Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island defied the odds to form a labor union. Employees at REI in SoHo voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, making it the first unionized store for the company. Baristas at a Manhattan Starbucks also unionized, following on the heels of a breakthrough organizing effort in Western New York. And that was just over the course of a few weeks in the spring.
Whether such developments mark a turning point in the labor movement is unclear, but the renewed energy around organizing for workers’ rights is undeniable – especially in pro-union New York City.
City & State’s New York City Labor Power 100 – written by City & State’s Asar John – features the labor leaders, city officials, immigrant advocates and other allies who are building momentum as they stand up for workers of all kinds. And in contrast with our State Labor Power 100, this list highlights individuals whose efforts are largely or entirely within the five boroughs.
In 2014, Henry Garrido became the first Latino executive director of District Council 37 which with 150,000 employees is the largest public sector union in New York City. In June, he led members of the union on a march at Foley Square to demand pay raises, affordable health care and safer working conditions. When the city closed beaches this summer due to a lack of lifeguards, Garrido helped negotiate a new agreement in July with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to provide city lifeguards with a pay raise and a $1,000 retention bonus at summer’s end. Garrido’s union endorsed New York City Eric Adams for mayor and is also a player at the state level, where Garrido has called on lawmakers to pass the Clean Slate Act to seal criminal histories of job applicants.
George Gresham leads 1199SEIU, the largest health care workers union in the nation. In December, the union struck an agreement with the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, narrowly averting a strike at New York nursing homes. Gresham’s union has wielded its power in city and state politics – throwing its considerable support behind the likes of Gov. Kathy Hochul and Rep. Jerry Nadler, although 1199SEIU’s pick for New York City mayor, Maya Wiley, fell short last year. The union is also a heavyweight in Albany, where it has a track record of shaping budget spending and pushing policy issues.
Now in his fifth term as president of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew faces the monumental task of helping New York City’s public school teachers adapt to a post-pandemic world – all while the city Department of Education’s budget hangs in the balance. He has also maintained his influence at City Hall, joining New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ push for an extension of mayoral control of schools this year. With UFT’s three-year contract expiring this month, negotiations for contracts covering teachers, counselors, social workers and more are all on the table.
On the heels of unionization campaigns at Amazon and Starbucks that garnered national attention, workers at Chipotle recently announced their intention to join 32BJ SEIU in a similar push. The union, led by President Kyle Bragg, is mostly known for representing building service workers, but in recent years has begun trying to organize fast-food workers – and applauded City Hall’s $20 million settlement with Chipotle this summer under the city’s Fair Workweek law. Meanwhile, 32BJ SEIU secured a deal with the Realty Advisory Board this spring that will give city doormen a 12.6% increase in wages over four years.
As president of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, Rich Maroko has advocated keeping hotels’ doors open during the coronavirus pandemic to protect workers’ jobs. Maroko has been on a hot streak lately, backing Eric Adams’ New York City mayoral campaign, securing city and state support for unemployed hotel workers and winning an expansion of casinos in downstate New York that will benefit his members. His union also backed state Sen. Gustavo Rivera’s successful reelection bid as other unions backed a challenger. As New York moves to convert some hotels into affordable housing, Maroko argued that increasing the move shouldn’t come at the expense of hospitality jobs.
Gary LaBarbera has led the 100,000-member Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York for over a decade. LaBarbera, who now leads the state-level New York State Building and Construction Trades Council as well, won a victory when the state Legislature passed a new law holding general contractors liable for wages or benefits owed by subcontractors. More recently, LaBarbera has sounded off on the replacement for the 421-a tax exemption for developers, insisting that any new affordable housing incentive include prevailing wage requirements.
As president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, Teamsters Local 831, Harry Nespoli has helped sanitation workers navigate the toughest challenges of the pandemic – from trash accumulating and deaths among workers to municipal vaccination mandates. Nespoli, who also serves as chair of the Municipal Labor Committee, blamed the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for trash pileups. Local 831 was one of the four municipal unions to sue the city over the mandate and later reached an agreement with City Hall that allowed for certain exemptions.
Christopher Shelton and Dennis Trainor joined the New York Telephone Co. within one year of each other in the late 1960s. Now, Shelton is the president of the 700,000-strong Communications Workers of America and Trainor is the vice president for CWA District 1, covering more than 140,000 workers in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Shelton has been an outspoken voice on issues of national policy affecting unionized workers; in July, he spoke with President Joe Biden and urged him to pass the CHIPS Act and create unionized manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, Trainor has helped his members win new contract extensions with major telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T.
Vincent Alvarez is the president of the New York City Central Labor Council, the nation’s largest regional labor organization. Alvarez’s labor union roots run from the Queens-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3, which he joined as a member in 1990. Recently, the organization stood with several other major labor groups to oppose the potential ban of horse-drawn carriages from city streets, warning that banning the carriages would cost the unionized drivers their jobs.
Bhairavi Desai stands at the helm of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, representing and advocating for a largely immigrant workforce. Over the past two years, Desai has rallied with taxi workers for higher wages and debt relief for drivers who took out onerous loans to purchase taxi medallions. Last October, Desai and the union staged a 15-day hunger strike outside City Hall. In response, the city and lenders agreed to a landmark deal to write down taxi drivers’ debts.
As head of the Transport Workers Union, Brooklyn native John Samuelsen represents the workers who keep the heart of New York City beating. Before being elevated to international president of the union, Samuelsen served as the president of TWU Local 100 in New York City, and he still keeps a close eye on the city and state’s transit policies, including in his role as a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. This summer, New York City Mayor Eric Adams nominated Samuelsen to serve on the Traffic Mobility Review Board, which will make recommendations for the city’s congestion pricing plan.
Tony Utano has been in the New York City labor sphere since he was 19 years old, when he started working as a electrical power maintenance helper at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In December, he was reelected to a second term as president of Transport Workers Union Local 100. As president, Utano has fought to eliminate secure hazard pay for transit workers and eliminate their overtime cap. He has been a strong supporter of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ public safety plan and an outspoken opponent of bail reform.
Amid yearslong tussles with Amazon in and out of the city, Stuart Appelbaum shows no signs of slowing down. He was just reelected to his seventh consecutive term as president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union last month, and he’s also the president of the Jewish Labor Committee and a vice president at the national AFL-CIO. In March, RWDSU became the first union to organize workers at REI, after over 100 employees in the outdoor equipment retailer’s SoHo store voted in favor of unionization.
As president of Teamsters Joint Council 16, Thomas Gesualdi represents the 120,000 workers in downstate New York who belong to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Under his leadership, the union has advocated for private sanitation employees, immigrant workers and warehouse workers. Gesualdi has also been an outspoken critic of lax safety policies, telling the New York Amsterdam News that Amazon warehouses “had 40% more injuries than other warehouses in the state.” Gesualdi also successfully fought for the passage of the Warehouse Worker Protection Act by the state Legislature.
New York City is the epicenter of the battle over Amazon – from the failed HQ2 proposal in 2019 to the establishment of the company’s first union. The independent Amazon Labor Union, which is now seeking a contract at a Staten Island warehouse, was the creation of Chris Smalls, who was fired from Amazon in 2020 after staging a walkout to protest unsafe working conditions. As the president of ALU, Smalls now regularly travels the country to rally for workers’ rights and educate Amazon employees about the advantages of unionizing.
Over the past two years, principals and other school administrators have had to deal with the ebb and flow of coronavirus cases, often spending their off hours figuring out contact tracing and quarantine procedures. Through it all, Council of School Supervisors & Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro has been there to advocate for them. In March, following negotiations with Cannizzaro’s union, the New York City Department of Education agreed to provide overtime payouts worth millions of dollars to school administrators who had worked on contract tracing and other pandemic measures.
The continued challenges of the pandemic have not fazed the head honchos at the New York State Nurses Association. Nancy Hagans, a member of the union’s Social Justice Committee who was named president last summer, has tirelessly sounded the alarm on hospital staffing shortages and the importance of unions in New York City. And as the omicron variant drove a spike in cases this past winter, Executive Director Pat Kane touted New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to funnel $145 million to safety net hospitals and increase hospital staffing.
Totaling almost 24,000 members, the New York City Police Benevolent Association is the largest municipal police union in the country. Led since 1999 by the outspoken Pat Lynch, the PBA backs its men and women in blue on all fronts. Lynch famously led rank-and-file officers to turn their back on then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during a police funeral, and he’s not not afraid to criticize any politician, even former NYPD Capt. Eric Adams, who he believes is supporting policies that will endanger the safety of his officers.
Across three mayoral administrations, Renee Campion’s commitment to labor relations in New York City has remained steadfast. First appointed the head of the New York City Office of Labor Relations in 2019, Campion mediates between city government and the more than 360,000 city workers represented by municipal unions. Under her leadership, the office has embarked on an ambitious plan to reform the city’s health benefits program. New York City Mayor Eric Adams gave Campion a vote of confidence last year when he reappointed her as labor relations commissioner.
After successfully fighting for passage of the $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund as a member of the Assembly, Carmen De La Rosa decided to shift gears. She left Albany and traveled back down the Hudson to run for the New York City Council in the Inwood neighborhood where she grew up. Following her victory last November, De La Rosa became the first Dominican woman to represent her council district. She now chairs the City Council Civil Service and Labor Committee.
In 2019, then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration added “Worker Protection” to the name of the Department of Consumer Affairs, emphasizing its focus on low-wage employees. Vilda Vera Mayuga’s appointment in February as its commissioner followed her experience as deputy secretary for economic opportunity at the state Department of State, where she managed several divisions serving consumers and low-wage workers. The department has been cracking down on labor violations in New York City and in August secured a $20 million settlement with Chipotle over violations of the city’s Fair Workweek law.
A Queens native who got his start as an electrician apprentice, Christopher Erikson is now business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 3 and has become an advocate for New York’s shift to cleaner energy. In April, Erikson joined with New York City Council Member James Gennaro to call on the state to approve Clean Path New York, which will invest billions of dollars to produce new clean energy infrastructure and generate new green jobs for workers.
When former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all city employees, many municipal union leaders pledged to defy the order. Among them was Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, who took to the media to explain that the union was not anti-vaccine, just anti-mandate. But the controversy over the vaccine mandate didn’t keep Ansbro from negotiating a new contract agreement with the city in December, which will provide wage increases to nearly 8,500 FDNY employees.
Since being appointed president of the FDNY-Uniformed Fire Officers Association last September, Lt. James McCarthy has spent much of his time fighting with City Hall. Along with other municipal unions, the FDNY lieutenant called on New York City Mayor Eric Adams to lift the vaccine mandate for all employees in the city. He has also demanded that the city release files containing information about the dangerous air quality in and around the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks.
In July, it was announced that Steven Meier was named chief investment officer for the New York City Retirement System, which manages the statutory pension benefits for municipal unions’ members, retirees and beneficiaries – more than 350,000 people in total. Working under New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, Meier supervises the comptroller’s Bureau of Asset Management, which is responsible for the city’s $250 billion pension portfolio. A number of unions, including the New York City Police Benevolent Association and District Council 37, have their pensions managed through New York City Employees’ Retirement System.
This spring, Michael Hellstrom took the reins of the Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York, succeeding Robert Bonanza as the leader of the 17,000-member construction workers union. The politically active union has pushed for unionized labor on affordable housing projects in New York City. At the state level, Hellstrom is a major proponent of Carlos’ Law, which would increase penalties for construction worker deaths, and praised Gov. Kathy Hochul for signing legislation aimed at fixing up public housing through a New York City Public Housing Preservation Trust.
A year ago, Michael Prohaska was handily reelected to his post as business manager of Laborers’ Local 79, which represents over 10,000 current and former construction laborers in New York City, including mason tenders, mortar mixers and fireproofers. Prohaska went on to notch several policy victories this year, including increased funding for the New York City Housing Authority, increased penalties for construction worker deaths and the Adams administration’s community hiring push. Local 79 has also criticized Robert De Niro for allowing a contractor to use nonunion labor to build his new Wildflower Studios in Astoria.
Greg Floyd leads Teamsters Local 237, which represents 24,000 public employees in New York City and Long Island – including school safety agents. Floyd has been an outspoken opponent of progressive activists’ demands to remove these officers from schools. In the wake of assaults against school safety agents, Floyd wants even more of them in schools for extra reinforcement. “This shows once again that there’s a need for at least two school safety agents,” he told the Daily News. “They shouldn’t work alone.”
Benny Boscio Jr. presides over the 20,000-member Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the second-largest municipal jail union in the nation. Boscio, who has cultivated a strong relationship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, has defended his members amid scrutiny over the city’s Rikers Island jail complex. The corrections veteran has staunchly opposed the proposed federal takeover of Rikers Island, arguing that federal control would not make the ongoing problems with the jail complex suddenly disappear.
As New York City’s social services system has reeled the effects of COVID-19, Anthony Wells has made sure that the city’s social service workers are not left behind. Wells, a former caseworker at a Bronx juvenile detention center, was elected president of the Social Service Employees Union Local 371 back in 2011. Representing more 20,000 social service workers across various city agencies, Wells has not been afraid to speak up about the dangers of staff shortages and the need for the city to hire more caseworkers and pay them well.
When the New York state budget passed in April, it included hundreds of millions of dollars of funding increases for CUNY, the city’s largest public university system. That was good news for James Davis, the president of the university’s union, the Professional Staff Congress of CUNY, who has long fought to increase the state’s support for CUNY. With almost 17 years of activism for a better CUNY, the Brooklyn College professor has advocated for items such as adjunct equity and a prevention of tuition hikes.
For two decades, Carmen Charles has directed the Municipal Hospital Employees Union Local 420, representing 10,000 health care workers across the city’s municipal hospitals and jails. When COVID-19 cases peaked in spring 2020, leading to the deaths of 11 members of her union, Charles spoke out about the need for N95 masks and other personal protective equipment – for both medical and nonmedical staff working in hospitals.
In October, Rebecca Damon was hired as executive director of New York local, labor policy and international affairs at the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The New York City-based actress, who had previously served as the local’s executive vice president, has sought to emphasize the economic contributions that film and television production have brought to the city. New York City Mayor Eric Adams appointed Damon, who has focused on the need for affordable housing for workers in her industry, to his Film and Television Production Industry Council.
Since being elected president in 2015, Kate Shindle has led the Actors’ Equity Association through the #MeToo reckoning, the Black Lives Matter protests and the pandemic-induced shutdown of Broadway theaters. On her watch, the group has campaigned to increase diversity in the theatrical industry and worked to protect workers from sexual harassment. “Equity has made it a top priority to combat inequality in the industry, but we cannot do this work alone,” Shindle said in March, after the union released its latest diversity and inclusion report.
Tino Gagliardi returned as president and executive director of the American Federation of Musicians’ Local 802 at the start of the year, after the professional trumpeter ran unopposed for a three-year term. Gagliardi, who succeeded Adam Krauthamer, held the same post from 2010 to 2018 and aims to address the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local 802, which bills itself as “the largest local union of professional musicians in the world,” includes musicians who perform in orchestras, operas, Broadway productions, television shows and a wide array of live music venues.
Lester Crockett started his decadeslong career in civil service after working on the late Assembly Member Al Vann’s Youth Council initiative in the 1970s. He now serves as president of the Civil Service Employees Association Metropolitan Region 2, representing 14,000 active and retired state government employees across the five boroughs. CSEA was a strong supporter of Eric Adams in the 2021 New York City mayoral primary, and Adams has since pushed the city to hire more mental health workers, who are represented by the CSEA.
Following last year’s passage of a state law against wage theft, the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters continues to march on in the fight to protect the pay of its members. Joseph Geiger, the group’s politically savvy executive secretary-treasurer, recently took to the media to highlight the issues faced by his fellow construction workers, especially those from disadvantaged communities. Meanwhile, the organization has continued to play an active role in state politics, endorsing Gov. Kathy Hochul and a long list of state legislative candidates this cycle.
As director of United Auto Workers Region 9A, Beverley Brakeman represents nearly 60,000 union members and retirees in New York City, New England and Puerto Rico. A veteran organizer, Brakeman previously ran Citizens for Economic Opportunity – an alliance of community and labor groups focused on challenging corporate power. Brakeman is also on the executive board of the New York City Central Labor Council, a regional labor federation comprising almost 300 local unions.
When National Equal Pay Day rolled around on March 15, members of Communications Workers of America Local 1180 rallied in front of City Hall to celebrate the passage of the Pay Transparency Law. Local 1180 president Gloria Middleton stood with her members and praised the law as a victory for women in the workforce. Now serving her second term as president, Middleton has continued her efforts to ensure equitable workplaces for communications workers and other union members.
Paul DiGiacomo may agree with New York City Mayor Eric Adams that more needs to be done to combat crime, but he’s outspoken in his view that city and state officials aren’t doing nearly enough – such as appointing a special firearms prosecutor. “The criminal element is empowered, is emboldened, and they feel they could do whatever they want to do with no consequence,” he told Fox News this summer. Last year, his union reached a tentative contract agreement with a pay hike for over 5,000 New York City Police Department detectives.
Last year, the Writers Guild of America, East welcomed back a familiar face as former President Michael Winship – who led the union from 2007 to 2017 – returned as president. The award-winning documentary and news writer has seen the union through some of its toughest fights, including the successful 2007 writers’ strike. Under the guidance of longtime Executive Director Lowell Peterson, the 6,000-member union has been busy this year. The union ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with CBS News affiliates in May and with ABC News affiliates in July.
The wave of media unionization shows no signs of slowing down. In March, more than 500 employees of Condé Nast, the storied Manhattan magazine publisher, joined forces with The NewsGuild of New York. Under president Susan DeCarava, The NewsGuild has supported newsroom labor actions at publications ranging from The New York Times to BuzzFeed. Lately, DeCarava has been fighting media companies’ attempts to force reporters back into the office.
Rafael Espinal serves as president and executive director of the Freelancers Union, which supports hundreds of thousands of independent workers by providing them insurance benefits and advocating on their behalf. No stranger to making extraordinary moves, Espinal joined the Freelancers Union after abruptly resigning from the New York City Council and exiting the 2020 race for Brooklyn borough president. When the pandemic hit, Espinal led calls for freelancers to be included in COVID-19 relief. His efforts paid off when Congress included unemployment insurance for freelance workers in the CARES Act.
James Shillitto is the president and a longtime member of Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, headquartered in the heart of Manhattan. The local represents all unionized Con Edison employees as well as workers with the New York Power Authority, Rise Light & Power Eastern Generation and other power producers. Shillitto, who opposed the shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear plant north of New York City, is among the labor leaders in New York playing a key role in the state’s climate policy.
When two organizations merged to create ALIGN in 2011, they did so with the goal of creating a more sustainable New York City and state. Under the leadership of Executive Director Maritza Silva-Farrell, ALIGN has focused on the race to address climate change and challenges faced by workers in disadvantaged communities. Silva-Farrell recently praised a new plan to convert a Queens fossil fuel plant into a renewable energy center, citing it as a “shining example” of how to help unionized workers while transitioning to renewable energy sources.
Oren Barzilay began his career in New York City’s emergency services sector at the age of 16 when he joined the Forest Hills volunteer ambulance corps. Almost 34 years later, Barzilay now serves as the president of FDNY Local 2507, which represents paramedics, emergency medical technicians and fire inspectors. Throughout the pandemic, he has spoken out about the issues facing EMS workers, including wage discrepancies and the risks of a shrinking EMS workforce. After 17 died in a deadly Bronx fire in January, Barzilay testified that the building had not received a fire inspection because the worker scheduled to conduct it had been reassigned to coronavirus-related restaurant checks.
As president of Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621, Vincent Variale continues to spar with the New York City government over recognition and fair wages for emergency medical service workers. Last August, Variale and the city reached a tentative contract agreement to allow a 6% pay increase for training related to mental health emergencies. But Variale faces more uphill battles – including a recent increase in assaults on EMS workers during the pandemic and ongoing 9/11-related health complications affecting his members.
Since becoming executive director in 2020, Rebecca Dixon has positioned the National Employment Law Project at the forefront of debates over modern workers’ rights, from the safety of Amazon warehouse workers to the exploitation of Uber and Lyft drivers. Senior staff attorney Brian Chen has played a leading role advocating for gig workers, which has sometimes put him and the project on the opposite side of some traditional unions. When the state Legislature considered introducing a bill, backed by the Transport Workers Union, that would have given ride-hailing workers certain bargaining rights but not full employment status, Chen blasted it as “bargaining for crumbs and not bargaining for power.”
Following Ed Mullins’ resignation in the face of wire fraud charges, Vincent Vallelong became president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association last October. Like his outspoken predecessor, Vallelong is no fan of New York Democrats, whom he blames for rising crime. The veteran New York City Police Department sergeant is particularly critical of “sanctuary city” policies that limit cooperation between the NYPD and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which he said are “handcuffing police.” In December, the city and SBA reached a tentative agreement that will grant wage increases to 4,700 NYPD sergeants.
Edwin Christian’s International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14-14B, which he has led for over a decade, represents many of the crane and heavy construction equipment operators on projects across New York City. Christian is also a member of the New York City Workforce Development Board, which advises City Hall on federal workforce investments, and the president of the New York City Coalition of Operating Engineers, which often endorses in local races. William Lynn, who heads up IUOE Local 30, is part of the New York City Coalition of Operating Engineers as well and is also active far beyond the five boroughs, whether it’s on Long Island or the Hudson Valley, on a statewide basis through the IUOE New York State Conference or as a international IUOE vice president. The Local 30 veteran has been in the news in recent years for securing better pay for employees at the Guggenheim.
Shaun Francois is the president of the massive public sector union District Council 37, assisting Executive Director Henry Garrido and helping to oversee more than two dozen locals. Francois also runs one of those locals – DC 37’s Local 372, which represents 25,000 New York City Department of Education staffers who provide support services in schools. Francois was part of the push for a $15 minimum wage for city employees and higher wages for crossing guards. Francois, who got his start as a school lunch helper, has also sought to ensure every student has enough food to eat.
The Workers Justice Project is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit co-founded by Ligia Guallpa that organizes programs for and empowers low-income immigrant workers. The organization is also behind Los Deliveristas Unidos and hosted the first app-based food delivery workers march in October 2020. The march prompted responses from both the food delivery app DoorDash and city government. Guallpa’s organization is also behind Liberty Cleaners, a group of female cleaners who are banding together to advocate for higher wages and to combat wage theft while also offering worker training.
As conditions for food delivery workers worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, Sergio Ajche and his fellow “deliveristas” teamed up with advocates in New York City to demand better working conditions. Launched by the nonprofit Workers Justice Project and supported by 32BJ SEIU, the group has successfully drawn the attention of policymakers and the press. In September, the New York City Council passed a package of legislation guaranteeing basic workers’ rights to food delivery workers, including a living wage and access to restaurant restrooms.
Richard Lanigan leads the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents more than 104,000 office workers and employees in other professions that range from credit unions to the hotel industry. Lanigan, a labor lawyer, joined OPEIU Local 153 as an organizer in 1980 and later served as secretary-treasurer of the local. Since being named OPEIU president in 2015, Lanigan has worked to provide proactive benefits to union members, including the development of an OPEIU 401(k) program.
As business manager for United Association Plumbers Local 1, Michael Apuzzo has spent much of the past year fighting against New York City and state’s attempts to limit the use of natural gas. He was a supporter of the NRG Energy’s proposed natural gas plant in Astoria, Queens, which was eventually rejected by the state in October, and condemned the New York City Council’s recent decision to ban natural gas hookups in new residential buildings, telling PIX11, “We can’t just shut the switch off to New York City and say ‘hey there’s no more gas.’”
As the movement for public defenders to unionize expands across the country, groups like the UAW-affiliated Association of Legal Aid Attorneys have continued to tussle with both local governments and nonprofit employers over issues affecting their staff and clients. Under the leadership of President Lisa Ohta, the ALAA has demanded that New York City fund equitable wages for legal services workers while leading successful union recognition campaigns at the Brooklyn Defender Services Union, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund and the Center for Appellate Litigation.
In response to the pandemic, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9 business manager Joseph Azzopardi made sure that the union provided members with personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and ongoing health benefits. He has also worked to create a brighter future for future tradespeople in New York City. Over the past year, District Council 9 has opened applications for apprenticeship training for 500 members, reopened and renovated a training facility in Long Island City and announced a four-year apprenticeship program for respective trades.
James Mahoney is ready to organize more ironworkers. The 40-year ironworker serves as both president of the New York State Ironworkers District Council and general vice president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. He recently told LaborPress that the social and political climate was ripe for organizing, thanks to a “friendly administration” in Washington, D.C., as well as a pro-worker secretary of labor and recent federal funding for repairs on city infrastructure.
As Amalgamated Bank searched for a new leader last year, it carefully considered who would best fit its mantra of being a “socially responsible” bank. It found the answer in Priscilla Sims Brown, who walked into the position ready to align herself with the values of the union-owned bank. What are those values? In an interview with Ebony magazine, Sims Brown highlighted the importance of supporting and investing in diversity and said that Amalgamated doesn’t invest in sectors that are socially “harmful,” like private prisons.
Mike Keogh has a long history advocating for labor in New York. As District Council 37’s principal lobbyist, he led the union’s efforts to secure public employee pension reforms, including cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. Keogh also worked on labor and pension issues in the New York City mayor’s Office of State Legislative Affairs and as the New York City Council’s finance director. Now, as lead partner for labor and workforce affairs at the lobbying firm Bolton-St. Johns, he deals with trades, transportation, environmental, new technologies and public employee sectors.
Robert Bishop is the go-to lobbyist for New York’s labor unions. He’s a co-founder of Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno, which lobbies city government officials to support pro-union legislation. (His fellow partner Vito Pitta was the attorney for Eric Adams’ New York City mayoral campaign.) The firm’s clients include a number of powerful labor unions, including the Transport Workers Union and the Teamsters Union. Last year, the firm brought in over $4.9 million in revenue, making it one of the top-ranked firms by revenue in New York City.
In his role as a co-managing partner in the Manhattan office of the national law firm Stroock, Alan Klinger is the vital link between a number of high-power labor unions and city and state government. As the firm’s co-managing partner and chair of its Government Affairs and Regulatory Support Group, Klinger has represented such heavyweights as the United Federation of Teachers, District Council 37, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association and the New York City Municipal Labor Committee.
Earlier this year, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health issued a report titled “Deadly Skyline,” which found that 41 construction workers had been killed while on the job in New York state in 2020. Executive Director Charlene Obernauer has been sounding the alarm about the dangers faced by construction workers in New York, telling Gotham Gazette that the lack of federal inspections on New York construction sites at the time were “one of the biggest disappointments” in the report.
Joining a union isn’t just about gaining leverage in the workplace – it’s also about the perks that come after retirement. Marianne Pizzitola, a retired emergency medical specialist who also heads up the FDNY EMS Retirees Association, has been battling to maintain union health benefits. When New York City reached a cost-cutting deal with unions that would shift coverage to Medicare Advantage for former city workers, she and other retirees launched a legal attack – and saw the deal fall apart when insurers walked away.
Unite Here Local 100 represents over 17,000 service workers in the New York metro area, many of them in food service throughout several business sectors across the region. José Maldonado took over as president in 2021 after several years of serving as secretary treasurer. In Maldonado’s time with Local 100, he has dedicated himself to securing pension plans and family health care, as well as boosting membership. Maldonado also lent support for the Amazon Labor Union, providing meeting space for the ALU in its successful unionization drive.
For six days in January 2021, the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx saw its first strike in over three decades as union members from Teamsters Local 202 rallied for a new contract and higher wages. Led by Teamsters Local 202’s president, Daniel Kane Jr., the union reached an agreement on a new three-year contract with wage increases that also allowed business to continue at the city’s biggest food distribution hub. Kane was honored last fall at the Bronx Democratic Party’s awards ceremony and fundraiser.
When Robert De Niro announced plans to build an Astoria film production studio, the company running its operations, Wildflower Ltd., promised “over 1,000 permanent new union jobs.” Yet, most of the workers hired to construct the studio were not union members, leaving unionized construction workers feeling excluded. Daniel Mulligan, the business manager of the Queens-based Steamfitters Local 638, has joined local officials and other union leaders criticizing the project.
The Building, Concrete, Excavating and Common Laborers' Local 731 is an Astoria-headquartered union representing almost 7,000 excavators and other construction workers in New York City. Joseph D’Amato, a member of the local for decades, has served as its business manager for more than 20 years. D’Amato started his career on the site that became John F. Kennedy International Airport and led a cohort of Local 731 members to clear the World Trade Center site of debris following the 9/11 attacks.
Since its creation in 2011, the Laundry Workers Center has campaigned on behalf of low-income immigrant workers, primarily in the laundry and food service sectors. The 2,100-member organization, which is led by Mahoma Lopez Garfias & Rosanna Rodríguez-Aran, joined other advocates in calling for the state’s pandemic-era $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund to be replenished and has joined worker rallies against Starbucks after facing hurdles in their own efforts to unionize.
Since 1990, when Robert Newell Jr. found a job as a cart clerk at a Long Island Pathmark store, he has risen steadily through ranks at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, ultimately winning the presidency in 2019. On his watch, the local made agreements with Stop & Shop for a multimillion-dollar investment in member pension benefits and assisted in the ratification of 19 union contracts. Newell has also pushed for New York City Council legislation that would regulate nonunion grocery delivery apps.
The Transport Workers Union may have a higher profile in New York, but the Amalgamated Transit Union – which bills itself as “the largest labor union representing transit and allied workers in the U.S. and Canada” – plays a key role representing transit employees in New York City as well. Danny Cassella’s ATU Local 726 on Staten Island represents 2,000 current and retired bus operators and mechanics with New York City Transit. Local 1179’s Jose DeJesus represents MTA bus employees in Queens and on routes extending into Brooklyn and Manhattan. Local 1181-1061’s Tomas Fret, who recently succeeded Michael Cordiello, has pushed for a School Bus Bill of Rights that would benefit his members. Local 1056’s Mark Henry was reelected to his post last summer and represents over 2,000 MTA bus workers in Queens.
The Subway Surface Supervisors Association’s Michael Carrube is a driving force behind protecting transit workers. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carrube voiced concerns for the safety of Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees while the virus raged. Then came the rise in attacks on transit workers. After years of Carrube’s pleas to increase protections for the 11,000 transit workers who don’t work directly on trains, such as customer service attendants, the state Legislature passed a new law covering those transit workers in June.
Cecilia Gentili is the founder of both Transgender Equity Consulting, an organization dedicated to sex worker advocacy and transgender rights, and Decrim NY, leading lobbying efforts to repeal a state law that advocates say discriminated against transgender people and sex workers. A veteran of the LGBT Center and GMHC, she is now a leading advocate in Albany and at City Hall, having lobbied successfully for the state’s Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act and for increased funding for transgender health care at both the city and state level.
Given that 1199SEIU is the country’s largest health care union, it’s no surprise that its labor-management funds serve close to half a million active and retired workers. The funds, which are overseen by Donna Rey, Sandi Vito and Rossmery Dais, illustrate the benefits that come with effective union leadership. Rey runs the 1199SEIU Benefit and Pension Funds, which spend more than $2 billion a year on health care, and also serves as CEO of Funds Administrative Operations. Vito heads the 1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds, which delivers training and job placement to employers and workers in New York and other states. Dais this year took the helm at 1199SEIU Child Care Funds, which has served over 400,000 children.
State legislation granting collective bargaining rights to Uber and Lyft drivers is stalled in Albany, but that hasn’t stopped Brendan Sexton from advocating on behalf of ride-hailing drivers. Sexton applauded New York City Mayor Eric Adams for raising wages for drivers through the city Taxi & Limousine Commission and thanked Gov. Kathy Hochul for extending health benefits through The Black Car Fund. Sexton’s organization, which was founded by labor lawyer James Conigliaro Jr. under the umbrella of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, represents 80,000 drivers in New York City alone. He’s now seeking a congestion pricing exemption for his members.
Maf Misbah Uddin has led the Accountants, Actuaries and Statisticians Local 1407 since 2000 and also is the longtime treasurer of its parent union, the influential District Council 37. Earlier this year, Uddin was appointed to the 15-person New York City Districting Commission that is redrawing New York City Council districts. The Bangladeshi founder and president of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor also pushed successfully for the city to make Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr official school holidays.
When registered respiratory therapist Carmen De León ran for the Local 768 election last year, she did so with the intention of improving the union’s advocacy on behalf of its members. De León, who has worked at Harlem Hospital and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, notched her victory over longtime leader Fitz Reid in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and she spoke out about the lack of substantial resources to protect hospital workers from COVID-19. This year, she won a seat as vice president on District Council 37’s executive board.
Since its creation in 1998, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department has continued to expand in manpower and coverage for other jurisdictions. Led by Michael O’Meara, the MTA Police Benevolent Association represents these MTA police officers. Like his counterparts in the NYPD, O’Meara has loudly pushed back on calls to “defund the police,” pointing to increases in crime since 2020. This year, O’Meara was appointed as executive director for the Police Conference of New York.
Representing over 1,600 employees of National Grid in Brooklyn and Queens, Transport Workers Union Local 101 is spearheaded by President Constance Bradley. Bradley has not hesitated to stand up for her members’ livelihoods – even if it means criticizing the most powerful politicians in the state. When Gov. Kathy Hochul backed a plan to ban gas hookups in new construction, Bradley warned that the ban would “wipe out thousands of good union jobs” and rallied workers to oppose it.
Some of the biggest hip-hop stars have made millions of dollars in the music industry, but many more artists haven’t broken through – and could benefit from an organization advocating on their behalf. That’s the idea behind The Hip Hop Alliance, which was launched earlier this year. “Who’s really speaking for the artists? Everybody knows the music industry is heartless,” KRS-One, the group’s chair, rapped in an Instagram video marking the organization’s launch. Filling out the trio of New York leaders, Chuck D serves as president while Kurtis Blow is executive director.
The NFL Alumni Association has represented retired National Football League players since 1967, securing a settlement providing concussion payouts and teaming up with partners to tackle everything from Alzheimer’s to opioid use. In New York, which lays claim to the New York Jets and New York Giants as well as the Buffalo Bills, the association’s local chapter is led by former Green Bay Packers linebacker Jude Waddy and former safety David Caldwell of the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants.
Angelo Angelone worked his way up the Cement & Concrete Workers District Council ranks over the years, taking over in 2016 as the council’s leader, which represents more than 3,000 members across locals 18A and 20 and 6A, where Angelone previously served as business manager. The labor organization, whose members are largely Black or Latino, endorsed Eric Adams’ successful New York City mayoral campaign last year. Angelone also serves on the board of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
The U.S. Postal Service has weathered tough times recently, from then-President Donald Trump’s plan to privatize the service to the seemingly deliberate speed reductions in service ahead of the 2020 election. As president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, Jonathan Smith has highlighted the importance of the postal service and its unionized employees. His members got some relief this year when Congress passed the Postal Service Reform Act.
Wayne Joseph leads the Bridge & Tunnel Officers Benevolent Association, representing the 380 state peace officers who patrol the city’s bridges and tunnels. These workers include former toll booth operators, who were reassigned to positions as toll enforcement officers after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority removed all cash toll booths at New York City crossings in 2017. Elected to a fourth term as president in 2020, Joseph also co-chairs the New York State Public Employee Conference, a group of statewide public-sector labor unions.
Five years ago, Claire Chang started a retail job at the REI Co-op in SoHo – a career choice that would evolve into a source of activism during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of Chang and other members of the organizing committee at the outdoor sports gear store’s SoHo location, workers secured an 88-14 vote to unionize in March, joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The SoHo Co-op is the first REI in the nation to take that step. Chang now faces the hurdles of negotiating with the retail giant over increased wages, workplace safeguards and adequate training.
Once dubbed the nation’s top health lobbyist by Politico, Karen Ignagni has served as the CEO of the EmblemHealth family of companies since 2015. The Manhattan-based insurance company counts nearly 3 million members in the New York metropolitan area – including many public sector employees and retirees. Last year, Ignagni touted the telehealth provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which she said will help enable greater access to health care in disadvantaged communities.
Thomas Canty has spent over two decades delivering health care for unionized workers through Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, which provides coverage for over 2 million members. Canty, who grew up in a pro-labor household, previously worked at HIP, where one area of focus was workers’ compensation. In March, he was appointed chair of the Municipal Credit Union, one of the oldest and largest of its kind.
Michelle Zettergren leads the labor and public sector division at MagnaCare, a third-party health administrator that’s known for serving unions and public sector employers. A former executive at EmblemHealth and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Zettergren has extensive experience in sales and underwriting, with a concentration on labor clients. MagnaCare is a division of Brighton Health Plan Solutions, a health plan management company headquartered in New York City.
Founded in 2014, La Colmena is a nonprofit organization that empowers and represents the immigrant workforce on Staten Island. Executive Director Yesenia Mata has worked to highlight the contributions of immigrant workers during the pandemic and advocated for a permanent path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. This year, she and the organization celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, while highlighting the need for a more stable solution for all undocumented workers seeking naturalization.
A former officer in the American Federation of Teachers Local 1796, Gregory Mantsios has spent over 40 years centering labor around education. Mantsios helped found and continues to lead CUNY’s School of Labor and Urban Studies. This year, the School of Labor and Urban Studies announced a new partnership with the City College of New York to establish a national institute dedicated to social justice – one of the same values the school itself was founded upon.
Maria Figueroa is one of the foremost thinkers in New York’s labor world. She has weighed in on everything from gig worker rights and fast food workers to a revitalized unionization movement – and even teamed up with Liberty Cleaners and Los Deliveristas Unidos on trainings. After spending over two decades at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, where she served as director of labor and policy research, Figueroa last year took on a new role as dean of SUNY Empire State College’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies.
Teamsters Local 813 is a diverse union that represents New Yorkers working in the private sanitation sector, along with funeral and cemetery workers, and employees in the car rental industry. Last September, Daniel Wright, Local 813 president and principal officer, commended workers from Stericycle, a company that handles medical waste, for voting to join the Queens-based union. Local 813 has joined with other Teamsters locals to campaign for better working conditions in warehouses and celebrated the passage of the Warehouse Worker Protection Act in June.
Robert Ungar has spent more than three decades as a lobbyist, consultant and communications professional in New York, with a special focus on serving clients in organized labor. The well-connected Ungar, who has a presence in Albany and on Long Island, works with such big-name labor clients as the Building Trades Employers Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York and other law enforcement and firefighter unions.
For 20 years, the Damayan Migrant Workers Association has fought to support survivors of labor trafficking and connect them to social services. Linda Oalican, the co-founder and executive director of Damayan, has personal experience with many of the abuses suffered by migrant women. A former political prisoner in the Philippines who became a domestic worker after migrating to the U.S., Oalican now works to empower victims of wage theft, discrimination and racism.
As president of Nontraditional Employment for Women, Kathleen Culhane helps provide women with the tools to forge careers in the construction and utility industries in New York City. Under her leadership, NEW has introduced programs to help women interested in working in the building trades, including a Young Women’s initiative, green economy core program and specific opportunities for women of color in trades programs. Culhane has also advised New York City Mayor Eric Adams as a member of his transition committee for infrastructure, climate and sustainability.
One of the most attention-grabbing endeavors in the labor world is the effort to unionize fast-food restaurants, and Chipotle is one of the top targets in New York City. With the assistance of the powerful union 32BJ SEIU, Chipotle employees have successfully drawn attention to working conditions at the restaurant chain, with then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledging not to eat there and the Adams administration securing a $20 million settlement with the company over the city’s 2017 Fair Workweek Law. Ed Dealecio, Brenda Garcia and Richard Figueroa are among the many Chipotle workers agitating for changes, with Garcia and Figueroa both getting fired by the company.
Not many lawyers can brag about securing a deposition with former President Donald Trump – but Benjamin Dictor can. Dictor represented four New Yorkers of Mexican descent who claimed that Trump’s security guards attacked them and disrupted their protest outside Trump Tower in 2015. A partner at the boutique employment law firm Eisner Dictor & Lamadrid, Dictor has also counseled a number of influential unions, including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the United Auto Workers.
New York City Clerical Administrative Employees Local 1549 represents nearly 16,000 clerical employees from a number of city agencies. The local is under the District Council 37 umbrella and is led by Eddie Rodriguez, the former president of DC 37. Rodriguez started out as a clerk and eligibility specialist who rose to a leadership post within the influential DC 37 union in 2011 before losing the post in an election to Shaun Francois in 2019.
When workers at United Metro Energy Corporation’s Greenpoint oil terminal went on strike last April, they were quickly fired and replaced. Luckily, they have had the full backing of their union, Teamsters Local 533, and its outspoken secretary-treasurer Demos Demopoulos. Since the strike began, Demopoulos has worked tirelessly to help the workers – the Teamsters set up a strike fund to pay the fired employees – and to force UMEC CEO John Catsimatidis to rehire them and negotiate a union contract.
New Immigrant Community Empowerment promoted Nilbia Coyote to serve as its new leader this summer, and she has big shoes to fill, as her predecessor, Manuel Castro, left to become the commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. The nonprofit immigrant rights advocacy organization, also known as NICE, has called for more resources for Latin American asylum-seekers bused to New York from Texas. The group also backed Carlos’ Law, a construction safety measure that’s before the governor.
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