Elected and government officials weigh in on organized labor in New York.
Q: What are the key issues facing organized labor?
DS: The private-sector unions, especially the service sector, will continue to pursue a legislative agenda that will bring many of their members into the organized sector. Issues like living wage or prevailing wage and paid sick leave top the agenda for the service and retail unions. For the building trades, the economic collapse has been particularly brutal, and so as we begin to recover they are going to be central to the state’s plans for infrastructure improvements. They will be pursuing an agenda that includes project-labor agreements in exchange for their support for large-scale projects, which will require significant public money. The public sector, which continues to be battered by the recession and public antipathy, will have many battles on the horizon, and not just budgetary. Central to them is not being scapegoated again, and especially fighting any and all attempts to undermine the Taylor Law, most specifically the Triborough Amendment.
Q: What should be done to address pension costs for public-sector workers?
DS: The governor and others in the Legislature enacted a new pension tier this year to ostensibly deal with the rising costs. The truth is, it won’t do anything to deal with the immediate costs. Costs will come down as the economy and the market improve.
However, we must take steps to prevent these kinds of spikes from happening again, i.e., reducing our risk through our investments, having a more realistic rate of return and renegotiating our relationships with money managers. In addition, it is long past time to create a real pension-advisory task force to study the system and make recommendations for the future.
Q: Will the state minimum-wage legislation come back?
DS: The minimum-wage legislation should come back, and I believe it will before the end of the year. The labor movement needs to make sure that raising the bottom line for low-wage workers does not come at the expense of the rest of the workforce. They should be vigilant about linking minimum wage to repeal of Triborough or the Wicks Law.
Q: What are the top issues that impact organized labor?
AD: From “New York Works” to New York’s “Open for Business” campaign, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been focused on “jobs, jobs and jobs” and the overall expansion of the state’s economy. The governor’s efforts to bring stability to the state budget while investing wisely in large-scale infrastructure projects will put people back to work in the construction trades and create economic activity that will be felt in every corner of the state. The administration is also working on simplifying regulatory red tape and streamlining the permitting process.
Q: How would you describe the administration’s relationship with organized labor?
AD: Governor Cuomo has focused on building a strong foundation for the state’s economy, which will work to benefit all workers in the state, union and nonunion; public and private. The governor has successfully negotiated difficult but fiscally sound contracts with state public employees. These contracts balance the need to control costs with the reality of maintaining a strong and talented public-sector workforce to do the people’s business. The governor’s emphasis on intelligent infrastructure investments and his long-term economic development strategy based on local priorities developed by regional councils will ensure good jobs for local unions and long-term economic benefits for all communities in the state.
Q: What impact will state projects like the Tappan Zee Bridge have on the labor community?
AD: This summer the governor was able to reach a project-labor agreement with 14 labor organizations that will save taxpayers an estimated $452 million on the project. This agreement creates a collaborative relationship with labor for the entire project, preventing delays and cost overruns while pumping billions of dollars into the state’s economy and providing good paying jobs for thousands of construction workers, suppliers, truck drivers and local small businesses.
Q: What is your position on paid-sick-leave legislation in New York City?
JS: I am an ardent proponent of paid sick leave. This is not excess vacation or personal time; it’s a hedge against disease. It’s rare that we can control when we get sick or the severity of the disease as it takes its course, and it’s unconscionable to me that any employee in our city should be threatened with the loss of pay or their job simply because they got sick. The debate about paid sick leave is centered on a false choice between protecting the health and welfare of working New Yorkers and growing small business. I believe it’s possible to accommodate the needs of both.
Q: What should be done about rising pension costs for public-sector workers?
JS: There is no doubt that pension costs are a real and growing problem throughout New York. What is important to remember is that pensions are not a handout or a form of welfare. These people worked for decades, often doing difficult physical labor that has left them with serious health issues, and they have earned the right to a retirement. What’s needed is an end to corporate welfare. We need a shift in the way we invest public-sector pensions such that we ensure that the majority of those investments remain in New York City and the state. These funds can then be used to support the growth and development of New York-based companies, enhancing our tax base and covering the costs of future retirees.
Q: Could the state minimum-wage legislation come back?
JS: I believe anything is possible if we have the political will in Albany to make it happen. What’s missing on this issue is leadership with the courage to stand up for what is right. Both chambers and the governor’s office seem content to accept the status quo. With the right leadership and vision, I believe there is enough public support and political pressure for a state minimum wage that it could pass.
Q: What is your position on paid-sick-leave legislation?
DH: The current paid-sick-leave legislation is another case where good intentions have bad consequences. The smallest businesses, which provide the bulk of entry-level and unskilled jobs, are already staggering under the burden of regulations. Add all the costs imposed by state and city regulations and it’s no surprise we have higher unemployment here. Under the guise of helping workers, I’m convinced that this bill is going to cost jobs among the very people we’re purportedly trying to help.
Q: Will Walmart ever open a store in New York City?
DH: I have no idea of what they’re planning. But the fact is that despite all the hand-wringing about Walmart’s business practices in other places, New York State and City have more extensive labor laws and regulations than almost any place in this country. Even the biggest retailers have to toe the line here. It is also a fact that there’s no lawful way to keep a retailer from opening a store where zoning allows. If we’re really worried about mom-and-pop shops, we shouldn’t be beating up the corner store for selling a 20-ounce bottle of soda.
Q: What should be done about rising pension costs for public-sector workers?
DH: Something has to be done to reduce the cost of government, and pensions are a large part of it. We’re not talking about some international conglomerate. The “bosses” are we the people, and a lot of those bosses would be thrilled to have anywhere near the benefits afforded to public servants. It took years to create the pension problem, and it will take years to solve it. We can’t just rip up the contracts and cut pensions for the people who deliver our vital government services; that would be wrong and illegal. We need to look forward. I agree with the idea of new “tiers” for new employees because it’s necessary and fair. We offer jobs and those who apply for them know what they will be getting. Pension costs will come down, and in the meantime we can attack waste and inefficiency.
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