File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 592

Date: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 11:49:57 -0500
Subject: M-I: Why NYC's Unions endorse a Republican Mayor

Sleeping with the Enemy: Why New York's Unions Backed the Most Antilabor
Mayor in History 

by Bob Fitch 

With only a few days left in the race, in a city with over 500 union
locals, the Democratic nominee, Ruth Messinger, who's walked more picket
lines than all but the most veteran labor leaders, has won the endorsement
of exactly 10 locals. When her labor supporters turned out at City Hall
Park last Friday, the numbers were more appropriate to a bas mitzvah than a
mass rally. Only about 150 showed up. Messinger's locals tend to be quite
small, like the Lithographers 

Local 1L, or nearly defunct, like the Structural Steel and Bridge Painters
union with only 500 members. Or have nothing left to lose, like Jim
Butler's Local 420 hospital workers. Essentially, Messinger has no union
support, no cash, no phone banks, no street heat. 

It's all gone to Rudolph Giuliani, perhaps the most antiunion mayor in New
York's history, who has secured 58 endorsements. He's picked up cash, and
coerced volunteers from the city's biggest union--Stanley Hill's
120,000-member District Council 37; he's won the support of the largest
private-sector union organization--the Building and Trades Construction
Council; and perhaps most stunningly, last week the Central Labor
Council--the AFL-CIO's umbrella organization in the city with 1.5 million
members--voted for the first time in postwar history to support a
Republican mayor. 

Not even Dennis Rivera, head of the 110,000-member 1199 hospital workers
union, who also serves as vice-chair of the state Democratic Party, is
supporting Messinger. He's officially neutral. But as one union observer
put it, ''He's neutral, like the Swiss banks were neutral during World War

None of the reasons handed out for organized labor's massive defection to a
fiscally conservative law-and-order Republican add up. Rudy's overwhelming
popularity? He may have a 61 per cent approval rating in the NY 1--Observer
poll. But they're only asking likely voters. Among eligible voters, polled
by The New York Times, Giuliani's under 50 per cent. And while the city's
labor leaders are going for Giuliani five-to-one, does anyone think their
members will vote that way? 

Besides, DC 37's Hill isn't supporting Giuliani because of the polls.
According to filings at the Campaign Finance Board, DC 37's PAC first began
cramming cash into Rudy's coffers in February 1995, about the same time as
the construction unions. So why is the union backing the mayor? 

There's the excuse that Messinger's run a lousy campaign. ''When the
history of this campaign is written up it will serve as a model of what not
to do,'' says one insider at the Central Labor Council. ''Her campaign has
been a series of attacks on her own core constituency--labor and the Upper
West Side.'' But the timing of labor's support for the mayor knocks out
this explanation too. 

What about taking at face value what labor leaders say when they appear by
his side at City Hall and dutifully announce their support? ''Rudy's
'open.''' ''He listens.'' He's ''been a fair mayor.'' The real reason is
that they're terrified of him. 

They have reason to be. Oppose Giuliani and you could lose your job as
union boss. Remember what happened to Tony Bernardo? Bernardo was the
president of the EMS union, which opposed its merger with the fire
department. Last year, the city tried him for driving an ambulance without
a license in 1988. The new EMS president Kevin Lightsey says he gets along
well with Rudy. 

Then there's CWA 1180 president Arthur Cheliotes, a voluble Giuliani
critic. Since he started opposing Giuliani's cuts, he's lost nearly 40 per
cent of his membership to Giuliani cutbacks and reclassifications. Local
420 president Jim Butler tried in court to block Giuliani's plan to sell
off public hospitals. Now the mayor is contracting out the jobs of his
lunchroom workers to McDonald's. 

City unions backing Giuliani are disguising an abusive relationship: 25,000
public-sector job cuts. Between 11,000 and 17,000 were trimmed from DC 37's
membership alone since 1994, depending on whose head count you believe. Add
to that a 27-month pay freeze for all city workers. But an even worse blow
is Giuliani's Work Experience Program (WEP). Nowhere else in urban America
is there a program of such scope and antiunion intensity. The mayor and
Stanley Hill both say city workers are not being replaced with welfare
recipients working just for their welfare checks, with no rights, no pay,
and no benefits. But they are. Look at the Parks Department. The only paid
employees left are supervisors--the rest are WEP workers. Today, the city
has 38,000 WEP workers. The mayor has promised to have 65,000 in WEP by
next year, and 130,000 by the year 2001. How can municipal unionism coexist
with 130,000 WEP workers? 

At the Barclay Street headquarters, a DC 37 staffer who'd just come from a
high-level meeting chuckled, ''They're having trouble getting volunteers to
make calls for Rudy. He's no folk hero to our members.'' After 27 months,
bitter DC 37 workers did finally get a 3 per cent pay increase, timed to
coincide with the election. 

But the meager pay raise has been largely offset by increases in dues,
averaging 27 per cent union-wide. A signed editorial by Hill in the Public
Employee Press explains why: it's either raise dues or lose ''services.''
Eleven thousand dues-paying members are gone, he points out. But Hill
avoids mentioning that the man who made them disappear is the man he's
endorsed for mayor. 

Unlike Giuliani, Messinger's committed to allowing WEP workers to organize.
But ''the problem,'' said the DC 37 source who asked not to be identified,
''is what would we do with them? They can't pay dues. They're poor. They'd
require a lot of attention. What we're hoping for is a transfer of
funds--building full-time jobs with federal money. We're working with
Giuliani on it. What it would do is give us additional members, 5000. Then
as a union we'd get more dues.'' Five thousand is roughly the number of
converted WEP workers DC 37 needs to pay the salaries of its top 10 leaders. 

At a mere $96,000, 1199 president Dennis Rivera makes less than Stanley
Hill's executive secretary. Few who've watched Hill's alliance with
Giuliani strengthen over the last three years were surprised that he didn't
support Messinger. But Rivera's defection comes as a real blow. Ever since
he replaced the corrupt Doris Turner in 1987, he has had a unique status
among city labor leaders: a mass mobilizer with the potential to revive not
just the New York City labor movement but maybe the increasingly moribund
Democratic Party as well. 

Ken Sunshine, who is handling public relations for Rivera while he is out
of town agrees that it ''says something'' when the party's vice-chair is
out of town during the election. ''But I'm not going to tell you what's
wrong with Messinger's campaign. After the election, call Dennis. Then he
might tell you.'' 

Maybe not. Rivera certainly wouldn't acknowledge what one labor leader who
talked off the record to the Voice suggests: that surprising as it may
seem, Giuliani's agenda and Rivera's now broadly converge. Privatization,
managed care, and Clinton's line-item veto of billions in Medicaid money
destined for New York have blunted old animosities. 

Converging agendas help to explain how Jack Newfield, the Post columnist
who's a friend of both men, was able to arrange the first of two private
meetings that took place this year to reduce frictions. Without denying
that the meetings took place, Sunshine says the whole idea is absurd.
''There have been plenty of meetings both private and public. Dennis Rivera
doesn't need newspaper columnists to get him meetings with the mayor.'' 

Still, you never used to see Giuliani and Rivera on the same platform
publicly. Now you do. But you never see Messinger and Rivera together

Officially, Rivera has opposed selling off the hospitals. And he has
publicly denied that 1199's reentry into the AFL-CIO was motivated by the
gains in members the union could make if the mayor wins his court battle to
privatize the hospitals. As a member of the AFL-CIO's Executive Board,
Dennis stands a better chance to prevail in any future jurisdictional
dispute with Jim Butler's Local 420, which represents public hospital

''Stanley Hill's a goddamn disgrace,'' shouted Butler in a phone interview
with the Voice. ''We're part of the council. He turned his back on us. Sold
us out. And now he's backing Giuliani.'' Butler is the only African
American labor leader backing Messinger. 

On October 9, Willie James, an African American and president of the
30,000-member Transport Workers Union Local 100, stood next to the mayor in
City Hall Park to announce his support. ''The reason,'' said James, ''is
because you have been a fair mayor. You've done a terrific job in terms of
the city; crime has been reduced.'' 

''Nobody likes Giuliani,'' said a TWU official. ''It's not just the
membership. Nobody in the leadership likes him either. What I tell the
members is that the reason why we're supporting him is that there's no
unified progressive leadership from the Democratic Party. We're forced to
face reality. There's no party, no leadership. So every institution is
forced to fend for itself.'' 

True, there's no unified Democratic Party, just individual pols who do
deals. Do a deal with Rudy and maybe you can shift the burden of WEP
workers onto some other union. Or maybe he'll help you get your WEP workers
paid for by the feds. Perhaps you can pick up the workers that another
union loses. As one UFT leader admitted, ''Our bottom line keeps getting
lower and lower.'' 

(Village Voice, Oct. 29, 1997)

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