Elected president of the Social Service Employees Union Local 371 in 2011, Anthony Wells represents 17,000 members working in social services, including New York City Administration for Children’s Services’ youth specialists trained to work with incarcerated 16- and 17-year-olds, who are no longer housed with adult inmates. Wells is fighting against renewed efforts to implement single-payer health care in New York because he doesn’t want his union members to give up health benefits secured through collective bargaining.
The 2019 Labor Power 100; 51 - 100
The 2019 Labor Power 100; 51 - 100
Reelected to the District Council 37 executive board in January, Carmen Charles also heads the 10,000-member Municipal Hospital Employees Union Local 420 – representing employees at New York City’s hospitals, clinics and morgues. A founder of District Council 37’s Caribbean Heritage Committee, Charles regularly speaks out on immigration: “I urge you to stand with your union against anti-immigrant policies. We – and all immigrants – have value and bring so much to New York City and to America.”
As executive secretary-treasurer of the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters, Joseph Geiger is in charge of a 25,000-member organization comprised of nine local unions. First elected to his current position in late 2013, Geiger is trying to help the union shake a history of corruption that had it placed under court supervision – five of its top leaders were either removed or resigned between 1982 and 2013.
First elected president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association in 2002, Ed Mullins is known for making waves at the NYPD. He’s ranted against Commissioner James O’Neill for waging what Mullins calls a “political witch hunt” against a sergeant who fatally shot a mentally ill woman in the Bronx in 2016. In 2018, his union drew heat for offering $500 to civilians who assist NYPD officers instead of videotaping them.
An actor and voice-over performer, Rebecca Damon leads a union representing 160,000 actors, writers, recording artists and other media and entertainment professionals. She’s also president of the SAG-AFTRA New York local, a role she filled following the death of Mike Hodge a month after his reelection in 2017. An advocate for performers nationwide, Damon has worked to strengthen New York’s Right of Publicity law to benefit members.
Shaun D. Francois I, who took over as president of District Council 37 in January after defeating longtime President Eddie Rodriguez, serves as a liaison between the presidents of the more than 50 locals and DC 37’s executive director. Francois is also president of the New York City Board of Education Employees Local 372, which represents nearly 24,000 school crossing guards, lunch workers, health aides and others.
The first female president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1180, Gloria Middleton oversees more than 9,000 active members and 6,200 retirees. The union’s membership overwhelmingly consists of women, women of color and other minorities in New York City administrative and supervisory roles. Middleton is currently overseeing negotiations on a contract that expired in May 2018, and advocated for a new law that bans employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.
The longtime law enforcement official (he joined the NYPD in 1979 and made detective in 1987) opposes decriminalizing marijuana and not prosecuting subway turnstile jumpers. In a statement to the organization’s members in July, Michael Palladino lashed out at city and state politicians for what he called their “deafening silence” in response to videos of people dousing police officers with water. Palladino is a trustee of the $33 billion New York City Police Pension Fund.
A member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14-14B for more than 30 years, Edwin Christian has been its business manager for the past decade, representing roughly 1,600 heavy equipment operators and other trade workers in New York City. The union once drew its power from its ability to shut down high-rise construction projects. With developers more frequently bypassing union labor, Christian still holds sway in the licensing and regulation of crane operators.
Elected to lead the more than 11,000-member International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9 in 2015, Joseph Azzopardi represents workers who paint signs, polish metal and cut glass. In April, Azzopardi announced painters and wall-coverers had ratified a five-year contract covering more than 4,000 workers in New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Putnam counties. He’s known for being a strong advocate of worker safety.
As president of the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body, Thomas Carey represents 150,000 members in Westchester and Putnam counties. He’s also a longtime business agent of United Association Local 21, where he began his career. Carey also worked on the transition team for Westchester County Executive George Latimer, served on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council and the Indian Point Closure Task Force. He is a volunteer firefighter with the Verplanck Fire Department.
Sandra Oxford is the new executive director of the organization representing more than 113,000 members in seven Hudson Valley counties. A longtime labor activist, Oxford decided to work on behalf of farmworkers and the state Justice For Farmworkers Campaign after living on a farm upstate in 1988. Billy Riccaldo recently retired as the organization’s president, Oxford said. Sparrow Tobin, who is running for the position unopposed, is expected to take over as president in September.
Patrick Dolan Jr., who joined Steamfitters Local 638 as an apprentice in 1987 and was elected president in 2011, presides over an 8,000-member organization that maintains jurisdiction over all general pipe fitting in New York City and all of Long Island. For years, he has called for installing sprinklers in the city’s public housing buildings as well as addressing health issues posed by black mold and leaking pipes.
As the business manager of United Association Plumbers Local 1 since 2017, Michael Apuzzo represents nearly 6,000 plumbers and apprentices. The union runs apprentice and journeyman training programs, including one called Helmets to Hardhats, where honorably discharged service members are given priority. In January, Apuzzo spoke in favor of a measure that would require fully trained construction workers working on city-subsidized projects to be paid the prevailing wage.
An ironworker since 1982, James Mahoney recently replaced Terry Moore at Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46, a representative of the union told City & State. A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Mahoney has also served in various leadership roles at Ironworkers Local 580 – including as chairman of the Local 580 joint funds and general organizer of the New York State Ironworkers District Council.
Daniel Levler – who ran last year in the union’s first uncontested election for its top post in its 35-year history – oversees Suffolk County’s biggest municipal union, with 6,000 workers and 4,000 retirees. Earlier this year, the union negotiated an eight-year contract with a 12% salary hike. Last year, Levler criticized the Suffolk County Legislature for not changing County Executive Steven Bellone’s budget to include more money for public health and safety.
As executive director of the Writers Guild of America East, Lowell Peterson oversees a labor union representing writers in film, TV and the news media. In July, the 49 writers and producers at Vox Entertainment joined the Writers Guild, one month after Vox Media’s 350-member editorial unit ratified a collective bargaining agreement with the union. The union’s ranks have swelled by 40% in the past five years to more than 5,000 members, Peterson reported in May.
As president of The NewsGuild of New York since 2017, Grant Glickson oversees a union representing nearly 3,000 journalists and other media employees at The New York Times, Consumer Reports, Reuters and other outlets. In July, 80 reporters, editors and designers at BuzzFeed News joined the NewsGuild after five months of bargaining over who would be eligible. Glickson joined the Times in 1987 and became involved in the union leadership several years later.
As executive director of Freelancers Union, Caitlin Pearce advocates for nearly 57 million independent workers. A driving force behind Freelancers Hub, a space for freelancers in Brooklyn with programs designed to support workplace development, Pearce was also active in a successful campaign behind the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, a first-of-its-kind law that gives millions of New York City freelancers wage theft protections against clients who don’t pay them for their work.
Earlier this year, Oren Barzilay – who speaks for more than 3,000 members of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors FDNY Local 2507 – warned that 900 paramedics and EMTs had left to become firefighters, hampering the city’s ability to respond to emergencies. Barzilay says that these workers’ lower salaries (compared to other first responders) and demanding schedules are to blame for the departures. He has appealed to the city for more funding.
Vincent Variale and his local union scored a major win last year as Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill creating civil service tests for top positions in the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. Previously, the promotion of EMS supervisors did not require a competitive exam, leading to criticisms and complaints of nepotism. “This historic journey began over 35 years ago,” Variale wrote on the union’s website.
Since he was reelected in 2015, the president of the 3,400-member Buffalo Teachers Federation successfully negotiated a new contract for teachers who’d gone without one for 12 years. Earlier this year, Philip Rumore denounced a decision not to charge a Buffalo Common Council member for bringing a loaded gun into a school, and squabbled over the suspension of a McKinley High School teacher injured in a January altercation with a student.
Sean Campbell represents private sanitation workers as well as those in the funeral, demolition, rental car, paper, and factory and warehouse industries. A Teamster for about 30 years, he has kept an eye on environmental justice in the private waste industry, promoting putting waste transfer stations in neighborhoods other than the low-income, largely minority areas where they’re usually located. He has also been a leading voice in efforts to curb the underpayment of workers.
As president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056, Mark Henry represents 1,700 active maintenance and transportation workers in New York City Transit’s Queens bus division and several hundred retired members. In June, Henry urged New York City Council members to prioritize buses in Queens, restore service cuts from 2010 and start planning for a bus terminal in downtown Flushing. Henry began his career in 1987 as a bus driver in New York City.
John Ford, who represents about 3,700 members in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, was among those praising Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his role in Netflix’s expansion in New York earlier this year and state tax incentives that have boosted the industry. With Ford at the helm, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 52 runs a program with New York state and Bronx Community College to train future production workers.
A lifelong union member, the new head of United Steelworkers District 4 joined the United Paperworkers International Union (which later became part of USW) soon after he turned 18, when he was hired as a slitter operator at Oneida Packaging in Clifton, New Jersey. Instrumental in organizing 500 nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in New Jersey in 2014, Del Vitale was named assistant to then-District 4 Director John Shinn in 2015.
A member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30 since 1990, William Lynn started out as an apprentice at an energy plant and later worked as a mechanic and engineer at a regional medical center, rising through the ranks of the union that represents workers in New York and Connecticut. In June, 140 employees at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum joined Lynn’s local, becoming the first organized bargaining unit at the museum.
As president of New York City Clerical Administrative Employees Local 1549 – a post he has held for almost two decades – Eddie Rodriguez represents about 16,000 clerical and administrative workers in nearly every New York City agency. After Rodriguez was elected president of District Council 37 in 2011, he immediately lashed out at then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg for cuts to union workers’ benefits. He held the position until January, when he lost his latest reelection bid.
Kieran Ahern, as president of the New York Structural Steel Painting Contractors Association, oversees a trade group representing seven structural steel painting companies, whose projects include painting bridges – such as giving the Brooklyn Bridge a much-needed facelift – overpasses, electrical towers, the exposed steel of buildings and smokestacks. In addition, the union worked on the historic New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park – repainting the World’s Fair landmark free of charge.
As the head of a bank established by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1923, Keith Mestrich is committed to workers’ rights. At the forefront of the Fight for $15 movement, Amalgamated Bank was the first establishment in the financial sector to pay its workers a minimum of $20 per hour. Appointed CEO in 2014, Mestrich has focused on expanding into underserved communities, while accepting New York City-issued ID cards to open a bank account.
John Wirenius oversees the state agency that administers the Taylor Law, which extends collective bargaining rights to public employees in the state. In 2016, he was nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and confirmed by the state Senate to lead the agency after working as its deputy chairman and general counsel for two years. An expert in labor, civil rights and constitutional law, Wirenius is also a deacon, novelist and fencer, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Christine Owens and Patricia Smith pushed for the passage of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act to protect farmworkers in the state – providing overtime wages and the right to organize, among other legal protections. Smith formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Labor under the Obama administration and served as New York state’s labor commissioner. Owens was a frequently cited voice in the Fight for $15 movement that led to minimum wage hikes across the state.
Saru Jayaraman co-founded Restaurant Opportunities Centers United to help former employees of the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center pick up the pieces after 9/11. The nonprofit has since fought labor law violations in the restaurant industry and advocates for workers, with Jayaraman taking on prominent restaurateurs to get back pay for employees. She now organizes restaurant workers nationwide.
One of New York’s leading labor and employment attorneys, Alan Klinger is known as a “litigation star” in legal circles. As a co-managing partner at Stroock and co-chairman of the firm’s litigation group, he handles civil litigation and leads the law firm’s representation of public sector unions and employee benefit funds. He has served as outside counsel to the United Federation of Teachers and Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association.
Appointed in July as the dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations after serving as the school’s interim dean since October, Alexander Colvin plans to focus on strengthening the school’s outreach operation and building on the work the school’s faculty is doing throughout the state. Colvin’s work on mandatory arbitration has been cited twice in the past two years in the opinions of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
These two McDonald’s workers fought for years to get a $15 minimum wage in New York, an effort that paid off as their hourly pay more than doubled in six years. The pair helped spark a movement that improved the livelihoods of some 60,000 workers in New York City, more than half of whom are women and 88% of whom are people of color. An estimated 22 million workers have won raises under the Fight for $15 movement.
Deborah Axt and Javier Valdés lead the largest immigrant organizing force in the state. Their credits include advocating for granting New York driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, an effort that came to fruition in June. Axt, who oversees worker organizing and the group’s legal and development operations, is the architect of a campaign to organize car wash workers in New York City. Valdés works to limit federal immigration enforcement, improve affordable housing and reduce biased policing.
Karen Ignagni oversees a nonprofit health insurance company that provides coverage for 3.1 million people in New York. Before joining EmblemHealth in 2015, she was president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a national association where she helped develop the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this summer, she blamed the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle Obamacare for increasing health care costs in the U.S.
Rebecca Fuentes heads a grassroots group focusing on workplace and economic justice, workers’ rights and occupational health and safety. The organization operates in and around Syracuse – a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the country – and was among groups pushing to give farmworkers the right to form collective bargaining units. Fuentes has said her group will continue to push for the right to strike, which was excluded from the new law.
A labor attorney for nearly 40 years, Vincent Pitta is the managing partner of Pitta & Baione LLP, a firm he co-created to focus on getting compensation for those exposed to toxins from 9/11. In addition, he serves as managing partner of an affiliated firm, Pitta LLP – where he focuses on labor relations serving the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries, among others – and holds the same role at lobbying firm Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno LLC.
A seasoned New York City employment lawyer who’s been litigating hostile work environment cases for more than 20 years, Steven Arenson represents workers who believe they’ve been discriminated against, underpaid or harassed. The former Yale College constitutional law professor recently won the largest recovery ever in the low-wage car wash industry for a group of workers denied overtime and paid below minimum wage. “I thought it was outrageous,” he told The New York Times.
Lifelong social justice advocate Lauren Deutsch joined the Worker Justice Center of New York last year. An attorney with a background in handling domestic violence cases, Deutsch leads the nonprofit’s work providing legal assistance to immigrants and other disadvantaged workers in the Hudson Valley and upstate. The nonprofit, which serves more than 5,000 workers each year, was among the organizations fighting for the farmworkers bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July.
Danny Massey helps lead BerlinRosen’s work on labor campaigns and related issues, working with a number of unions and the National Employment Law Project. He was also active in the Fight for $15 campaign that helped usher in increases to the minimum wage in New York and elsewhere across the country. Before joining BerlinRosen, Massey reported on social, economic, political and sports issues for Crain’s New York Business.
Richard Witt, who has led the Rural & Migrant Ministry in Poughkeepsie since 1991 and describes the group as “gritty,” is an ordained Episcopal priest who has served at a number of nonprofit groups in New York and Massachusetts. He is also a Trinity Transformational Fellow with Trinity Church Wall Street. The organization was among those advocating for the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July.
A leader dedicated to supporting working people and preserving their health care benefits, Michelle Zettergren joined MagnaCare – a division of Brighton Health Plan Solutions – in 2017 after two decades in the industry. Zettergren previously held various leadership roles at Anthem. In addition, she has served as an expert witness in several arbitration and mediation labor disputes and is a former board member of the Third Party Administrators Association of America.
A key player in the state’s legalization of medical marijuana, Albany lobbyist Ed Draves is also viewed as one of New York’s best grassroots campaign organizers. He served for more than 20 years as political and legislative director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. In 2000, Draves was recruited by Bill de Blasio to coordinate efforts upstate in Hillary Clinton’s successful U.S. Senate bid. He joined Bolton-St. Johns the following year.
The founding dean of the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies had spent 34 years as the founder and director of the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. For decades, Gregory Mantsios has devoted himself to building programs in labor studies for nontraditional students, especially those from poor and working-class backgrounds. He was previously director of labor studies at SUNY Empire State College.
A fierce advocate for workplace fairness in the public and private sectors, Jonathan Bernstein is credited with obtaining a $1.15 million settlement for 31 workers deprived of overtime pay and tips by celebrity chef Mario Batali’s acclaimed New York eatery Del Posto. The 2012 agreement – which also reportedly resolves discrimination and retaliation claims from some employees – included paid vacation and sick days for the workers and their colleagues, a rarity in the restaurant business.
Since 1998, Richard Steier has been the editor and a featured columnist of The Chief-Leader, a New York City weekly that focuses on municipal government and civil servants, as well as issues affecting New York state and federal workers. The veteran journalist and former reporter and labor columnist for the New York Post is the author of the 2014 book “Enough Blame to Go Around: The Labor Pains of New York City’s Public Employee Unions.”
As acting head of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, Bill Heinzen oversees an industry currently under siege. At odds with the New York City Council over how to help drivers shouldering massive debt due to inflated taxi medallion prices, Heinzen remains in charge for now, as the mayor recently withdrew his first nominee, Jeffrey Roth, amid political fighting.