Oren Barzilay defeated an incumbent last year to become president of Local 2507, which represents 4,000 emergency medical technician and paramedics. Social media played a large role in his upset victory, which some saw as significant given labor’s struggles to connect with younger generations. Barzilay said his top priority will be tackling the vast disparity in pay and benefits between his membership – which is 40 percent women and more than half minorities – and those of other first responders.
10 names to watch in organized labor
10 names to watch in organized labor
In the Labor Power 50, we recognize top labor leaders who are key players in the world of New York politics and government. It’s also worth noting that the people on this list are predominantly white and male, with only a little more than half a dozen women and a similar number of minorities making the cut – an imbalance that reflects the power structure as it stands. We sought to balance that by presenting an additional - and more diverse - list of younger labor figures on the rise.
These ten people in organized labor have begun to make a name for themselves in New York's political world - and each of them has plenty of potential to make their mark in the years ahead.
City & State is pleased to present the New York Labor Watch List.
As director of policy, research and legislation at the New York City Central Labor Council, Alexander Gleason advocates for policies that lift the wage floor and spur economic growth. He works with affiliated unions on creating a collective voice and advocacy in the legislative process. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, he has been particularly active in providing affiliates with new supports and capacity. Gleason also teaches politics and public policy at SUNY Empire State College.
Davon Lomax entered the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9’s apprenticeship program not long after graduating from a vocational high school in Queens. He would become a shop steward in the union, and then foreman. In 2011, Lomax was asked to join the union’s leadership and, a few years later, was appointed political director – a role in which he’s made a name for himself as a rising star in the labor movement.
In his time at the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, Gabriel Gallucci has worked with local and state governments on building inclusionary educational systems tailored to children of all ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. He has also lobbied for $125 million in Fair Student Funding for more than 850 schools as well as funding to provide free lunches for 1.1 million students throughout New York City. Prior to joining CSA, Gallucci was the political and legislative director at New York Communities for Change.
Caitlin Pearce took over in January for Sara Horowitz, the founder and longtime executive director of the Freelancers Union. Pearce has been with the organization since 2010 and helped lead some of its most ambitious initiatives, including SPARK, which created a network of freelancer hubs across the United States. She also led a grass-roots coalition that secured passage of the 2016 Freelance Isn’t Free Act in New York City, which provides wage theft protections for independent contractors.
Michele Gilliam was the New Hampshire constituency director on U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, and after the primary, she moved on to work for the Hillary Clinton campaign as a deputy labor campaign director, where she was tasked with harnessing union support on the ground in key battleground states. The Queens native has a broad set of relationships in the labor movement, and now serves as political director at Transport Workers Union Local 100.
Alison Hirsh has a long track record of building coalitions between organized labor and community groups. Her role as political director of a 163,000-member union takes her around the state and country, but her effectiveness as a strategist was on display in New York City last month during the passage of the cap on for-hire vehicles. Hirsh also sits on the New York City Council’s Charter Revision Commission. She was previously policy and legislative director for the New York League of Conservation Voters.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union bolstered its firepower when longtime community organizer and activist Camille Rivera joined the union’s leadership last year. Rivera was coming off a stint as national deputy political director for the Service Employees International Union during the 2016 presidential campaign, running its $4 million Latino get-out-the-vote effort. Rivera has also worked in the New York City Department of Homeless Services. She and husband Jonathan Westin, who leads New York Communities for Change, are quite the power couple.
The powerful New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council has been on a winning streak since 2015, when Jason Ortiz assumed the post of political director, including securing legislation that imposed restrictions on Airbnb rentals. Ortiz previously worked at the state Attorney General’s Office as well as Metropolitan Public Strategies, whose founder, Neal Kwatra, once held the post he now occupies. Another former HTC political director, Josh Gold, is now Uber’s top public affairs strategist in New York.
Gabby Seay joined 1199SEIU in May to oversee the labor powerhouse’s political, legislative and policy work in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Before joining 1199SEIU, Seay was political director of then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in Ohio – a key swing state that he won narrowly – and went on to serve on his inaugural committee. She has also worked for 270 Strategies, a grass-roots organizing group launched by Obama veterans.