Exclusive: New York Assembly staff goes public with union effort

Employees in the Assembly are joining their state Senate colleagues to organize for better pay and hours.

Assembly staffers are anonymously announcing their unionization effort.

Assembly staffers are anonymously announcing their unionization effort. Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

Several months after their state Senate colleagues, a group of Assembly staffers have gone public with their intent to organize. They plan to join the newly formed New York State Legislative Workers United group that Senate staffers launched last year. The group has still not been formally recognized by the state Senate.. 

In an unsigned letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Assembly organizers wrote that many staffers “struggle to make ends meet,” despite working long hours that often result in unpaid overtime, echoing arguments made by their state Senate counterparts. The Assembly receives fewer resources in general than the state Senate, with members receiving less funds to pay staff than their counterparts in the smaller upper chamber.

Organizers, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of potential retaliation, have begun collecting signed union cards and plan to seek voluntary recognition from Heastie in the near future. If he does not voluntarily recognize the union when the time comes, staffers would file for an election with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board.

According to organizers, over 50 Assembly staffers have already signed cards, with nearly unanimous agreement from the card holders to go public. Organizers said that a lack of a central staff directory as well as inconsistencies between offices make it hard to peg the exact number of employees who would be eligible for the union, but they estimate that number to be between 700 and 800 staffers. Organizers chose to go public in part to help them reach more staffers that the lack of a directory has made difficult.

The organizing committee itself is made up of legislative employees from around the state and who hold a variety of positions, from constituent services liaisons to chiefs of staff – a higher level position the Assembly plans to include in their bargaining unit unlike in the state Senate.

State Senate employees went public with their unionization efforts over the summer but have not yet sought voluntary recognition. Since then, organizers in the upper chamber have expressed optimism about their efforts and have received public support from over two dozen state senators from both sides of the aisle. In December, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for the first time indicated support for staff’s unionization campaign, but added that she had not seen any specific proposals yet.

State lawmakers recently approved a $32,000 pay raise for themselves last month without including any provisions to address levels of staff pay. New York State Legislative Workers United released a statement at time the legislators voted on the salary bump that said any statements on the necessity of the pay raise was “hard to stomach” without matching cost of living increases for their staff.

Organizers with the state Senate applauded the decision of Assembly staffers to move forward with unionization efforts. "We in the Senate work shoulder to shoulder with our Assembly colleagues to move bills and serve our constituents. It's the perfect extension of that collaboration to organize together," Senate union spokesperson Astrid Aune said in a statement. "We're thrilled that they have taken this brave step, and look forward to working together towards voluntary recognition."

The Assembly organizers’ letter ended on a note of optimism: “We look forward to a fruitful collective bargaining process and hope to continue New York’s legacy as a pro-labor state.”