Labor weighs in on bail, ‘good cause,’ health care in New York budget

From “good cause” to bail reform rollbacks, unions are making their voices heard.

Hundreds of 1199SEIU health care workers staged a rally and march to Governor office.

Hundreds of 1199SEIU health care workers staged a rally and march to Governor office. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Amid the ongoing budget negotiations between legislative leaders and the governor ahead of the April 10 extended budget deadline, New York City’s largest labor union District Council 37 came out in opposition to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed bail reform changes.

The labor union – which represents 250,000 public employees – sent a memo to the Legislature asserting Hochul’s plan would destroy the 2019 bail reform law and ultimately move the state to pre-2019 bail practices. “DC 37 supports Bail Reform to reduce the harm done to people accused, but not convicted of crimes. Many folks are living paycheck to paycheck in these times,” the union wrote in the memo, which was first reported by NY1.

As part of her executive budget, Hochul proposed removing the “least restrictive means” standard for judges to allow them more discretion when considering bail in serious offenses. Both legislative chambers effectively rejected the governor’s proposal with their one-house budgets. The governor’s office did not respond to the request for comment in time for publication.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a labor union has added its two cents into budget negotiations. Democratic consultant George Arzt asserted leaders tend to, at the very least, listen to the perspective of labor unions because of their great impact. “You're always going to sit down with the labor unions and listen to them,” Arzt said. “Labor unions have great influence, great clout, in Albany.”

Why is it important for unions to have their voices heard during this contentious time? Arzt added: “This is their (labor unions) only chance to shape legislation moving forward. If they don’t speak up now, they’ll never have the chance.”

Jack O'Donnell, a veteran Democratic strategist, agreed that the governor and legislative leaders do pay particular attention to what unions want because they represent thousands of votes and significant fundraising power – while underscoring the role unions play in elections. “Gov. Hochul – just like the Assembly and Senate – cares what Labor has to say from a policy vantage point – these folks are experts in their fields! – and that matters,” O’Donnell wrote in a text to City & State. “It also helps that Labor puts boots on the ground and resources in the air come election time and certainly everyone in New York politics knows what that support can mean.”

Aside from the closely watched fight over potential bail reform rollbacks, housing is another controversial budget topic that has been taking up space in budget negotiations between the governor and legislative leadership – and has incited reactions from several labor unions. 

As previously reported by City & State, several unions – including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the United Federation of Teachers – sent a letter to legislative leaders in support of  “good cause” eviction protections and other tenant protections in the state budget. Last month,  the 1199SEIU health care workers union also rallied in Albany calling on the governor to increase funding to safety net hospitals, increase Medicaid reimbursement rates and fair wages for home care workers.

While budget negotiations between Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie are still underway, political observers await to see if concessions will be made on the most controversial issues. Arzt asserted that legislative leaders will likely meet labor unions in the middle on the bigger issues. “A compromise is likely to come about in the more contentious issues, such as bail reform,” Arzt said.

When asked if the final budget negotiations will impact the governor’s relationship with labor unions moving forward. O’Donnell said it all depends on what’s included in the final budget. “Labor has long memories!” O’Donnell said.