The labor movement in New York is vibrant and strong, in part because of how it evolves. Young workers in recent years have been unafraid to challenge corporate giants, such as the baristas at a Buffalo Starbucks whose unionization campaign has spread like wildfire. New York nurses have gone on strike to secure better working conditions, with vocal support from allies in the labor movement. And as union stalwarts like Kyle Bragg, Andrew Pallotta and Gerry Hudson wrap up their remarkable careers, others are taking up the mantle to lead a new generation of workers.
The State Labor Power 100 – researched by City & State staff in partnership with writer Lon Cohen – identifies the top union leaders across New York who are fighting for better pay, demanding safer working conditions and standing up for members in a wide range of industries and sectors. This includes traditionally unionized professions like construction and education as well as those organizing for the first time, including immigrant farmworkers, warehouse stockers and legislative aides. (The New York City Labor Power 100, published in September, has minimal overlap with this list.) The list also features government officials, advocates, activists, academics and others who play a key role in New York’s labor movement.
George Gresham is now in his sixth term as president of 1199SEIU, a role in which he represents almost 450,000 members. Starting out in the union’s rank and file in the 1970s, Gresham worked his way up the ladder, holding a number of positions in the organization before becoming its leader. Last fall, following a coordinated strike at multiple nursing homes in western New York, 1199SEIU secured new contracts for workers at many of those facilities, and one holdout health care network reached a tentative deal with the union to avoid further walkouts. Gresham, who wants labor leaders to embrace young organizers like Amazon Labor Union founder Chris Smalls, is a strong supporter of increased activism within the labor movement.
As president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, Gary LaBarbera speaks for more than 200,000 unionized construction workers all across the state. LaBarbera has worked on various local and state-level councils and task forces to increase diversity in the trades and foster economic development. Among his current priorities, LaBarbera wants to secure opportunities within the $1.4 trillion federal infrastructure bill and enact labor legislation to provide standards around renewable energy projects. He is also the longtime leader of the New York City-based Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
Michael Mulgrew leads New York City’s 200,000 public school teachers and other related educational and school professionals. As president of the United Federation of Teachers, he has been fighting to loosen city funds to hire more full-time teachers to meet the needs of an increased student population – due in part to migrant children entering the system – and to enact new state rules that would reduce class sizes in New York City by September. While Mulgrew’s union is city-based, he often weighs in on educational policies in Albany.
As president of the Communications Workers of America, Christopher Shelton was involved in hammering out an agreement between Microsoft and employees who wanted to unionize last year – a signal victory for workers in the technology sector. The Bronx native was previously vice president of CWA District 1 – a position now held by Long Islander Dennis Trainor, who leads over 150,000 regional members. He is also a New York Power Authority trustee, where he helps lead the state’s transition to renewable energy. Trainor supports an $18 million public-private partnership with Verizon to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas in Onondaga County. CWA has also made major gains in improving conditions for nurses in western New York in recent years.
With a total of some 2.5 million public and private sector members, the New York State AFL-CIO is by far the largest federation of labor unions in the state. For 30 years, Mario Cilento has served this powerful collective, the past 11 years as its president. When New York City nurses went on strike in January, Cilento spoke up, calling conditions those health care professionals endured “unimaginable.” Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed Cilento as a labor representative on the state Climate Action Council. The labor umbrella group also makes coveted political endorsements, including backing Hochul’s successful 2022 election.
As president of the New York State United Teachers union, Andrew Pallotta advocates for over 600,000 members. Pallotta, who has launched programs to recruit and train teachers to be union advocates and run for public office, recently implored Gov. Kathy Hochul to fund school meals for all students in the fiscal year 2024 state budget. The union, which recently marked its 50th anniversary, is set to undergo a major transition, with Pallotta planning to retire in April. Pallotta has endorsed Melinda Person, NYSUT’s executive director, to succeed him.
With over 175,000 members, 32BJ SEIU appointed a new president in December, when Manny Pastreich took over for the retiring Kyle Bragg. Before becoming president, Pastreich was the union’s secretary-treasurer and director of collective bargaining – but his history in the labor movement spans generations. His father was a SEIU organizer, and Pastreich himself began with AFL-CIO in 1996. He has joined with other organizations in investigating inflated costs that insurance companies pay for health care services.
Stuart Appelbaum’s bona fides in the labor movement are almost too long to list. He is vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, on the AFL-CIO Executive Council and works with a multitude of labor and political organizations. Since 1998, Appelbaum has been president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, representing 100,000 members. He is outspoken on Amazon’s treatment of workers, especially the rate of injuries inside its warehouses. In 2021, the state’s first farmworkers union was formed as an RWDSU local.
When he joined a subway track gang 30 years ago, John Samuelsen found conditions so terrible he felt compelled to speak up. Since then, he has risen to lead the Transport Workers Union, a 150,000-member organization that includes Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers. TWU Local 100 – which Samuelsen once led – faces tough negotiations ahead of an expiring contract, seeking worker pay increases as the MTA deals with mounting debt. Samuelsen said the MTA – whose board he sits on – could look to alternative funding sources to plug its deficit, including the proposed congestion pricing tolls. He was recently nominated by New York City Mayor Eric Adams to sit on a board charged with managing the tolling rollout.
After the devastating conditions they endured in heroic fashion during the coronavirus pandemic, nurses are collectively fighting for a better working environment. As executive director and president of the New York State Nurses Association respectively, Pat Kane and Nancy Hagans are on the front lines of the effort, setting the tone for their 42,000-plus members. Coordinated strikes and sit-ins have been among their tools to get management to make changes, most importantly the need for increased staffing. In October, the union decided to affiliate with National Nurses United to strengthen its influence.
Mary Sullivan is in the middle of her first term as president of the Civil Service Employees Association, where she has succeeded Danny Donohue, who spent more than 25 years in the role. Sullivan, who has served in a number of leadership roles in the union, is the first person in CSEA history to rise to the presidency from local government. In August, the state ratified a five-year labor agreement with CSEA, guaranteeing annual raises over the life of the contract and a one-time bonus.
Since being elected as New York State Public Employees Federation’s first African American president in 2015, Wayne Spence has led over 50,000 professional, scientific and technical workers in the state. Among his recent priorities: battling an anti-union opt-out campaign directed at his members; going to bat for nurses; and supporting legislation that penalized facilities for forcing so-called mandatory overtime. In November, Spence appointed a team to negotiate with the state on a new contract to replace an agreement that will expire in April.
There are almost 40,000 members of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, where Rich Maroko has been at the helm since 2020. Recently, Maroko implored members, many of whom are first- or second-generation immigrants, to join relief efforts to assist thousands of migrants bused here by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Maroko was also on a panel that made recommendations for New York City and the state to work together to revitalize the region. His unionized members are also set to capitalize on the state’s looming expansion of full-fledged casino gambling in the downstate region.
With half a million members behind him, second-generation laborer Armand E. Sabitoni holds a number of titles at the Laborers’ International Union of North America, where he is both the union’s general secretary-treasurer and its New England regional manager. Sabitoni applauded an agreement with the state – guaranteeing the use of union workers – to build a 339-mile power transmission line that would bring renewable energy to New York City. For years, Sabitoni has said laborers are prepared to work on clean energy infrastructure projects.
Actor-turned-labor leader Roberta Reardon represented the 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA before taking the job as commissioner of the state Department of Labor. Public service workers got a reprieve recently when the agency announced measures to expand and simplify its student loan forgiveness program. Late last year, Reardon revealed that the state paid out $4 billion in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims during the pandemic – less than half of what a state comptroller’s audit estimated – and less than other states reported. She accepted a wage board recommendation last fall to gradually reduce the overtime threshold to 40 hours a week for farmworkers.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos’ mother was just 24 years old when she crossed the border all alone, and her father was arrested during an immigration raid at his workplace in the 1980s. Their experiences as undocumented workers helped shape her politics and advocacy. At Build Up NYC, she worked as a union advocate representing construction and hotel workers. Now, Ramos is a state senator, serving as chair of the chamber’s Labor Committee, where she has championed major legislation, including a measure to increase the state’s minimum wage and link increases to the rate of inflation.
Since 2008, Randi Weingarten has been president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers. Prior to her current post, she led the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City local of the union. As befits her high-profile role, Weingarten regularly comes under fire from the right wing, most recently from Mike Pompeo, who was secretary of state in the Trump administration. Pushing back against recent Republican talking points, a poll commissioned by the AFT showed parents are not concerned about a “woke” agenda being taught in schools.
Assembly Member Latoya Joyner was reelected to her seat in the state Legislature representing District 77 last year and is continuing in her role as chair of the chamber’s influential Labor Committee. Among other legislative and policy issues related to labor, the committee is currently reviewing the impact of the state budget on workforce development programs administered by the state and addressing workforce shortages. Joyner is also sponsoring a bill with state Sen. Jessica Ramos that would raise the minimum wage and peg future increases to inflation.
Thomas Gesualdi, a third-generation Teamster, leads 120,000 workers in downstate New York as president of the Teamsters Joint Council 16. The Teamsters had a hand in crafting the recently enacted Warehouse Worker Protection Act – which was designed to increase safety for employees in the e-commerce and warehouse industries – and are fighting to increase the minimum wage. Gesualdi also celebrated the preservation efforts on Long Island to save a park slated to be sold to construct an Amazon distribution center.
Representing more than 86,000 workers in the apparel, textile, food service and other industries, Workers United International President Lynne Fox is helping to lead the organization into the future. Starbucks employees are organizing under the union’s name, driving last season’s so-called “Red Cup Rebellion” in protest. Fox penned a personal rebuttal to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz when the company withheld benefit increases from its unionized workers. Fox is also chair of the board of union-owned Amalgamated Bank – the first woman to hold the position.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli manages one of the largest pension funds in the U.S. for over 1.1 million participants. DiNapoli reported that the fund earned over 9% in 2022 despite an overall bear market. With such a large fund, he wields some power. He is pledging to invest in more minority- and women-owned companies and asked Southwest Airlines, where the fund is a major shareholder, to address fixes for its holiday travel meltdown.
As Gov. Kathy Hochul pledged to ramp up hiring efforts to return to pre-pandemic levels, state Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee Chair Robert Jackson criticized the state’s ability to recruit with its current Tier VI pension program. A recent change reduced the number of years of service needed to be fully vested in Tier V and VI from 10 to five for state employees – a clear win for workers.
The son of union workers, Fred Kowal has been leading the United University Professions union as president, which represents the faculty and staff on 29 campuses within the SUNY system, for the past 10 years. Last fall, Kowal led rallies at various SUNY campuses in a call for increased funding from Albany to close budget deficits at 19 campuses. He also threw his support behind SUNY’s new chancellor, John King Jr., who has allocated $53 million to hire more teachers.
Christopher Erikson Sr., whose grandfather was the legendary labor leader Harry Van Arsdale Jr., followed up his electrician’s apprenticeship by earning a bachelor’s degree in labor/management relations. By 2006, he was elected business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 3, where he has since advocated for the local’s 28,000 members. Erikson’s union supports new projects to stem climate change and create jobs for workers in the green energy sector.
The Long Island Federation of Labor counts more than 250,000 workers among its members from over 160 unions. Since 2005, John Durso has served as the organization’s president, as well as president of Local 338 since 1999, which represents almost 13,000 workers in supermarkets, drug stores and other industries. Durso, who recently voiced his support of a plan to build a hotel and casino at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, has received a number of awards over the years for his support of diversity, immigration and the environment.
A union member ever since he graduated high school in 1981, Thomas Carey is the president of Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body, where he focuses on priorities like promoting legislation that protects workers and gauging potential candidates for elected office. The organization is an affiliate of a number of other local unions, including teachers, firefighters, nurses and stagehands. Carey, who continues to express his concerns over the staffing and working conditions at local hospitals for nurses and patients, is also a business agent at UA Local 21.
Richard Wells’ policing career began in 1973, when he joined a Long Island village police force. Five years later, he was elected a Hempstead Police Benevolent Association delegate, setting him on the path to labor leadership that culminated in his becoming president of the Police Conference of New York, a statewide coalition. Last year, his organization got even bigger when it unanimously voted to join forces with the New York State Association of PBAs, swelling its ranks to more than 50,000 law enforcement officers in the state.
Since 2016, Sam Fresina has been president of the New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association, an 18,000-member collective encompassing 107 local unions. A former firefighter himself, Fresina’s career began while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force. He spoke out last year against a plan to add volunteers to a fire department in upstate New York, calling it reckless. The association notched recent legislative victories in Albany, including a law to ban toxic chemicals in furniture and has pushed for changes in how pensions are calculated.
An ironworker since the early 1980s, James Mahoney joined the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers early on in his career. He took on a number of leadership roles at the union until he was selected to be general vice president in 2015. Mahoney has been in recent conflict with Gov. Kathy Hochul. After the union endorsed her, he felt betrayed by her choice for the state’s chief judge – and helped lead the charge in successfully blocking the nominee, Hector LaSalle. Mahoney then allegedly had his invite to the governor’s State of the State address revoked.
In 2014, after years of active involvement in his union, Michael Powers was elected president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. Powers, who worked as a corrections officer for more than 20 years, has demanded a repeal of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, which restricts disciplining of inmates and which his union believes has led to a record number of assaults against officers. He cited data that showed a 31% increase in overall violence since the law went into effect.
New York State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Terrence Melvin holds the second-highest position in the organization. Union leadership is something Melvin has aspired to since he embarked on his career: When he was 21 years old, he became the youngest CSEA Local president, leading more than 2,000 members. He has also served as president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists for more than 10 years.
After a tight race that was not decided until two months after Election Day, Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato retained her seat in the state Legislature. She has now succeeded former Assembly Member Peter Abbate Jr. as the chair of the Governmental Employees Committee, which is a leading legislative authority on all public employees in New York. Pheffer Amato was endorsed by a number of unions, including New York State United Teachers and the New York State Public Employees Federation.
After becoming a nurse, Karines Reyes took a path that led her to become an advocate for her union and then to public service in the Assembly, saying she saw firsthand how much of the progress they made for workers came out of Albany. Last fall, Reyes, who serves on the Assembly’s Labor Committee, sponsored legislation called the Standing is Tiring Act to allow workers with jobs that require them to be on their feet all day – like nurses – to have time to sit down.
Last fall, this trio offered a final ruling and report on a hot topic: At what point do farmworkers in New York qualify for overtime? In a 2-1 vote, the Farm Laborers Wage Board recommended reducing the threshold to 40 hours a week, down from 60, phased in over the next decade, and the state labor commissioner agreed to implement the recommendation. Denis Hughes, the former state AFL-CIO president, and former Buffalo Urban League leader Brenda McDuffie voted in favor of the change, while David Fisher, who’s on the New York Farm Bureau board, voted “no.” Republican lawmakers in Congress and in the state Legislature have opposed the decision, and even some Democrats have sought to postpone the changes.
When two of New York’s largest school administrator affiliates joined forces to combine their bargaining and political powers last fall, Henry Rubio found himself changing jobs. First, the New York State Federation of School Administrators, representing New York City, Yonkers and Buffalo, where he was president, entered into a formal agreement with its sister organization, the School Administrators Association of New York State. Rubio was elevated to be a board member of the combined affiliate group. Then, late last year, Rubio was chosen to replace the retiring president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.
While he now serves as president of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, James Shillitto was a card-carrying power lineman for 30 years. A proposal to convert a Queens fossil fuel plant to clean energy was praised by Shillitto, saying workers are ready for its next chapter. He applauded state legislation to strengthen disaster preparedness by exempting utility workers from emergency travel bans. Shillitto is a member of the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition, which promotes a sensible approach to the clean energy economy.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance represents house cleaners and home health caregivers, many of whom are women, immigrants and minorities. President Ai-jen Poo is no stranger to the spotlight, championing the cause of these workers in books, podcasts, television, New York Times op-eds and on Capitol Hill. She recently signed with a Hollywood agent, increasing her exposure. The alliance is pushing for a number of issues, including a national Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and a pathway to citizenship for essential immigrant workers.
First they took on Howard Schultz. Now, they’re going after Elon Musk. Starbucks Workers United, which is part of Workers United Upstate, has made national headlines for its efforts to organize at the popular coffee chain, starting in Buffalo (where Workers United organizer and adviser Richard Bensinger and Starbucks baristas Jaz Brisack and Michelle Eisen were on the front lines of the effort). Hundreds of Starbucks locations around the country have followed their lead, including in Ithaca, where Evan Sunshine helped organize a location that Starbucks shut down. More recently, another labor organizing effort has gotten underway at Musk’s Tesla factory in Buffalo, with Starbucks Workers United organizers including Brisack on board.
Gary Bonadonna Jr. has been brewing up unionization efforts in western New York coffee houses since baristas at a local franchise asked his Workers United Rochester Regional Joint Board for help. The idea caught fire, leading to the first Starbucks to unionize. Workers at Remedy House Coffee in New York City just announced intentions to join. The union, with over 9,500 workers in an array of industries, is in the middle of another potential crisis: Workers at a clothing factory are at risk of losing medical coverage because the employer is delinquent in health insurance payments.
Both the Working Families Party and its New York state director have deep roots in the labor movement. The left-leaning third party was formed in part by labor unions, although some left the WFP due to a dispute over supporting then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Sochie Nnaemeka, who became state director in 2019, previously organized cafeteria, custodial and casino workers and led labor-backed electoral campaign efforts in New Haven. She has touted the WFP’s successful efforts to expand child care and paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage.
A decorated Vietnam War veteran and former captain in the New York City Department of Correction, Pete Meringolo fought for his fellow officers as president of the Correction Captains’ Association. As chair of the New York State Public Employee Conference, Meringolo now leads over a million public workers to provide the 80-plus unions in the conference with a unified voice in Albany. He recently showed support for Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato, who is the new chair of the chamber’s Governmental Employee Committee, the leading legislative authority on all public employees in the state.
Drawing on his family history – his parents were both freelancers and union members – Rafael Espinal’s work on laws giving independent workers increased protections was a key focus during his time as a New York City Council member. This type of commitment ultimately led to him becoming the executive director of the half-million member Freelancers Union. In the work from home and gig economy age, Espinal’s work might be more important than ever. He hopes to duplicate the success he had in city-level legislative protection for freelancers across the country.
Born and raised in Buffalo, Peter DeJesus Jr. first became involved in union organizing on the factory floor. In 2021, he rose to become the first minority president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation with 165 unions representing 140,000 total members. He supports the project labor agreement guaranteeing union workers will be on the job to build a new Buffalo Bills football stadium, which starts construction this year. DeJesus was an invited guest at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address this year.
Sparrow Tobin has been president of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation and its 130,000 members since 2019. Tobin, a social studies teacher who also serves as an alderman on the Middletown Common Council, previously spent more than 12 years working for the New York State United Teachers union. This year, the federation wants to advance a number of legislative priorities for workers, including tying the minimum wage to inflation, eliminating noncompete agreements and adding Tier VI state pension reforms on top of a recent victory rolling back vestment from 10 years to five years.
Since 1990, Ann Marie Taliercio has been president of Unite Here Local 150, a union representing workers in hospitality, textiles and other industries. In 2009, she became president of the Central New York Area Labor Federation, which represents more than 100,000 members from 200 regional unions. Controversy over replacing the Interstate 81 overpass in Syracuse with a street-level highway has pitted Taliercio against construction union leaders who want work to begin.
Daniel C. Levler, president of the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees, faced a major challenge last year when Suffolk County computer systems were hacked. Levler called for protections to be put in place for employee personal data and to expedite overtime pay for workers dealing with the crisis. Levler, who has been leading the 10,000-member union since 2015, hosts a weekly YouTube show called “Suffolk Matters,” where he interviews union members who do important work around the county.
The United Auto Workers held its first direct elections for leadership in November, a function of a settlement with the U.S. government. Brandon Mancilla won as UAW Region 9A director and was sworn in last December, replacing Beverley Brakeman. Mancilla saw firsthand how unions helped his family after immigrating to New York City from Guatemala. Mancilla has been a leader at a number of UAW locals, including as president of Local 5118 for Harvard graduate students and as a staff organizer at Local 2325 for the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys in New York City. Late last year, striking workers at UAW Local 7902 representing part-time faculty at The New School in Manhattan reached a tentative agreement and over 250 workers at book publisher HarperCollins, members of UAW Local 2110, reached a tentative agreement this month – both under District 9A. The election for UAW Region 9 director has gone to a runoff.
With a myriad of industries under its purview, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 66 represents over 8,500 public and nonprofit sector workers in New York. As council president, Dan DiClemente manages the operations of the union affiliate members. DiClemente, who is also president of a nonteaching union in the Rochester City School District, is dealing with the suspension of three security guards after a security video of a January school shooting was leaked. He called for the return of armed school resource officers in the district.
Before powerhouse organizer Samantha DeRiso became the first female president of the Central New York Labor Council, which encompasses more than 17,000 individuals in 63 unions, she had extensive experience fighting for workers’ rights with the United Food and Commercial Workers union. In her time as an organizer, she has mobilized thousands of workers, often being called upon to travel across the country to assist in other regions.
As president of the Capital District Area Labor Federation, Seth Cohen is responsible for guiding the efforts of 120,000 members from various unions around the Albany region. Quality assurance testers in Albany at video game company Activision Blizzard have been attempting to unionize since July with an affiliated union CWA Local 1118 under Cohen’s federation. The group, which calls itself Albany Game Workers Alliance/CWA, are still bargaining with the company. Recently, Cohen received the Kate Mullany Medal from the American Labor Studies Center for his contributions to the labor movement.
Lori Ann Ames has one of the more interrelated job histories ever seen on this list. Among other titles, she is the international executive vice president of the International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades and the national president of the United Service Workers Union, an affiliate of IUJAT, which includes workers in construction, energy and automotive industries and other fields. Since the pandemic began, she has testified twice before Congress on behalf of another IUJAT affiliate, Home Healthcare Workers of America, where she is the national secretary-treasurer.
Rebecca Dixon is on the front lines of the fight for workers’ rights. As head of the National Employment Law Project, Dixon highlighted disparities and concerns in what was generally considered a stellar January jobs report, especially a higher rate of unemployment for minorities and an increase in the percentage of workers reporting that they were working multiple jobs to compensate for the impact of inflation. She is also advocating for a higher federal minimum wage and a fix to inequities in the unemployment insurance system.
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30 workers maintain some of the most iconic facilities in New York, including Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty. Business Manager William Lynn has helped keep the union humming along since 2004, when he was first brought into the business office as a dispatcher. Last fall, Local 30 workers at the Museum of Modern Art protested, saying they were asked by management to give up raises during the pandemic to preserve jobs but new contract negotiations were not providing fair compensation.
Philip Rumore began his teaching career working with emotionally disturbed children, a fulfilling challenge that kept him in Buffalo even after being accepted to graduate school in another state. The Long Island native has been president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation since 1981. Last year, the union issued a vote of no confidence in their superintendent over a rise in school violence; he resigned last March. The union, led by Rumore, is currently engaged in contract negotiations with the district.
Samantha Rosado-Ciriello knows firsthand about the challenges faced by teachers on a daily basis. Her experiences as a kindergarten teacher in undersupplied classrooms forced her to become resourceful. Rosado-Ciriello, who is now president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, wrote in a recent op-ed that the lack of supplies, equipment and services for the 3,600 teachers in her union limits their ability to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. She also lodged complaints about alleged anti-union statements by school administrators directed at teachers.
Noel DiGerolamo has been leading the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association as president since 2012, but his history with the union goes back over 20 years to when he was first selected as a union delegate soon after joining the police force. He has been outspoken against policies and rhetoric that he argues harms rank-and-file officers. The union recently filed a lawsuit with the county claiming its 2021 donation to the campaign committee for Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney was not unethical, as determined by a county board.
Charlene Obernauer has spent nearly a decade at the helm of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit organization that advocates for safer working conditions on behalf of employees and unions. In recent years, it has applauded improved ventilation regulations for nail salons, drawn attention to construction site fatalities and called for changes at Amazon’s distribution warehouse on Staten Island. The organization’s board chair is Jessica Garcia, who’s the assistant to the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union and also is the sole union representative on the state Cannabis Control Board.
In 2021, Pindar Vineyards workers on Long Island became the first to unionize under the state’s Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, organizing under Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 338, which, along with a number of other organizations, banded together to get the law passed. Immediately afterward, Mártir Zambrano joined 15 other workers to organize at Pindar. Having worked at the vineyard for over 20 years, Zambrano became their de facto leader, according to Noemi Barrera, union organizer at RWDSU. Barrera, who has been at Local 338 for 11 years, had helped with plenty of other organizing efforts before, but this was her first time leading the charge. She is helping the workers get basic rights promised under the law, including new rules governing the threshold at which farmworkers are paid overtime, a guaranteed 24-hour rest period, access to workers compensation and paid family leave. Barrera’s parents were Ecuadorian agricultural workers, so she knows what the Pindar workers are fighting for. She says the battle is still being waged, having met several times with management over the years. They are now seeking mediation to resolve their issues.
Adam Urbanski has experienced extreme highs and lows already this year in his job as president of the Rochester Teachers Association. First, teachers got a new three-year contract approved unanimously by the school board. Then, the unfathomable happened when a shooter showed up at a school and fired at a 16-year-old student. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the incident prompted Urbanski to call for police to come back into schools – something that was cut from the budget a few years ago.
Nicole Capsello began her career as a substitute teacher in special education in the Syracuse City School District. Now, after years of serving in different leadership roles in the Syracuse Teachers Association, she is president of the union. Capsello said the cost and availability of health care was one of her top concerns, along with an alarming lack of mental health care for both teachers and students. Another major challenge she will face this year: a dearth of teachers to fill open positions in the district.
The Teamsters Local 456 keep things moving around Westchester and Putnam counties, and union President Louis Picani makes sure the local’s 5,000 members are well represented. Picani was part of a consortium that called for the state to make sure $5 billion in federal funding is used to fix ailing roads and bridges in the state. He is also a vice president at the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO representing over 150,000 workers.
In her job as the Labor Bureau chief in the state attorney general’s office, Karen Cacace is in charge of enforcement of state labor laws, helping to recover millions of dollars in wages stolen by employers from workers. She recently testified to legislators about creating a state-level agency that would have greater regulation of workplace safety. Cacace also represents the office in front of the state Department of Labor and state Workers’ Compensation Board.
Executive Director John F. Hutchings leads the New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund, which represents over 44,000 workers and 24 construction unions around the state, with a mission of finding new job opportunities and bringing in new members. Vincent Albanese has been a voice of the union, expressing support for clean energy initiatives around the state, including the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act approved by voters last year, saying it would create jobs that are good for union workers. The organization, along with other labor unions, recently stood in solidarity with New York nurses striking for a better contract and safer working conditions.
As the leader of New York State Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, Patrick Purcell works to promote affiliated laborers’ locals in the state, bringing together unions and contractors to identify new opportunities and secure jobs for union workers. Purcell, who has led the coalition of 1,500 signatory contractors and 16,000 members since 2014, recently applauded the New York City Football Club for pledging to build their new stadium exclusively with union labor.
With more than 40,000 migrants arriving in New York City over the past year, the work of the New York Immigration Coalition has been thrust into the spotlight. Murad Awawdeh, the coalition’s 35-year-old executive director, has been spending his days greeting the influx of asylum-seekers – including those sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott – as they arrive. Awawdeh, a first-generation Palestinian American, recently criticized Gov. Kathy Hochul for not doing more for immigrant New Yorkers.
A third-generation heat and frost insulator, Matthew Aracich became president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties in 2018, after a stint as business manager at the Heat and Frost Insulators Local 12. Aracich said that a new project labor agreement for Long Island public works projects will ensure jobs go to members of the 37 affiliated unions he represents. Aracich, who backs a plan to build a casino at Nassau Coliseum, is also in support of green hydrogen energy projects.
Bill Banfield is the assistant to the executive secretary-treasurer of the coalition of carpenter’s unions, which represents more than 30,000 industry workers. Banfield has touted a new state law establishing a registration system for contractors in New York that will help workers by strengthening enforcement of labor regulations on state jobs. Putting together construction workers with contractors who need the labor is important, and Banfield says the union is helping to make those connections, even if the workers need to travel. For more than 20 years, Tricia Brown has been a fixture in the labor movement, carrying out key responsibilities for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters as the union’s New York political director. She was involved in a recently launched series that will inform women interested in joining the carpentry trade about upcoming opportunities.
In 2019, Jenn Duck was appointed to serve as the international representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers District 3, representing its 50,000 members and handling political, legislative and regulatory affairs for New York. Duck was preceded in the role by Ellen Redmond, a veteran labor official within IBEW.
When Charles Murphy was elected treasurer of the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association last spring, he turned up suspicious business practices during a financial review that led to the resignation of the former president and a union lawyer. Murphy was elected president of the 7,000-member union in January when he ran unopposed; he has been serving as acting president until his official term begins in April. A state trooper since 2003, he first got involved with the PBA in 2017 as the Troop T delegate.
As dean of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Alexander Colvin oversees the academic training of the next generation of leaders in the rapidly evolving world of work and employment. Colvin is also a professor of conflict and resolution at the school, a field that he covers in his own research, most recently in a paper on the effects of recent economic and societal disruptions on employee relations. The school recently launched its Climate Jobs Institute, focusing on a critical issue for the future of labor in the country.
With Maritza Silva-Farrell leaving for the Ford Foundation, Lucas Shapiro is continuing the Alliance for a Greater New York’s efforts to address inequality in the workforce, push for a sustainable energy economy and help communities stand up to big corporations. The labor-backed organization is aiming to raise the minimum wage and secure climate investments with strong labor standards in 2023. Shapiro has also worked with Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and Mayday Space.
As co-managing partner at New York City-based law firm Stroock, Alan Klinger leads the government affairs and regulatory support team, representing a number of influential public sector unions and labor organizations, including the United Federation of Teachers and the Municipal Labor Committee, an association of city labor unions representing 390,000 municipal workers. Klinger uses his experience in the field to argue for labor in court, during arbitration and at the bargaining table.
Robert Bishop is a founding member and partner of Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno, a law firm and political consultancy that has represented more than 40 labor unions before the state Department of Labor and the state Legislature. Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno clients include the unions for detectives and corrections officers in New York City, school bus drivers and sanitation workers. The firm also consulted on Eric Adams’ successful New York City mayoral campaign, helping him garner key labor endorsements and contributions.
In 2021, Jose Lopez, Arlenis Morel and Theo Oshiro became co-executive directors of Make the Road New York, an organization that fights to address issues that affect working-class and immigrant New Yorkers. Make the Road offers educational opportunities, training, legal services and access to health services. Lopez provides his experience in organizing and policy; Morel focuses on human resources, information technology and operations; and Oshiro oversees the services department and is their lead health policy expert. Make the Road was critical of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State address because she failed to mention support for legislation that would help immigrants, like the “Coverage for All” health care bill.
With Frank DeRiso at the helm, United Food and Commercial Workers Local One has navigated some tough times. Grocery store workers became essential during the pandemic. Then, consolidation hit the industry as two major players in upstate New York merged. And last May, the union rushed to support employees who witnessed the tragic shooting at a Tops food store in Buffalo. DeRiso currently has UFCW focused on growing its presence in the budding cannabis industry, recruiting workers to their ranks as New York legalizes recreational weed.
At Phillips Lytle LLP, Rochester-based Kevin Mulvehill leads the labor and employment team advising organizations in the public and private sectors, including education, health care, hospitality and municipalities. He assists clients with compliance with employment laws, hiring and discipline agreements, and employee relations. His division regularly handles matters before state agencies like the state Public Employment Relations Board and the state Department of Labor. Mulvehill’s firm has recently expanded to include dozens of new lawyers.
Prior to becoming director of government affairs at Shenker Russo & Clark, Ed Draves spent more than 20 years as political director at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for the union’s New York affiliates. His roots with the organization run deep: His father was a local president with AFSCME. He has strong ties to the political arena, including having worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for U.S. Senate and as a strategist for the election of Buffalo’s first African American mayor, Byron Brown.
Paul Brown heads up the Buffalo & Niagara County Building Construction and Trades Council, which advocates for some 12,000 workers across 18 unions in the industry in western New York. Brown’s construction umbrella group made headlines in 2021 with its early endorsement of Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow western New Yorker who went on to successfully win a full term in office in last year’s gubernatorial election. The North Tonawanda resident has worked his way up since he joined a union in 1984, including following in his father’s footsteps as the business manager for Local 9.
Keyla Espinal Antigua is a key point person on organized labor issues for Bolton-St. Johns, a top lobbying firm both in Albany and in New York City. With the departure of Ed Draves in 2021, Antigua has helped to pick up the slack with Bolton’s organized labor clients, which include the New York City Police Benevolent Association, the Freelancers Union and locals under SEIU, RWDSU and CWA. Antigua also works with clients in the technology, education and social services nonprofit spaces – building on her previous work at Children’s Aid – as well as being an expert on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
For almost 30 years, Peter Coradi has been at the American Postal Workers Union assisting union members at disciplinary hearings, working on contract negotiations, filing grievances and training new agents and advocates. Coradi also serves on the executive council of the New York State AFL-CIO as vice president. The postal union criticized Congress for once again putting the debt ceiling at the center of a political debate, calling it “unnecessary and dangerous” while assuring members that their pension fund will not be affected by the outcome.
SMART Transportation Division General Chair Anthony Simon is a pivotal figure for the Long Island Rail Road. The union came under fire when a scathing New York Post report claimed that wasteful labor practices protected by the union cost commuters hundreds of millions of dollars every year, leading Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair and CEO Janno Lieber to call for reforms. This year, infrastructure improvements on the LIRR did reach a major milestone with the completion of an $11 billion access route to Grand Central from Long Island.
Edward Valente, general chair of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees Local 1, represents 2,000 railroad workers from the Metro-North Railroad system. Valente recently took part in a protest with 10 other unions in Grand Central Station in New York City against legislation signed by President Joe Biden to block railroad freight workers from striking. ACRE pushed for a state law to establish a light duty option for pregnant commuter rail employees and applauded legislation to protect transit workers against assault and harassment.
Patrick Guidice has been at Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union since 2003. The union represents more than 4,500 electricians on Long Island, including those at PSEG Long Island and National Grid. Guidice is outspoken about how reliable clean energy needs to maintain current workforce levels – if not create new jobs. He has raised questions about plans to make the area’s electric system a public utility and is against converting union workers into state employees.
Alan J. Murray is responsible for providing health benefits for 2.3 million members of Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield – which is the largest health insurer in New York – a pool that includes a large number of unionized workers across the state. Murray, who was named president in 2018, has assumed the insurer’s emphasis on covering unionized workers that was until recently led by Thomas Canty. Canty, who left Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, built up the insurer’s public sector market and remains the chair of the board of Municipal Credit Union last year.
In 2020, Denise Abbott became the first woman to serve as president of the Buffalo Central Labor Council, an 88,000-member affiliation of unions. Abbott, a critical care nurse, is also a special director of health and safety at CWA Local 1168. Showing solidarity with fellow workers, the council picked Tops employees who witnessed the racist mass shooting last year to be the grand marshals at their Labor Day parade. Abbott was given the AFL-CIO Russell Quarantello Community Service Award from United Way of Greater Niagara in September.
Mark Spadafore is both the president of the Syracuse Labor Council, one of the hundreds of state and local AFL-CIO affiliates, and the upstate New York political director for 1199SEIU, organizing and lobbying for the health care workers union since 2009. In an op-ed for the Syracuse Post-Standard last year, he celebrated young workers, whom he sees as taking a bold stance in the labor movement to secure better futures for themselves and hold corporations to task.
At the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Nadia Marin-Molina leads workers’ centers and workers’ rights programs. NDLON, which concentrates on issues affecting day laborers, migrants and low-wage workers, partners with Cornell’s ILR School to research low-wage, unprotected and insecure work, known as precarious work. In light of new federal policies that protect migrant workers, Marin-Molina said affected individuals must be made aware of their rights. Marin-Molina has been honored for fighting the abuse of immigrant Latino domestic workers.
The Rochester-Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, under the guidance of President Dan Maloney, represents an affiliation of unions with over 100,000 workers in upstate New York. He was instrumental in organizing labor efforts last November to get out and vote to protect their workers’ interests. When General Motors announced it was committing $68 million to an area factory to build electric vehicles, Maloney, who is also president of United Auto Workers Local 1097, said the investment was important to the future of workers in the area.
Representing federal employees in a variety of jobs throughout New England, New York and New Jersey, David Gonzalez has been serving members as national vice president of District 2 of the American Federation of Government Employees since 2020. Gonzalez’s union, which has been caught up in the teleworking debate while negotiating for more flexible schedules for members, criticized the SHOW UP Act introduced by House Republicans that limits remote work for federal employees, saying it misdirects from important issues like pay raises and recruitment.
More than 230 workers walked off the job when Syracuse Sysco employees could not come to an agreement with the company last September. Teamsters Local 317, represented by Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Executive Officer Duane Wright, settled with the company three weeks after the strike took place. The state’s Teamsters announced good news recently: A pension rescue plan from the U.S. government has been approved, meaning the fund will restore benefits for those affected by cuts over the years due to market losses.
As president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1529, Jim Dix helped members negotiate a new contract at an aerospace parts manufacturing plant in Sidney last fall when 700 workers struck for five days. Their goal was to secure a better contract after their employer failed to eliminate a tiered system that offered recent hires fewer benefits for the same work and left out essential pay for working during the pandemic when negotiating with employees.
In October, 700 members of Lodge 1529 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers within District 15 walked off the job at Amphenol Aerospace in the Southern Tier. IAMAW Directing Business Representative Norman Shreve said the members who worked through the pandemic got a fair contract after picketing for five days. Shreve, a 30-year union member who served as shop steward in his own local, now heads up the Buffalo office, where he became a business representative in 2008.
Ron Warner manages the day-to-day operations and negotiations at District 65 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The union has been adding members from a number of different industries this year. Warner welcomed more than 130 veterinary hospital workers, the first veterinary practice to join a union on the East Coast. More than 100 workers at a packaging facility joined IAM after a yearslong battle against union-busting tactics by their company. District 65 was recently recognized by IAM’s national leadership for its efforts.
Last summer, state Senate staffers followed the lead of their congressional compatriots in unionizing, forming the New York State Legislative Workers United group. They recently welcomed Assembly workers to their ranks. Astrid Aune, a senior adviser for state Sen. Jessica Ramos, is co-chair of the group’s communications committee. A multitude of state unions, including AFL-CIO, have thrown their support behind the staffer’s efforts. The state Senate staffers have yet to formulate an official list of grievances but said that they were underpaid for their work and deserved parity with other public sector workers.
A second-generation electrician, Steven Moy is an IBEW Local 3 executive board member, serves as vice president on the national board of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and is president of their New York City chapter. Moy has rallied with his unions to stand up against Asian hate crimes. APALA joined other unions this year in throwing their support behind New York nurses who were striking for better working conditions.
Currently a practicing certified registered nurse anesthetist with an anesthesia group in the Albany region, Sean McGarry was elected president of the New York State Association of Nurse Anesthetists in 2022 for a one-year term. The association represents the interests of over 1,200 members in the profession. McGarry was in the state Capitol in January to get lawmakers to officially recognize CRNA as a profession in the state; currently, New York is the only state where it is not.
Worker Justice Center of New York interim Executive Director Diana Saguilán and Director of Advocacy, Outreach and Education Emma Kreyche have been leading efforts to provide agricultural and other low-wage workers with legal counsel, advocacy and community support. Saguilán, who has been with the organization since 2011, was herself an immigrant. She manages almost every aspect of the nonprofit’s mission after previously cutting her teeth as a young activist in the AFL-CIO’s summer program. Often quoted in the press, Kreyche, also a longtime staff member, is working to create a permanent solution for the estimated 750,000 workers across the state who fall through the cracks of traditional unemployment programs.
At the Climate Jobs Institute at Cornell University’s ILR School, Lara Skinner is creating programs to help transition the country to a clean energy economy that provides new jobs for union workers. She also acts as an adviser to unions and businesses on labor and climate issues. Skinner said the way to create more clean energy-related jobs for workers will be to incentivize the development of supply chains here at home that will support the industry. The Climate Jobs Institute officially launched in January, with such luminaries as state Sen. Jessica Ramos, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York’s Gary LaBarbera and others offering their support.
The Rev. Ibrahím Pedriñán focused on the bright side of things when organizing efforts at an Amazon plant near Albany failed. The optimistic, self-described idealist president of the Albany Central Federation of Labor said that despite union-busting tactics used by the company, it inspired other local organizers, giving them a voice. Pedriñán, who has a master’s degree in divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is also a postal worker and the president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 390.
A local of the Service Employees International Union, the Committee of Interns and Residents represents over 24,000 doctors in training nationwide. A psychiatry resident at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, Dr. Michael Zingman is currently secretary-treasurer of CIR. More young doctors are unionizing, seeking better pay and working conditions amid consolidation in the industry and increasing burnout. Zingman recently testified against New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ directive to commit mentally ill people to hospitals involuntarily. He also voiced support for the nursing union strikes that spotlighted their dangerous working conditions.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the international representative for IBEW District 3. The current person in that post is Jenn Duck.
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