to have kept pace with the growth of the overall budget,” Liu told Clarion. “I’d work to restore at least a fair share of the state budget for CUNY. That should alleviate the pressure on tuition increases, but it would also help fund fair contracts, which is in the best interests of the public, because there is a direct correlation between faculty budget and educational excellence.”
Liu added that he would fight to protect public sector unions in light of the recent Supreme Court decision that forbids unions like the PSC from collecting agency shop fees from nonmembers in a bargaining unit. “Strong public sector unions further the public interest,” he said.
The union is also encouraging members to support Democrat Andrew Gounardes, who is looking to unseat Republican Marty Golden. Flipping the Brooklyn seat is key to putting the senate in the Democrats’ control.
Also of key importance is moving the House of Representatives into Democratic control, which would, at the very least, stymie the already incredibly destructive and reactionary Trump administration, which for two years has operated with a GOP-controlled Congress.
Democrat Max Rose has a chance to unseat incumbent Republican Dan Donovan in Staten Island. Flipping the seat is far from impossible. While thought to be a solidly conservative voting bloc, the previous Republican from the area, Michael Grimm, came into power after a Democratic congressmember. And Rose has already spoken to Donovan’s inactivity in responding to the Janus decision, despite the high volume of public sector union members living in the borough.
PSC members and other supporters have been handing out campaign literature for Rose at the Manhattan terminal for the Staten Island Ferry, catching commuters on their evening commute on several occasions leading up to the November vote.