Nearly two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the long-term impact on workers is not fully clear. Many Americans lost their jobs, while others walked away voluntarily in what’s been dubbed the “Great Resignation.” The federal government helped stabilize the economy and bring down unemployment, but it also contributed to a sharp rise in inflation. And while wages are up, unionization rates remain low and some workers aren’t gaining leverage they expected to have with employers.
What is clear is that the national mood has shifted in favor of workers. Support for labor unions has risen to levels not seen in decades. In Western New York, employees at several Starbucks stores made history by voting to unionize – and the coffee shop chain is now contending with similar standoffs across the country. The Communications Workers of America kicked off “Striketober” with a walkout that led to a favorable agreement for South Buffalo hospital workers. On Long Island, farmworkers formed their first union and are poised to secure a lower overtime threshold. Plus, there’s an influx of federal dollars to be spent on infrastructure projects to be built by unionized laborers.
The State Labor Power 100 features many labor leaders, advocates and allies in New York who are battling on behalf of their workers. The list, which was researched and written in partnership with journalist Marc Bussanich, focuses primarily on those who are active in New York on a statewide, multistate or national capacity. (Other labor leaders who operate solely or primarily in the five boroughs will be featured on our New York City Labor Power 100 later this year.) We’re pleased to introduce the 2022 State Labor Power 100.
Before her ascension to elected office, state Sen. Jessica Ramos was a skillful organizer in the labor movement, having worked with unions such as 32BJ SEIU and Build Up NYC, a coalition of building and construction trades and hotel workers’ unions. As chair of the state Senate Labor Committee, she has notched major victories protecting construction workers, creating an emergency fund for undocumented immigrants during the coronavirus pandemic and lowering the overtime threshold for farmworkers – and now she’s pushing to peg the minimum wage to inflation and replenish the Excluded Workers Fund. She is also championing expanded child care for working parents, introducing the Early Learning Child Care Act to generate revenue through a tax on New York’s biggest businesses.
George Gresham has presided over the biggest union in New York City and the biggest health care union nationwide since 2007. Under his leadership, the union has grown to over 450,000 members across multiple East Coast states. Late last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul helped to mediate a dispute between the union and the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association involving nearly 250 nursing homes, with the two sides reaching an agreement for 33,000 workers over three years.
Last year, Gary LaBarbera took over as president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council while maintaining his role as leader of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. For over a decade, he has prioritized project labor agreements with New York City employers, which ensure that union workers are employed on public and private construction projects while aiming to save taxpayers money by reducing construction costs. LaBarbera’s latest campaign is to ensure that union workers build the next generation of green energy throughout the state.
Andrew Pallotta was reelected in 2020 as president of the New York State United Teachers, which represents over 600,000 teachers and school-related professionals. During the coronavirus pandemic, NYSUT has grappled with statewide school closures and plummeting tax revenues as a result of business shutdowns, and there was the real possibility that schools would face severe state cuts. Fortunately, federal coronavirus aid prevented that scenario, and now the priority is to make sure that the union has a say in the state’s testing and vaccination requirements in schools.
Mario Cilento has led the formidable 2.5 million-member state labor federation since 2011, reshaping it to focus more on membership engagement and enhanced communication strategies. Before the 2021 state budget was signed, Cilento, along with other private and public sector unions, issued a statement in favor of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature’s proposals to increase taxes on higher-income earners, saying that it was time for a more fair and progressive tax structure. His New York State AFL-CIO recently endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Christopher Shelton leads the Communications Workers of America, a union of nearly 700,000 workers who work in a broad array of industries in hundreds of unions across the country. A staunch supporter of President Joe Biden and his Build Back Better Act, Shelton previously led CWA District 1, which represents 145,000 workers in the Northeast – including New York – and is now led by Dennis Trainor. In December, after more than a month on the picket lines, CWA locals in Buffalo voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital, St. Joseph Campus and Kenmore Mercy Hospital. The contract achieved “historic breakthroughs in guaranteed safe staffing ratios, substantial across the board wage increases, including bringing all workers above $15 an hour, and preserving health and retirement plans intact,” said Trainor.
Randi Weingarten leads the 1.7 million-member strong national teachers’ union. The former United Federation of Teachers president has played an outsized role in the shaping of federal policy surrounding COVID-19 protections in the classroom. Her AFT affiliates initially advocated for school closings in order to keep students and teachers safe, although she eventually called for schools to reopen and last summer announced her support for vaccine mandates for school staff.
John Samuelsen began his transit career in 1993 as a track worker for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, eventually winning the presidency of TWU Local 100, the Transport Workers Union’s largest local. He has led TWU since 2017, but still remains a force in New York City and state politics. While Congress was debating the federal infrastructure bill, he called for an immediate vote: “The sooner this happens, the sooner we can get to the important work of repairing and expanding our most vital transportation systems,” Samuelsen said.
One of the longest-reigning presidents of a major union, Stuart Appelbaum has led the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union since 1998. The union is behind a closely watched unionization effort at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama employing 6,000 workers. The union lost the initial vote, but the National Labor Relations Board called for a new election. The “decision confirms what we were saying all along – that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace,” said Appelbaum.
As chair of the influential Assembly Labor Committee, Latoya Joyner last year helped pass the NY Hero Act, a worker protection measure drafted in response to COVID-19, as well as legislation protecting construction workers and creating an Excluded Workers Fund for undocumented immigrants. In September, she penned a letter asking U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh to increase pandemic-related unemployment benefits from the maximum $504 weekly benefit.
In November 2019, Mary Sullivan became just the second woman to lead the Civil Service Employees Association’s nearly 300,000 members working in state and local governments, school districts, child care and the private sector. This past fall, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an agreement with CSEA to provide increased overtime pay for nurses and other hospital health care professionals at SUNY hospitals. Sullivan said the agreement recognizes the “dedication of these essential workers” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Wayne Spence was sworn into office in August 2021 for his third three-year term as the president of the 50,000-member Public Employees Federation. Recently, an anonymous nurse at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital told CNY Central that staffing levels are too low relative to the number of patients they have to care for. The union represents the nurse and her colleagues, and Spence said that “improving the working conditions and compensation of New York’s health care heroes is one of PEF’s top priorities.”
State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon has an extensive union background, including previously serving as the president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. A top priority for her is ensuring that New Yorkers are getting ready for the green economy – she is co-chair of the Just Transition Working Group, which submits recommendations for workforce development and training in renewable energy to the state Climate Action Council. In late January, the state Farm Laborers Wage Board recommended that Reardon gradually lower the farmworker overtime threshold to 40 hours.
An educator for over three decades, Mark Cannizzaro is best known for leading the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, or CSA, since 2017, but he’s also president of the statewide New York State Federation of School Administrators and a vice president of the American Federation of School Administrators. In December, CSA filed a lawsuit over pay disparities for preschool directors, claiming the substantial wage gap between directors, mostly women of color, of New York City-funded preschools and those in city Education Department facilities amounts to racial discrimination.
Since 2019, Pat Kane has led the state’s largest union of registered nurses, with more than 42,000 members. Nancy Hagans was elected New York State Nurses Association’s new president last summer, just as the state Legislature passed the new safe staffing law. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, hospitals are saying they need more time to enforce staffing ratios. “NYSNA must be clear: There is no justification for delaying the implementation of a law that will keep patients and caregivers alive and safe,” Kane said.
Thomas Gesualdi presides over an umbrella organization that represents 120,000 workers across 26 Teamsters locals in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. When then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the NY Hero Act in May 2021, creating the first permanent standard in the nation protecting workers from exposure to COVID-19 – and future pandemics – Gesualdi said the act would ensure that workers have the enforceable standards they need to do their jobs safely. “This groundbreaking law creates a model for other states to emulate and readies us for the next pandemic,” Gesualdi said.
Armand Sabitoni has been LIUNA’s second-in-command since May 2001 and is also the regional manager for New England – including most of New York. As a sign of support in the labor sector for renewable power, Sabitoni has been a long-standing supporter of a project that will help New York meet its ambitious clean energy goals: the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line from Quebec, Canada, to New York City, which recently won a state contract pending regulatory approval.
Rich Maroko became Hotel Trades Council president in 2020, representing about 40,000 hotel and gaming industry employees in New York and New Jersey during a pandemic-induced industry crisis: Visitors dropped by 67% in 2020 and employment dropped by a third. Maroko’s union has fought to get back to work and secure financial relief from the state. Maroko stood with Gov. Kathy Hochul in November when she announced a $450 million tourism initiative that would provide direct payments of $2,750 to 36,000 workers in the tourism sector.
Christopher Erikson has led the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 3 since 2006. The local is a member of the coalition Climate Works for All, which advocates for New York City investments to fight climate change. The coalition recently recommended spending $1.5 billion to install heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and solar energy in every New York City public school – an investment Erikson said would both create a pipeline of well-paid jobs and better enable the city to tackle the climate crisis.
Assembly Member Karines Reyes has multiple jobs – as a nurse, as a mother and as the elected official representing Assembly District 87 in the Bronx. Not only did she return to the front lines as a nurse aiding patients during the coronavirus pandemic, but she also teamed up with state Sen. Michael Gianaris to champion the NY Hero Act, which created new worker safety protocols in response to COVID-19. Reyes, who previously held a leadership role with the New York State Nurses Association, is now sponsoring legislation that would reintroduce universal tuition-free instruction at CUNY schools.
Assembly Member Peter Abbate Jr. has been the Governmental Employees Committee chair since 2002, overseeing legislation and issues concerning civil service law and the public pension and retirement systems. He’s sponsored numerous bills that have been signed into law covering a wide range of issues, including an effort to advance Chapter 89 of the Laws of 2020 to provide death benefits to statutory beneficiaries of public sector employees whose death was a result of or was contributed to by COVID-19.
As chair of the Civil Service and Pensions Committee, state Sen. Robert Jackson oversees state legislation dealing with public sector workers. The veteran Upper Manhattan lawmaker was recently reassigned to the key leadership role when the previous chair, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, took the reins of the legislative body’s Committee on Budget and Revenue, replacing former state Sen. Brian Benjamin. At a state budget hearing this year, Jackson criticized the state’s pension program and argued that government workers can’t afford to live in New York.
As president of United University Professions, Fred Kowal leads the nation’s largest public higher education union, representing more than 37,000 academic and professional faculty members on SUNY’s 29 state-operated campuses and building UUP into a politically influential organization. When Gov. Kathy Hochul mandated on New Year’s Eve that students must have received a COVID-19 booster shot upon their return to SUNY campuses, Kowal told NEWS10 ABC that the union has long supported those efforts.
For nearly two decades John Durso has led the Long Island Federation of Labor, which represents 250,000 members in Nassau and Suffolk counties in a variety of professions. Durso was a leading advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana last year, even launching a coalition of labor groups, progressive organizations and businesses to make a final push. “A legal cannabis industry would create tens of thousands of jobs across the state, yielding billions of dollars in income for its workforce,” Durso told Spectrum News last year.
Lynne Fox has led the 86,000-member Workers United since 2016, representing workers in a range of industries, including apparel, manufacturing, hospitality and food service. Its organizers are making headlines for organizing Starbucks stores in Buffalo and for ongoing unionization efforts at dozens of other locations across the country. Workers United is unique in that it’s a partial owner of a financial institution – Amalgamated Bank – with Fox serving as board chair and, until last year, as interim president and CEO. Amalgamated was the first major American bank to endorse legislation aiming to develop reparation proposals for African Americans.
As president of the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body, Thomas Carey is focused on downstate casinos: In 2013, New Yorkers approved a constitutional amendment allowing up to seven full-scale casinos, but only four have been approved by the state Legislature – all upstate. According to Carey, around 2,500 new jobs would be created if Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts in Yonkers became a full-scale casino. Carey wants Albany to act now, writing in The Journal News, “This is a no-brainer, and the governor and state legislators cannot afford to pass on it.”
Since Ai-jen Poo got her start in New York, she has gone on to spearhead worker protection campaigns around the country as the leader of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which has successfully advocated for domestic worker bills of rights in multiple states. Poo, who is also the director of the advocacy organization Caring Across Generations, insists that the Build Back Better Act is critical for the “care economy,” asserting that 27 million people will need long-term care in America by 2050.
As president of Unite Here since 2012, D. Taylor presides over a union that is bucking national trends with its rapid growth. The union announced in 2019 that it had organized 62,000 workers over five years, expanding its membership by a quarter. Unite Here, which is headquartered in New York City, represents over 300,000 members in the hotel, gambling, food service, manufacturing, textile and laundry industries all across the country.
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association represents some 26,000 employees and retirees from state correctional facilities, and Michael Powers has led the union since 2014. As coronavirus cases rose in December, Powers called on the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to suspend visitations at the state’s 50 correctional facilities in order to slow transmission rates. He has also pushed back against the continued closures of upstate facilities while arguing for more protections for corrections officers.
Sam Fresina was reelected for a third term leading the 18,000-member New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association in 2021. He began his firefighting career in the U.S. Air Force in 1985, then joined the Albany Fire Department in 1990. Fresina is one of 23 labor leaders on an advisory committee announced by the governor to explore options for an essential workers monument in New York City to commemorate the sacrifice of public and private sector workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Richard Wells leads a union that represents 230 police benevolent associations with more than 25,000 members throughout the state. When Rep. Elise Stefanik was running for her fourth term in 2020, the Police Conference of New York endorsed her, with Wells saying that she represented a bulwark against calls to defund the police. The union, which was founded nearly a century ago, is opposed to a pending state bill that would set a higher bar for use of force by police officers.
MTA PBA President Michael O’Meara met with New York’s Republican congressional delegation last summer to plead for an increase in police funding, citing statistics showing an increase in shootings and homicides. O’Meara has spent nearly a decade leading the union, which was formed following the merger of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad police forces in the late 1990s. He is also the new executive director of the Police Conference of New York and previously led the New York State Association of PBAs.
In January, the state Farm Laborers Wage Board cast a closely watched vote that is expected to gradually lower the overtime threshold for farmworkers to 40 hours a week, down from 60. The decision was hailed by labor and immigrant advocates and opposed by business groups. One of the three members, New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher, voted against the change, while the other two – former Buffalo Urban League head Brenda McDuffie and former state AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes, who is now with Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners – voted in favor.
Appointed by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in 2019, Anastasia Titarchuk presides over one of the largest public pension plans in the country. The New York State Common Retirement Fund provides retirement security for over a million New Yorkers and their beneficiaries. As of this September, the fund’s value stood at $267.8 billion. In a 2019 interview, just after she was appointed, Titarchuk was asked whether a 60/40 split of equities to fixed income was the right asset allocation to achieve the fund’s annual return targets, which now stands at 5.9%. She noted that it’s a tricky balancing act because it’s important to maintain liquidity as plans mature.
When he was a New York City Council member in Brooklyn, Rafael Espinal co-sponsored the groundbreaking Freelance Isn’t Free legislation, which provided freelancers protection from nonpayment and late payment. The law has since paved the way for New York City to sue L’Officiel USA, a French-owned global media company, for allegedly failing to pay freelancers. Since 2020, Espinal has led the Freelancers Union, an organization advocating for the rights of independent workers.
Jeff Binz was elected in 2018 to his first full term as regional director of UAW Region 9, which covers western and central New York, New Jersey and most of Pennsylvania. When General Motors announced plans to invest nearly $7 million in its engine plant at Tonawanda in 2020, a union colleague credited Binz for the investment as a result of a 2019 new contract forged after a 40-day strike. In UAW’s Region 9A, which includes eastern New York and several other states, Beverley Brakeman has been director since June 2018. Brakeman previously led Citizens for Economic Opportunity, a coalition started by the UAW to advocate for universal health care and corporate accountability.
In addition to his duties as a Middletown alderman, Sparrow Tobin leads the 130,000-strong Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation. In an interview with The River Reporter to commemorate Labor Day last year, Tobin noted that workers today are facing the same fundamental problems they did a century ago: low wages and longer working hours. “Our goal is to make sure that good jobs are replacing the old jobs. Unions are only as strong as our people,” Tobin said.
Alongside her work as the head of the Central New York Area Labor Federation, which boasts membership of 100,000 members across 200 union affiliates, Ann Marie Taliercio also leads Unite Here Local 150 in Syracuse. She said that the effort to organize Amazon workers, including at the company’s massive facility in the Syracuse suburb of Clay, is organized labor’s biggest challenge in 2022. “I say we take it on with both hands,” Taliercio said.
Peter DeJesus Jr., who was elected president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation last March, is the first person of color to lead the group of 165 unions representing over 140,000 union members. His union career has included work at General Motors, Allegheny Technologies and the Tonawanda tire plant. He said those experiences influenced his approach as a union leader by teaching him to be reasonable and approachable.
When Samantha DeRiso was elected in 2018 to lead the Central New York Labor Council, she made history as the first woman in the role. She got her start as a file clerk for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1 and moved up through the union’s ranks over the years. Last summer, DeRiso and other labor leaders teamed up with state Attorney General Letitia James to call on the U.S. Senate to pass the union-friendly Protecting the Right to Organize Act.
Seth Cohen’s labor career started decades ago as a union representative for his school building in Troy as a member of New York State United Teachers. Now, as president of the Capital District Area Labor Federation, a coalition of labor groups in and around the Capital District, he’s focused on engaging and building up the local labor councils. “My goal is to work with individual labor councils,” Cohen told Hudson Mohawk Magazine in a June interview, adding that he’d like to ask them, “What do your members need, and how can we provide it?”
James Shillitto has been president of Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 since 2019, when he succeeded James Slevin, who moved up to lead UWUA as national president. The local represents workers at Con Edison and employees at other energy providers as well as water and tree companies, with offices in Manhattan and Westchester. Shillitto is also an executive board member of the New York City Central Labor Council.
The United Service Workers Union, an affiliate of the International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades, represents about 30,000 members across 18 locals nationwide, with a headquarters in New Rochelle. Lori Ann Ames serves as national president of USWU, which covers workers in construction, energy and automotive industries and other fields. Ames is also the national secretary-treasurer of the Home Healthcare Workers of America, which represents 20,000 employees across New York state.
Peter Meringolo has led the New York State Public Employee Conference, a statewide coalition of over 80 public sector unions, for more than two decades. Meringolo played a key role in the passage of the state World Trade Center Presumptive Disability Law in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More recently, he helped block a state constitutional convention, shaped COVID-19 worker protections and allowed the state comptroller to continue to have free rein in directing public sector employees’ pension investments.
Terrence Melvin holds the second-highest position in the 2.5 million-strong state AFL-CIO. His tenure as a union leader dates back to 1983, when he became the youngest president of a 2,000-member Civil Service Employees Association local. He’s also the president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. In 2020, in the wake of the national protests after George Floyd’s death, late national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka created the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice, of which Melvin is the executive director.
In 2015, after nearly two decades as business manager of Ironworkers Local 580, James Mahoney became general vice president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. Mahoney, who is also the president of the New York State Iron Workers District Council and a member of the New York State AFL-CIO’s executive council, recently joined other major New York unions in endorsing U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for reelection.
Daniel C. Levler is president of the largest independent union in Suffolk County, representing more than 6,000 active and retired public employees. He applauded first responder legislation that was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul last year on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including a measure broadening who qualifies as a “first responder.” At the time, Levler touted the role of 911 operators in Suffolk County who assisted local residents when the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the region.
Noel DiGerolamo’s Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, which represents officers of the Suffolk County Police Department, has emerged as a major political player in recent years. Last spring, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a police reform report in response to a state executive order issued in the wake of the unrest following George Floyd’s death. The PBA and the Suffolk County executive reached a deal in December on police reform measures, with DiGerolamo saying that the deal is “fair” and “equitable” to the community and police.
A longtime union member, Dan DiClemente started his union career as a glazier with Glaziers Local 677 of the Rochester Building & Construction Trades Council. He’s now president of the Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees, Local 2419, representing 1,200 support staff in the Rochester City School District. DiClemente is also the president of the 8,500-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 66, which, along with CSEA Local 1000, made an endorsement for mayor of Rochester. DiClemente said of then-mayoral candidate Malik Evans that he “was born to lead the city he grew up in.”
In 2020, elected officials and community leaders gathered at Local 456’s union hall in Elmsford to call on New York to spend up to $35 billion over five years for infrastructure upgrades. Teamsters Local 456 President Louis Picani, who represents public employees and construction workers in Westchester and Putnam counties, defended labor costs, arguing that “when you build union you build it right,” according to CBS News New York. Now that the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has passed, it will fund $30 billion in infrastructure spending in New York and create millions of construction jobs.
Originally from rural Mississippi, Rebecca Dixon’s commitment to worker rights stems from her experiences at the intersection of race, class and gender. Now based in Washington, D.C., Dixon has ties to New York, having served in the Cuomo administration. “As working New Yorkers struggle through the next phase of the pandemic, they need the governor to have their backs by mandating the safeguards they and their families need and deserve,” she wrote in the Daily News last year, calling for Gov. Kathy Hochul to protect farmworkers and restaurant servers.
Karen Cacace is responsible for the state attorney general office’s enforcement of labor laws and its representation of the state Department of Labor and the state Workers’ Compensation Board. During the heated five-week strike last fall at Catholic Health in Buffalo, Cacace issued a cease-and-desist letter to strike staffing company Huffmaster because there were complaints that the company, while providing strike replacements, was also engaging in security and patrol services that resulted in intimidation and harassment of strikers. According to Cacace, it is illegal for a single company to be licensed for both services in New York.
Thomas Mungeer joined the New York State Police in 1993 and has been president of the 6,000-member New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association for well over a decade. As calls to defund the police continue even as violent crime rises, Mungeer has come out in opposition. “The defund-the-police crowd are looking around, shaking their heads, and they’re pointing at us as the ones responsible, when in fact it was their actions that brought us to this spot,” Mungeer said on Fox News last summer.
Charlene Obernauer, who has led the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health since 2014, advocates for safe workplaces, including construction sites. She also worked with Adhikaar, a New York-based nonprofit, to form the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition, which pushed successfully for statewide legislation to combat wage theft and reduce safety and health hazards in nail salons. In 2019, NYCOSH named as its chair Jessica García, who is the assistant to the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. García was also appointed to the state Office of Cannabis Management board by Gov. Kathy Hochul, bringing the labor perspective to the rollout of legal recreational marijuana in New York.
Among the biggest organized labor breakthroughs in the past year took place in Buffalo, where employees at two Starbucks locations have voted to unionize for the first time – and organizers are moving forward with efforts to unionize the coffee shop chain at other stores in upstate New York and across the country. Barista Michelle Eisen played a key role in organizing the first location, on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, while shift supervisor Lexi Rizzo helped organize the second Starbucks location in Cheektowaga. Longtime labor organizer Richard Bensinger has been advising the Starbucks campaign on behalf of the union Workers United.
Philip Rumore has been president of the 3,800-member Buffalo Teachers Federation for 40 years and counting. The union is currently in mediated contract negotiations with the Buffalo school district for the 2023 through 2025 school years. According to the union, the district superintendent has proposed significant raises for his staff. Thus, Rumore has reasoned, Buffalo teachers also deserve significant raises because they have been on the front lines, continuing to endure and prevail over unprecedented obstacles during the pandemic.
Samantha Rosado-Ciriello leads the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of New York State United Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, representing 3,600 members in the state’s third-largest city. When COVID-19 hit, Rosado-Ciriello said that schools were not prepared for in-person education. But by early last fall, she was eager for the return of teachers and students to the classroom.
Adam Urbanski is a Polish immigrant, a former high school teacher and college professor, and the founding director of the Teacher Union Reform Network – and, for four decades, the president of the Rochester Teachers Association. Lately, he has been sounding the alarm over potentially tough contract negotiations in 2022. The current contract is in effect until the end of the current school year, but, according to Urbanski, the school district is already demanding a longer school day and school year.
Nicole Capsello leads the 3,100-member Syracuse Teachers Association, which represents educators in the Syracuse City School District. She took over after the death of her predecessor, Bill Scott, in April last year. While welcoming the return of students to in-person learning last fall after a year’s worth of hybrid and remote learning models, Capsello said it would take time for students to readjust and supported the cancellation of the Regents exams for January 2022.
Del Vitale became director of United Steelworkers District 4 in 2019 and represents steelworkers in nine states – including New York – as well as Puerto Rico. He first joined a union at 18, working for a paper packaging plant in New Jersey. The United Steelworkers in December announced its endorsement of Gov. Kathy Hochul for a full term in this year’s elections, becoming the first industrial international union to endorse her for another bid as governor.
Thomas A. Callahan and William Lynn are among the 14 vice presidents of the 400,000-member International Union of Operating Engineers’ general executive board. Callahan, who leads IUOE Local 15, is also the president of the New York State Conference of Operating Engineers, which joined other major unions in January in endorsing U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for reelection. Lynn, who is at the helm of IUOE Local 30 in New York and Connecticut, notched a victory last year when the Guggenheim Museum signed a contract with his union that increased wages for its workers.
Maritza Silva-Farrell has a long history of leading progressive campaigns, such as the one to keep Walmart out of New York City. Perhaps her most notable achievement, though, is with the successful #NoAmazon coalition, which she helped launch with a disparate group of activists and organizers from more than 15 different community-based organizations. The campaign forced Amazon to cancel its planned second headquarters in Long Island City in 2019. “We can actually build our communities without corporations coming in to undo them,” Silva-Farrell told The Guardian in the wake of that battle.
An affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the New York State Laborers' Organizing Fund directs resources toward organizing drives in the building and construction trades sector. John F. Hutchings, who runs NYSLOF and also backs candidates through the New York State Laborers’ Political Action Committee, last year welcomed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement of a finalized contract for the Champlain Hudson Power Express project, saying it will create thousands of construction jobs that pay a prevailing wage. As NYSLOF’s director of policy and public affairs, Vincent Albanese advocates for everything from upgrading water infrastructure to supporting horse racing to changing how the state taxes renewable energy projects.
As the leader of the New York State Laborers’ Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, Patrick Purcell coordinates efforts at collaboration between Laborers' International Union of North America locals and management with the aim of increasing their share of the construction market. Purcell and his LIUNA colleagues have been a resource for union members weathering COVID-19. Until recently, Purcell also led the Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, which is now led by fellow labor leader Michael Prohaska.
Elected in 2018 as president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Matthew Aracich is a third-generation heat and frost insulator who sees a lot of opportunity in the state’s transition to renewable energy, particularly wind – but has also warned of moving away from natural gas too hastily. Aracich has argued that there has to be a social justice component to the clean energy transition because of the potential for displaced workers in fossil fuel plants.
L. Todd Diorio leads 10,000 members represented by the 28 local unions that make up the Hudson Valley Building & Construction Trades Council. Diorio, who’s also president of Laborers’ Local 17, joined a press conference along the Newburgh waterfront with Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney last year to tout the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s investments in roads and bridges, airports, public transit and water systems in the area while guaranteeing union jobs.
Rodolfo Mendez is a new member of Local 338, and he and his co-workers made history last year by becoming the first farmworkers to be represented by a union in New York state, following the passage of the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act in 2019. Mendez, who is from Guatemala and came to the U.S. in 2007, started working at Pindar Vineyards in early 2021. He celebrated the victory by saying he hopes that union negotiations with Pindar yield benefits such as sick days and paid time off.
Bill Banfield has been a union organizer since 1998 and now serves as assistant to the executive secretary-treasurer for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. Last fall, Banfield joined with state Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon for a ribbon-cutting event at NASRCC’s Rock Tavern Training Center in Orange County, calling it an investment in the next generation of New York carpenters. Tricia Brown started out with the union in 2002, and now she’s in charge of legislative and political affairs. Brown was one of 40 individuals appointed to an Albany city task force to help decide how to equitably disburse $85 million in federal aid through the American Rescue Plan.
Make the Road New York made a remarkable transition last year by passing the baton to three new co-executive directors. Each brings a set of unique experiences. Jose Lopez is a policy expert on housing and renters’ rights; Arlenis Morel led the effort to build out the organization’s office infrastructure; and Theo Oshiro expanded its reach into Westchester and New Jersey. Despite the U.S. Senate parliamentarian ruling in September against a provision to include a pathway for citizenship for immigrants in the Build Back Better Act, Lopez said that Make the Road New York remained optimistic about ultimately achieving that goal.
The son of Palestinian immigrants and an organizer in low-income communities of color for two decades, Murad Awawdeh was promoted to lead the New York Immigration Coalition on a permanent basis last spring. His work advocating for immigrants often overlaps with worker rights, from standing up for COVID-19 protections and universal health care to fighting for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants to seeking adequate funding for the state’s Excluded Workers Fund.
Ed Draves joined Shenker Russo & Clark, a law firm specializing in government affairs, at the start of the year. He’s often recognized as one of the best labor lobbyists in the state, and he has also represented a broad swath of clients in the health care, communications and energy fields. Draves previously was a partner at the lobbying firm Bolton-St. Johns and also served as political and legislative director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
One of New York’s leading labor attorneys, Alan Klinger has represented such union heavyweights as the United Federation of Teachers and the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association in New York City while also providing counsel pro bono to the Association of State Supreme Court Justices. Klinger, who is Stroock’s co-managing partner and chairs the law firm’s government affairs and regulatory practice, is also co-chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s New York Lawyers Division.
Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno has one of New York’s top lobbying outfits, advocating on behalf of a range of clients including labor unions and vendors seeking government contracts. Robert Bishop, a founding member, runs the firm’s Albany office and represents clients with matters before state government. Thanks to the $1.2 trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, some of his labor clients should benefit from the construction of such infrastructure projects as the Gateway tunnel and the Second Avenue subway extension. The affiliated Pitta LLP law firm, where Bishop is a partner, specializes in labor, employment and employee benefits.
Peter Coradi is a skilled arbitration advocate representing American Postal Workers Union members and postal employees on a wide range of issues. He’s also vice president of the state AFL-CIO’s executive council. Postal workers have been on the front lines throughout the coronavirus pandemic, so when Coradi met with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just before the signing of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, Coradi lobbied for the extension of paid sick leave and family medical leave.
Ellen Redmond has served as an international representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for nearly a decade. Redmond previously served as director of IBEW Local 1049, which represents National Grid and Long Island Power Authority workers on Long Island. Redmond’s responsibilities include driving the political and legislative agenda of IBEW, which represents over 50,000 members. She’s also a member of the Climate Jobs New York labor coalition and a longtime board member of United Way of Long Island.
Representing food and commercial workers in upstate New York and neighboring Pennsylvania as president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local One, Frank DeRiso is also a vice president of the 1.3 million-member UFCW International Union. Mergers and acquisitions had been ramping up in the grocery sector prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and they continued in upstate New York last year when Tops Friendly Markets, which employs Local One members, merged with Price Chopper. The new parent company will maintain the full union workforce, according to DeRiso.
Paul Brown started as a plasterer with the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association in 1984. He now represents more than 12,000 construction workers across 18 affiliates in Western New York. After Brown and the Buffalo & Niagara County Building and Construction Trades Council endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul in December, the governor in her January State of the State address touted job-creating infrastructure plans like the Kensington Expressway project in Buffalo.
Nadia Marin-Molina is co-leader of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an immigrant and low-wage worker rights organization. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health veteran was named to President Joe Biden’s transition team for the U.S. Labor Department in 2020. In October, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would end mass workplace arrests of employees suspected of being undocumented immigrants, Marin-Molina said it was long past due.
Alexander Colvin is halfway through his five-year appointment as dean of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which is known for its unique focus on labor studies at the undergraduate level. He focuses on employment dispute resolution, with an emphasis on nonunion workplaces. He testified in November before Congress about how forced arbitration imposed on workers by corporations has received little public oversight but has profound implications for the rights of American workers.
David Gonzalez was elected in October 2020 as a vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees. In Gonzalez’s District 2, AFGE represents federal employees in eight states, including New York. Gonzalez previously served in the U.S. Navy and worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, becoming a member and then eventually president of AFGE Local 3975, which is based in New Jersey, where Gonzalez lives.
An ordained Episcopal priest, Richard Witt has led the Rural & Migrant Ministry since 1991. The organization, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, stands with farmworkers as they fight for better pay and working conditions and endeavors to ensure that rural and migrant children have opportunities to advance their education. Witt was thrilled when Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the approval of $850 million for the state excluded workers program last fall, saying that farmworkers have played a key role in the state’s recovery.
Anthony Simon started with the Long Island Rail Road in 1990 and was named secretary and treasurer of his local a decade later. He now represents LIRR conductors, track workers and car repairers as a leader of the 500 locals that make up the transportation division of SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. Last fall, Simon joined Gov. Kathy Hochul for a ceremonial ride on the LIRR line into the new East Side Access station below Grand Central Terminal.
Carmen Velasquez was sworn in last year as president of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, making history as the first Latina to lead the association that represents many New York judges. A state Supreme Court justice in Queens, Velasquez has pushed for the recertification for judges over the age of 70 and recently called for court proceedings to go virtual during the COVID-19 spike due to the omicron variant.
Edward Valente represents about 2,000 Metro-North Railroad employees, including conductors, engineers and stationmasters. Last fall, Valente testified before a state Senate committee that the effect of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s consolidation efforts has been a downsizing of public-facing services while bureaucracy has only increased. He has also been outspoken about mitigating the risk of COVID-19 to rail workers and pushing for light duty for pregnant conductors. His union, the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, or ACRE, endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul for reelection in January.
A proud union member for over 46 years, Denise Berkley is the executive vice president of the Civil Service Employees Association and a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. She also serves as the chair of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ Racial, Social and Economic Justice Work group. “My fellow work group members and I are fighting to make sure that racial and economic justice reaches every corner of our union and our communities,” Berkley has said of her work on the AFSCME task force.
Sherry Leiwant and Dina Bakst co-founded A Better Balance in 2005 to advocate for a transformation of the American workplace whereby workers are able to care for themselves and their loved ones without risking their economic security. They’ve had a big impact on the state and local level, and recently touted the 8.6 million New Yorkers who were granted the right to paid time off to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Now, they’re focused on paid leave in the Build Back Better Act, saying it should be available nationwide.
The New York State Association of Nurse Anesthetists is pushing the state Legislature to broaden the responsibilities of certified registered nurse anesthetists by codifying the profession in state law, instead of defining it solely by state regulations and education requirements. NYSANA President Giovanna Mahar, who is an assistant program director at Albany Medical Center, told lawmakers recently that CRNAs should be able to operate without physician supervision by law – which they’ve been able to do during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to an executive waiver.
The Police Benevolent Association of New York State represents some 1,200 members who work for several state agency police units, including New York State University Police and the state Department of Environmental Conservation Police as well as state park police and state forest rangers. Manuel Vilar, the PBA’s president, praised Gov. Kathy Hochul in November for signing a bill that bans the manufacture and distribution of deadly firearms that resemble toys.
As Asian Americans across the country have been confronted with xenophobic rhetoric and attacks in recent years, labor leaders like Steven Moy have been stepping up. Last year, Moy joined New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez to speak out against threats targeting Asian Pacific Americans. Moy, who leads the New York chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, is also on APALA’s national executive board and is an executive board member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local Union 3.
A specialist in labor and employment law, wage and hour law and collective bargaining, Kevin Mulvehill has been with the law firm Phillips Lytle LLP for 15 years. Mulvehill heads the firm’s labor and employment practice where he and his five colleagues handle matters before state and federal agencies including the National Labor Relations Board and the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He is also the law firm’s Rochester office leader.
Alianza Agrícola was founded by Luis Jiménez and several other immigrant dairy farmworkers in Western New York nearly six years ago to bring attention to the issues facing farmworkers and to advocate for protections. Since he formed the organization, Jiménez has been approached by multiple unions requesting that he join their ranks. But his wish is to start the first independent farmworker union in New York, similar to farmworker unions in California and Washington state.
Suzanne Adely and Sonia Singh joined the Food Chain Workers Alliance in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The national coalition is made up of more than 30 worker-based organizations – including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the Street Vendor Project and Brandworkers – within the food industry, and aims to raise wages and improve working conditions. Adely and Singh have said that their goal is to transform the food system so food workers have greater power in the workplace.
Sekou Siby formerly worked as a cook and dishwasher at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant, but he wasn’t on shift on 9/11. In the wake of the attacks, he co-founded Restaurant Opportunities Centers United to advocate for higher pay and better working conditions for restaurant workers. In November, about 1 million restaurant and hotel workers quit their jobs, many of them citing low pay. One way to improve restaurant workers’ pay, Siby said, is by raising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.
Bianca Guerrero is a progressive political organizer with Make the Road New York who helped the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition win a first-in-the-nation $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund for undocumented workers who did not qualify for federal unemployment and pandemic aid due to their immigration status. Now that the money has run out, the coalition wants to make that fund permanent. In response to Gov. Kathy Hochul failing to mention a permanent extension in her State of the State, Guerrero demanded state action to protect excluded workers.
Thomas Canty has been with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield for more than two decades, and he’s in charge of administering plans for labor and public sector clients. Unions make up a large share of the clients at the health insurance company, which has nearly 5 million members in New York. Canty also sits on the board of Outreach, an addiction treatment organization based in Queens, which has honored Canty for his many years of dedicated support for its mission.
An experienced health plan management executive, Michelle Zettergren oversees labor clients for MagnaCare and also is chief sales and marketing officer and president of labor at its parent company, Brighton Health Plan Solutions. With clients across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, MagnaCare is not an insurance company itself but instead serves as a third-party administrator managing health plans for self-insured clients. Zettergren joined MagnaCare in 2017 after holding key roles at EmblemHealth subsidiary ConnectiCare.
Diana Saguilán and Andrea Callan lead the Worker Justice Center of New York, an organization that supports farmworkers and other low-wage workers in upstate New York. The center, which was founded four decades ago and established in its current form in 2011, has offices in the Hudson Valley and Western New York. A top legislative goal in Albany is to allow all New Yorkers, including those who are in the country without legal permission, to qualify for state unemployment insurance.
As director of the Worker Institute’s Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at Cornell, Lara Skinner is tasked with providing training and education programs to help union leaders and members engage in the public debates and decision-making around climate protection and clean energy. As New York embarks on installing 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035, Skinner said it’s important that union members not only install the wind turbines and related infrastructure but that they also should manufacture and assemble them in the United States.
The Committee of Interns and Residents, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, is the largest U.S. labor union of its kind, representing over 20,000 resident physicians and fellows at hospitals in New York and across the nation. Oluyemi Omotoso, a resident at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center who also serves as secretary-treasurer at CIR, testified last year during a New York City Council hearing that the city’s public health system must address chronic understaffing and support the mental health of medical workers in order to meet the needs of both patients and residents.
In 2007, Lenny Legotte was elected president of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 1, which represents approximately 3,000 workers in downstate New York and New Jersey. Legotte was behind a push to toughen elevator safety in New York by setting minimum education and training standards for elevator mechanics. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the elevator safety law in 2020, but, as part of a deal with legislators, the legislation goes into effect just this year.
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