On the national level, conservatives are a driving force behind legislation and legal battles aimed at weakening public-sector labor unions.
In New York, however, many Republican lawmakers are allies of the labor movement.
In a Q&A with City & State, state Sen. Fred Akshar, the Republican chairman of the state Senate Labor Committee, says that he joined efforts to protect unions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case.
Akshar also weighed in on workers compensation and the tip credit and emphasized the importance of balancing labor and business.
What are the current priorities of state Senate Labor Committee?
As chair of the Senate Labor Committee, my goal is to bring people together on issues or concerns that we can find common ground on. I think all too often in Albany things are stymied by bureaucracy because people are drawing deep lines in the sand. I know that specifically in the compromise we were able to come to in terms of workers compensation reform – and really that was done by collaborating and bringing people together – and I insisted that labor was at the table and they had a voice. At the end of the day, I think that that is why we were successful in that particular issue. And I would like to take that same tact as we move forward in the next legislative session to still address issues that are important to both labor and the business community and try to advance those issues.
Do you have a prediction about how the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision is going to affect New York’s public sector unions?
In my opinion, I think what Janus has done is reinvigorated public sector unions. I think that the unions have always been incredibly strong in this state, and as a former member of law enforcement, I understand their necessity. I understand that they’re there to protect hardworking employees. I think what the decision has done is really brought all of the public sector unions together and refocus their efforts on protecting their employees. I joined my colleagues in the Senate Republican conference, so we signed onto the amicus brief arguing clearly in favor of the states’ rights in lieu of what we thought was going to happen with Janus. We took some proactive steps in the state Senate to protect public sector unions and their employees. I bring this unique perspective as the chair of the Labor Committee in that I have been, in my short tenure in Albany, very pro-business and I have focused the vast majority of my time on trying to create a better economy and a better business climate in the state. I think it’s very important to note, and I’ve said this to labor leaders, that while I’ve taken that approach in terms of being pro-business and pro-economy, you can also be very supportive of unions and public sector workers and I think that perspective I bring to the table will in fact allow us to advance issues where we can find compromise and collectively advance issues.
You’ve taken a stand on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate the tip credit, which would stop employees from getting a lower wage for tipped positions. Do you see a conflict between the interests of small business owners and the workers?
I think that this is really the governor interfering in the lives of hardworking people. This is an issue where business owners and employees are both in lockstep with one another saying, “Don’t interfere with the way this is. This is working.” So I’m opposed to it because you have seen other states go down this path and then have to walk back from that. I stand in solidarity with, with not only the business owners on this particular issue, but the people who are working every single day in this particular industry that are clearly opposed to this. And again, I think if you look at the minimum wage issue that we dealt with a couple of years ago, we were very clear to delineate how we should be dealing with this particular issue in New York City and how we should be dealing with it upstate.
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