NYS AFL-CIO Endorsement for Cuomo in Flux
Four years ago the New York State AFL-CIO lined up behind Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s candidacy for governor, even though the state teachers union, an influential player within the broader labor coalition, did not support him.
This year the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has again declined to endorse Cuomo, but the teachers union is going a step further by trying to block the state AFL-CIO from endorsing the governor’s reelection bid, sources told City & State.
The potential loss of an endorsement by the labor umbrella group comes at a time of strained relations between the governor and key public sector unions.
NYSUT again opted not to make a pick in the governor’s race last week and another member of the AFL-CIO, New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), went even further, backing one of Cuomo’s Democratic primary rivals, Zephyr Teachout, and her running mate, Tim Wu. Another influential union with the AFL-CIO, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), has long made it clear that it is unlikely to endorse the governor.
Of course, some private sector unions have had friendlier relations with the governor. Cuomo secured the backing of the labor-backed Working Families Party earlier this year, and he has enjoyed support from service employees and building trades unions, some of which are part of the state AFL-CIO. (One major labor group that is a Cuomo ally, 1199 SEIU, is not part of the umbrella group.)
Now, the question of whether to officially line up behind Cuomo or to stay out of the governor's race will be at the center of the discussion at the state AFL-CIO’s nominating convention on Monday.
One former labor official said on Friday that NYSUT, PEF and the AFSCME councils—including CSEA—were banding together in an effort to block a Cuomo endorsement.
“The question is, now that NYSUT has done its own vote and decided to stay neutral in the governor’s race, will they be willing to stand down and abstain from voting?” the source said. “Whether the executive board can all sit down before the convention and hammer out and say, 'This is not good for the labor movement in general, that you guys have got your pound of flesh, you’re not endorsing him, this one’s endorsing Zephyr Teachout, so you’ve got your opportunity, you’ve spit in the governor’s face—don’t do damage to the rest of the labor movement.' ”
One current labor leader who is part of the state AFL-CIO’s executive council said that the effort could be successful.
“In order to be endorsed, you need a two-thirds vote of the delegates, and I believe that the governor was trying to see whether or not he could get the support of CSEA and NYSUT, who normally provide a lot of delegates to the convention,” the labor leader said on Friday. “My understanding is that the recommendation is going to be, because we’re divided, that there be no endorsement of the governor.”
The final decision will be a gauge of how far the labor movement is willing to go to chide the governor. Public sector labor leaders have expressed unhappiness with a number of steps taken by the Cuomo administration, from the creation of a new pension tier to the 2 percent property tax cap. Two labor leaders who were elected after the 2010 cycle—PEF President Susan Kent and NYSUT’s Karen Magee—have joined CSEA’s Danny Donohue in channeling the anger of their rank-and-file members. While some worry that public sector unions will push too far and hurt other labor groups, others say solidarity is critical.
“My loyalty is to the labor movement first, and not to elected officials,” the current labor leader said. “If two large unions come to us and say that they have real problems with their employer, because the governor is CSEA’s employer—and I think the focus is a lot on CSEA, not just NYSUT—I would want to support CSEA even though I myself would endorse the governor.”
Still, it is unclear whether NYSUT and its allies will be successful in the effort to deny Cuomo an endorsement. Spokespersons for NYSUT and the AFL-CIO did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for CSEA declined to comment, noting that the deliberations are an internal AFL-CIO process.