Organized labor is under threat in New York, due to the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus vs. AFSCME case that many expect to weaken public-sector unions and reduce the ranks of unionized workers.
But many New York elected officials remain strong supporters of public-sector unions, including Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr., the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Governmental Employees.
In a Q&A with City & State, Abbate weighed in on the Janus case, state legislative efforts to soften the blow, and other priorities in his committee this session.
C&S: How do you think the ruling in the Janus Supreme Court case will impact New York?
PA: No doubt about it, the Janus Supreme Court ruling will dramatically and vastly affect the unions in New York state and impact their ability to gain members. I have encouraged the unions to make a push to sign up new and additional members during this time to boost their ranks and curb the potential for negative effects.
C&S: Do you think Assembly Bill 7601A will pass the state Legislature, and if so, how will it affect public sector unions?
PA: As the sponsor of the bill, I certainly hope that we can pass it again in the Assembly and have the Senate join us this year in doing so. This legislation will give the public sector unions a clearer route and an easier way to sign up members, and to retain them, which they will need if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus. It’s important that the unions are able to gain and retain their members because strong unions that fight for higher wages and raises are good for the state’s workforce and economy.
C&S: What are other legislative priorities for this session regarding public sector unions?
PA: As with every year, I look for ways to strengthen New York’s laws and protections for the men and women who make our city, state and municipalities work. The Government Employees Committee usually has a large agenda that impacts so many titles and employees from across the state.
C&S: What sort of political power do public unions in New York hold?
PA: All of the unions across the state have large memberships and a track record of advocacy for the issues that affect all the working families across our state, which means their power is in their purpose. New York’s public employee unions especially have been fighting for the issues that are most important not only to their members but for all the middle class and working families of our state.
C&S: Do you think New York’s pension fund should divest from fossil fuels and more broadly, should the pension fund be used to make political statements?
PA: The importance of our pension funds and the responsibility of managing them cannot be overstated. New York has done a great job of keeping our fund solvent and strong, while some states have run into issues. Divesting from anything must be done meticulously and with precision, under the guidance of the comptroller, who’s responsible for it and the professionals he employs to analyze the effects.
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