The re-election of Governor Cuomo by a comfortable margin despite a conspicuous lack of public-employee-union endorsements has some labor officials uneasy about whether he will be kinder to their members in his second term than he was in his first.
“We’re going into the next administration with our eyes wide open,” said Steve Madarasz, the chief spokesman for Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue. “There are going to be some serious challenges in the administration—there’s no question about that.”
‘Hard Row to Hoe’
“I think it’s gonna be a hard row to hoe,” said an official from another union who did not want to be identified, noting that Mr. Cuomo “basically won without us.”
The Governor angered state-employee unions by making up a large share of the $10-billion state budget deficit he inherited upon taking office in 2011 at the expense of their rank and files. He used the threat of close to 10,000 layoffs to force them to accept wage contracts that included a three-year pay freeze at their outset, major increases in employee health-care contributions, and worker furloughs.
The Governor expanded the pain in March 2012 when he pushed a Tier 6 pension plan through the State Legislature that reduced benefits for future state and local-government employees while making them pay more into the retirement system and wait longer before qualifying for full allowances. And while he helped stave off attempts by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg to pass legislation cutting into Teacher tenure rights, more recently he sided with charter-school operators in their attempts to increase their presence in the system and get better treatment from Mayor de Blasio, and fired verbal shots across the bows of Teachers’ unions by referring to the public schools as among the last “public monopolies.”
Reluctant to Buck Him
Few unions were willing to oppose him in the Democratic primary, however, because challenger Zephyr Teachout, while more in tune with them on key issues, faced huge disadvantages in terms of funding and name-recognition against the Governor. She wound up making a surprisingly strong showing, getting 34 percent of the vote, but even those unions that supported her sat out the general election because Republican nominee Rob Astorino had incurred union anger as Westchester County executive, and was also regarded as no more electable than Ms. Teachout.
In many cases, it seemed they might be hoping that staying neutral—which politically was the best they could give Mr. Cuomo or risk antagonizing their own members who had been hurt by his policies—might produce kinder, gentler treatment in a second term. One of the two union leaders who backed Ms. Teachout against him in the primary, Susan Kent of the Public Employees Federation, had been given a license to do so by her rank and file when she unseated her predecessor, Kenneth Brynien, in an election in which she made his acceptance of the Governor’s contract terms a major issue.
But she opted to stay neutral in the general election, and labor leaders’ caution about not saying anything to antagonize Mr. Cuomo may be reflected in the fact that both she and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew—who’s been stung by both Tier 6 and the Governor’s actions favoring charter schools at the expense of his members, declined through spokespersons to be interviewed about what a second term might hold for them.
Not Big on Gratitude
Clearly, CSEA hoped that its neutrality would have the effect of offsetting any anger the Governor felt about Mr. Donohue earlier this year calling him “a moron” and “a monkey” during a union rally protesting his policies. The union’s contract expires on April 1, 2016.
But one union official said the concept of banking good will did not apply in dealings with Mr. Cuomo as it tended to with most elected officials.
Speaking conditioned on anonymity, he said the Governor tended to regard help he got from a union at a particular moment with something less than gratitude, and more importantly, felt no future obligation to repay the cooperation. “You’re dealing with a completely different politician when it comes to Andrew Cuomo,” he said.
Another union official echoed some of those points but said that labor needed to put Mr. Cuomo’s behavior in perspective. On the one hand, he noted that the Governor had responded to Mayor de Blasio’s strenuous efforts to secure him the nomination of the Working Families Party by later ridiculing the party and doing little to make good on his pledge to work for a Democratic majority in the State Senate that was decisive in winning over both the Mayor and the WFP leadership.
‘He’s No Scott Walker’
But while Mr. Cuomo “had some fun kicking the unions around,” this official continued, “he’s not Scott Walker,” the Wisconsin Governor who shortly after taking office in 2011 secured legislation that sharply curtailed the rights of both public workers in his state and their unions. He narrowly won re-election last week despite a strong push by national unions including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on behalf of his Democratic challenger, Mary Burke.
That said, this official noted, Mr. Cuomo’s decision not to personally campaign for Democratic Senate hopefuls in what turned into a ringing defeat for Mr. de Blasio makes clear the difficulty that both the Mayor and the unions could be facing on issues including an increase in the minimum wage, renewal of the law ensuring mayoral control of the school system, possible expansion of charter schools, and greater city say on rent regulations.
Mr. Cuomo during his victory speech Nov. 4 cited an increased minimum wage, along with other key social issues, as among his primary goals for a second term. But the Republicans gaining a small-but-clear majority in the Senate will make it more difficult to achieve most, if not all, of those objectives. And Mr. de Blasio’s active campaign against GOP incumbents and those challenging Democratic Senators incurred enough anger among Republican officials including their Senate leader, Dean Skelos, that the Mayor’s priorities could wind up being bottled up by their opposition.
Urges Joint Strategy
Because of that likelihood, this union official said, “I think what would be most useful would be if de Blasio called everyone together and said, ‘Here’s what we ought to try to accomplish.’ I don’t know whether he’s going to do that.”
There were those who thought that Mr. Cuomo’s relatively dull showing in the campaign—he defeated Mr. Astorino by 13 points, but pre-election polls consistently had him with leads of 20 points or more, and his huge edge in campaign contributions and the 2-to-1 registration advantage Democrats hold over Republicans in New York were not reflected by his victory margin.
Ed Ott, a former executive director of the AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council who is now a Distinguished Lecturer at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute, noted that of the 54 percent of the voters who chose Mr. Cuomo, only 48 percent did so on the Democratic line. Those numbers, as well as the strong showing of Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, who despite a dropoff in overall turnout of 900,000 compared to 2010 virtually tripled his vote total from that year. His getting more than 176,000 votes reflected unhappiness with Mr. Cuomo within the sizable liberal wing of the Democratic Party, Mr. Ott said.
Change With the Times?
For a Governor who is widely believed to have national ambitions, that is not a good sign. Just as some unions may have shied from going against Mr. Cuomo because they didn’t want to go too far in bucking the party, he said, the Governor “also has to consider his relationship with his party.”
That didn’t necessarily mean the unions would find him more labor-friendly than during his first term, but it couldn’t hurt that the state’s fiscal condition is much stronger than when he took office, Mr. Ott said.
“I think it’s gonna depend on what he sees he has to get done, how he wants to be perceived, and whether he has any regrets about the way things turned out” in terms of so many reliable Democratic voters not supporting him, leading to his getting 960,000 fewer votes than in 2010, he remarked.
“I would hope that there would be more of an exchange and dialogue than, ‘There’s no money, and goodbye.’’’
Arthur Cheliotes, the president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, sounded similar themes.
‘Future Not As Rosy’
Referring to his having gotten 9-percent less of the vote this time than in his landslide win over Carl Paladino in 2010, he said, “I think Governor Cuomo might realize his national aspirations might not be as rosy as he thought they were as a moderate or corporate Democrat.”
And so while he initially remarked, “It seems he’s made it very clear he will continue to balance budgets at our expense,” moments later he acknowledged that such a stance wouldn’t do much to win back disaffected Democratic voters, either here or nationally.
“Let’s see how it plays out,” Mr. Cheliotes said.
He was among those who noted that while the Governor used the word “progressive” in talking about the tradition he would carry forward in his second term, he had made that goal a lot harder by not campaigning vigorously for Democratic senatorial candidates.
“Actions speak louder than words,” the Local 1180 leader said. “Am I supposed to get enthusiastic about that speech? Not really.”
‘Who’s He Want to Please?’
He was similarly pessimistic about Mr. de Blasio’s chances of getting much done in Albany, saying, “I think the Mayor’s going to have a lot of trouble with this Governor.”
Ultimately, Mr. Cheliotes said, the prospects for the unions and the city over the next four years may depend on which constituency Mr. Cuomo perceives as most important to his future career.
“Who do you have to please?” he remarked. “Is it the guys who are gonna bankroll his future campaign, or the working people of New York?”