The president of the 2.5 million-member state AFL-CIO has played an active role in getting a slew of pro-worker bills passed in recent years. Those credits lately include the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, a new law that gives collective bargaining rights, overtime and other labor protections to the state’s 100,000 farmworkers, starting in January. Mario Cilento previously served as the organization’s public relations director and chief of staff.
The 2019 Labor Power 100; 6 - 50
The 2019 Labor Power 100; 6 - 50
Since becoming executive director of District Council 37 in late 2014, Henry Garrido has tried to boost member participation at New York City’s largest municipal employees union that has 125,000 members and nearly 50,000 retirees. Garrido lately has contended with getting 10,000 college assistants and others working at the City University of New York the raises and retroactive pay negotiated last year but delayed until August, reports The Chief-Leader.
Elected in 2015 to their respective posts at the 700,000-member union representing telecommunications, media and other public and private sector workers, Christopher Shelton and Dennis Trainor had already worked together at CWA for years. Lately, they’ve been lobbying Washington to fight the outsourcing of U.S. jobs as well as backing state legislation designed to protect call center jobs in New York by denying tax breaks to companies that move positions out of state.
The influential labor leader and president of the 14,000-member Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association showed his support for Mayor Bill de Blasio by being the first labor union to endorse his 2017 reelection bid. As chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, a group of unions that negotiate health benefits with the city, Harry Nespoli has a voice in the leadership of more than 150 unions with more than 300,000 workers across the city.
Gary LaBarbera led more than a year of protests over the use of nonunion labor at billionaire developer Stephen Ross’ megaproject, Hudson Yards. LaBarbera reached a deal with Related Cos. in which the union stopped the protests in exchange for Related dropping its lawsuits against the union. LaBarbera, who has long had an ally in Gov. Andrew Cuomo, previously held leadership positions with several labor organizations, including the New York City Central Labor Council.
The president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers maintains connections to top politicians in the state. While not yet making an endorsement for the 2020 presidential election, Randi Weingarten has offered some kind words for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bid, saying “there is room for people who are executives to run.” Weingarten served on an education reform commission convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 and 2013.
John Samuelsen recently found himself at odds with an ally after Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested Transport Workers Union members in the New York City subways were abusing overtime pay. Samuelsen, who left New York in 2017 to lead the national union – which represents over 150,000 workers – cautioned Cuomo of a transit slowdown due to low morale. The governor backed off, The New York Times reports, pointing out that Cuomo owes his reelection in part to Samuelsen.
Sworn in as president of Transport Workers Union Local 100 in January, Tony Utano is solidifying support within the union. The longtime labor leader who has been a union member since the age of 19 has touted a three-year contract for 650 school bus drivers in Yonkers among the union’s achievements. However, he is facing a tougher political environment, and is pushing back against criticism of overtime among subway workers.
Elected in 2017 to lead the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers, an influential labor union in Albany, Andrew Pallotta is a key player in education policy across the state. The longtime union and grassroots activist and former Bronx elementary school teacher played a major role in the pivotal Democratic takeover of the state Senate. He is now recruiting members and grooming existing ones to run for public office through the NYSUT’s Pipeline Project.
Kyle Bragg became president of 32BJ SEIU in July after the sudden death of Héctor Figueroa. A member of the country’s largest building service workers union for more than 30 years, Bragg led the 2001 merger with Local 32E, bringing 9,000 Bronx and Westchester County members into the fold. The labor world will be watching to see how he builds on the legacy of Figueroa, a visionary who pushed for wage hikes and progressive policies.
A harsh critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the longest-serving leader of the union representing 24,000 active police officers, Patrick Lynch has been badmouthing the mayor’s presidential run and the stalled contract negotiations with officers whose contracts expired in 2017. He blamed videotaped incidents of cops being doused with water on “anti-police rhetoric” at City Hall and has decried the firing of Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the Eric Garner death.
Elected as the first full-time president of the New York City Central Labor Council in 2011, Vincent Alvarez was reelected in 2015 to serve as a voice for 1.3 million workers in 300 unions. The longtime organizer joined the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s board of directors in January. In April, he was tapped by Mayor Bill de Blasio to help review options to replace a portion of the aging Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn.
A voice for cab drivers in one of the world’s biggest taxi markets, Bhairavi Desai has led a group of 21,000 independent contractors to major victories in battles with the city, garage owners and medallion leasing agents. Since helping start the organization in 1998, Desai successfully fought for a fare increase in 2004 – the first in eight years – and extended the cap on new licenses for ride-hailing vehicles.
A master of old-school politics, Scott Stringer oversees five public pension funds, about 800 employees and various additional fiscal and municipal responsibilities. The career politician has sought to align himself with the progressive movement as he lays the groundwork for an expected mayoral bid in 2021 – with bona fides including pension divestment from private prisons and his support of insurgent candidates like state Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos.
Elected as the state’s chief fiscal officer in 2007, the lifelong Long Islander and former assemblyman has proven to be a leading voice for shareholders. As Thomas DiNapoli demands changes at Facebook after the social network’s misuse of personal data and its role in spreading fake news, his stewardship of the state pension fund – and more than $1 billion in Facebook shares – should give him a shot at getting CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s attention.
Born in Puerto Rico, Marcos Crespo grew up in New York City and Lima, Peru, before completing high school in Puerto Rico and returning to New York. Crespo chairs two influential posts – the Labor Committee and the Bronx Democratic Party. He was a champion of the state’s groundbreaking farmworker rights bill, and has pushed to expand prevailing wages, raise wages for car wash workers, and institute construction safety measures.
Jessica Ramos ran an insurgent campaign to beat state Sen. Jose Peralta in 2018 on a platform of fixing public transit, advocating for single-payer health care in the state and reforming rent laws. She won a coveted post chairing the labor committee, sponsored groundbreaking laws granting rights to farmworkers and preventing wage theft, and will lead the charge to expand prevailing wages in 2020.
A member of the Assembly since 1987, Peter Abbate Jr. is the chairman of the Governmental Employees Committee and so far has helped pass bills in support of New York City firefighters and police officers in the aftermath of 9/11. A strong supporter of public sector unions, Abbate recently partnered with state Sen. Andrew Gounardes in proposing a pension bump for recently hired government workers and some 200,000 retirees.
With backing from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other Democratic heavyweights, Andrew Gounardes beat state Sen. Martin Golden in 2018 – Brooklyn’s last Republican senator. Gounardes, who took over Golden’s old committee, spearheaded a bill authorizing unlimited sick leave for New York City workers who were 9/11 first responders. He’ll be looking to deepen relationships with public sector unions – which could be critical if Golden seeks a rematch in 2020.
Gerard Fitzgerald recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with other FDNY members to push lawmakers to extend aid for ground zero first responders – joining former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart in advocating for the bill to fund for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. They were successful. But at least 200 firefighters have already died from illnesses related to 9/11, and thousands more continue to suffer adverse health effects.
Jake Lemonda, who represents the Uniformed Fire Officers Association’s 2,600 active members and 5,000 retirees, joined the FDNY in 1986 and was promoted to battalion chief in 2005. He was in Washington, D.C., in July as President Donald Trump signed the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund extension into law. “It’s been a long journey,” Lemonda told Fox News regarding the law ensuring first responders are treated for illnesses related to 9/11.
After being elected to lead child care union District Council 1707, Kim Medina slashed her own salary in half to $90,000, saying that earning $180,000 while members make $21,000 to $30,000 a year is “not a good thing.” New York City recently announced an agreement for pay parity between pre-K teachers at public schools and those at community centers represented by Medina’s union. The union also came under District Council 37’s umbrella this year.
Gregory Floyd, who speaks for 24,000 New York City workers, has called out Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on multiple fronts, including the mayor’s move to rid some schools of metal detectors and not doing more to curb bullying in schools. In December, the union reached a contract agreement with the city covering more than 5,000 NYCHA workers. He is among the more outspoken trustees on the New York City Employees’ Retirement System board.
In April, Charter Communications and New York reached an agreement to allow the cable company to remain in the state, ending a yearslong conflict. Yet the strike by 1,800 IBEW Local Union 3 members continues more than two years after it began. But Christopher Erikson may hold some sway, with his union pushing New York City not to renew its franchise agreement with Charter, which expires in 2020, until the strike is settled.
Robert Bonanza has served as the Mason Tenders’ business manager since 2004, protecting the interests of construction workers, hazardous waste handlers and high school teachers. He’s relied on his invaluable aide Michael McGuire in building the union into a powerhouse. And last year, Michael Hellstrom took on an expanded role, and has been an advocate for expanding the definition of public works to ensure projects like Hudson Yards pay workers higher wages.
New York City’s first female labor relations commissioner, Renee Campion is in charge of negotiating labor agreements with 150 bargaining units representing more than 360,000 workers. Appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in January, Campion had spent the previous 17 years working in the Office of Labor Relations. She is credited with helping her predecessor, Robert Linn, reach agreements with workers whose contracts had expired when de Blasio took office.
The former president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Roberta Reardon was also the founding co-president of SAG-AFTRA, a 165,000-member union for the entertainment industry. Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped her for the post in 2015, Reardon has been a public voice for the governor on labor issues. In May, she spoke at a rally in support of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act allowing farmworkers to unionize – which Cuomo signed in July.
The first woman elected president of the influential Service Employees International Union, Mary Kay Henry began leading the union’s 2 million members in 2010. Just a few years later, Henry and the union were at the forefront of the Fight for $15 campaign to raise the minimum wage that gathered momentum when 200 New York City fast-food workers walked off the job to demand raises. Henry had previously spent more than 30 years organizing health care workers.
The president of the umbrella group for 27 local unions with 120,000 workers in New York and Puerto Rico, George Miranda supported passing the Green Light bill to make it possible for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Miranda, who grew up in the South Bronx and Puerto Rico, helped organize aid and volunteers for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and has spoken out against the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
A longtime leader of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, a union representing food and retail workers in New York City, Long Island and upstate New York, John Durso is also president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, the fourth-largest central labor council in the U.S. with 250,000 members in Nassau and Suffolk counties. His recent work with Local 338 has consisted of campaigns to obtain a union contract for CVS workers at a Brooklyn store.
Reelected to a second three-year term as president of the 54,000-member New York State Public Employees Federation in 2018, Wayne Spence immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica at the age of 10 and has since lived in the New York City area. Earlier this year, the union filed suit against the State University of New York over staffing and pay inequity issues that it says are hurting nurses at SUNY.
As president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, longtime educator Mark Cannizzarro has taken a more low-key approach in public than his firebrand predecessor, Ernest Logan. Since taking the helm two years ago of the union that represents principals and other public school administrators in New York City, the former Staten Island middle school principal has continued advocating for better pay for pre-K teachers who work in community centers.
Danny Donohue, who has been with CSEA since 1975 and has led the union since 1994, is now its longest-serving president. Earlier this summer, Donohue announced he would not seek reelection in 2020 for another term leading the largest state employees union. After clashing with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over pay, health care premiums and a tiered pension for newly hired workers, Donohue and Cuomo eventually became allies.
First elected to the New York City Council in 2013, I. Daneek Miller was reelected in 2017. As chairman of its Civil Service and Labor Committee, he oversees hearings on various issues, including a bill that would require most businesses to provide employees with two weeks of paid personal time each year. Previously president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056, Miller co-chairs the MTA Labor Coalition, which represents a coalition of about 54,000 union members.
A leader with almost 40 years of experience in the labor movement, D. Taylor represents Unite Here’s 250,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, including tens of thousands of immigrant and first-generation hotel and hospitality workers – including many who work in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. The union is currently seeking approval from the federal government to authorize a strike by airport catering workers at major airline hubs.
Ai-jen Poo began organizing domestic workers in New York City in 1996. In 2010, she helped get legislation passed extending basic labor protections to more than 200,000 domestic workers across the state. An advocate for affordable care for the nation’s aging population and their caregivers, Poo helped create the Caring Across Generations campaign in 2011. This year, she helped launch Supermajority, a nationwide effort to fight for gender equity. She was a 2014 MacArthur Fellow.
With New York City’s inmate population at its lowest level in decades, Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, is demanding better protection for correction officers after several were injured in attacks by inmates. Husamudeen is calling for an inmate-to-officer ratio of 20-to-1, compared to the current ratio of 50-to-1. He took the helm of the country’s biggest municipal jail union following the 2016 arrest of his predecessor, Norman Seabrook.
Elected president of the more than 20,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 in 2016, Anthony Speelman represents grocery store workers in the Hudson Valley, Long Island and New York City. An ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Speelman’s union backed the governor’s 2018 reelection, citing his help in raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and improving the Wage Theft Prevention Act to penalize employers that steal workers’ pay.
The longtime president of the New York State Court Officers Association (he’s held the position for more than 30 years) represents uniformed officers in courts throughout New York City and in five other New York counties. Last year, he incurred the wrath of New York’s top judge for a message and graphics printed on T-shirts to be worn at rallies pushing for better pay and working conditions. Quirk is also outspoken on courtroom safety.
As president of the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, James Cahill speaks for more than 200,000 construction workers in the state. The union supported an unsuccessful campaign for a prevailing wage mandate that would have paid union-level wages on most projects that receive public funds. He also supported expanding a controversial pipeline to supply natural gas to New York City and Long Island, which is currently blocked by the Cuomo administration.
The executive director of the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust speaks for the roughly 15,000 members of affiliated unions of the Mason Tenders District Council as well as 1,500 signatory contractors. An advocate for building affordable housing and paying the prevailing wage on construction projects, Purcell in August lashed out at New York City Council members for disregarding construction workers’ concerns and voting to rezone Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood.
Adam Krauthamer’s election in late 2018 as president of the New York local of the musicians’ union – its biggest local in the U.S. – marked a stunning upset. The first contested election in nine years at American Federation of Musicians Local 802 came amid pension concerns from its 7,500 members who perform on Broadway and elsewhere across the city. Krauthamer’s credits include a contract for the biggest wage increase in two decades.
Elected director of United Auto Workers Region 9A in June 2018, Beverley Brakeman started working with the UAW when she was hired to run Citizens for Economic Opportunity, a coalition started by the union to challenge corporate power. Region 9A encompasses workers in New York City, the Hudson Valley and the Capital Region, along with New England and Puerto Rico. It added 2,000 postdoctoral researchers at Columbia University last year.
The head of the union for City University of New York professors is looking to repeal part of a law that makes it illegal for public sector workers to strike. For years, Barbara Bowen has advocated for state funding increases for the CUNY system, connecting the working conditions of educators to the learning environment of students. Bowen taught college English for 15 years before being elected union president in 2000.
Frederick Kowal represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY campuses and teaching hospitals across the state. The professor of political science and Native American studies has led the union since 2013. Kowal decried the 2019-2020 state budget for not restoring funding to SUNY’s three public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse. In May 2018, the union reached a six-year contract agreement with the Cuomo administration with 2% wage hikes each year though 2021-2022.