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New York Senate staffers look to unionize


New York Senate staffers have begun organizing a union to address what they say are pervasive issues including pay disparities and long working hours.

In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins earlier this month, the staffers, organizing under New York State Legislative Workers United, wrote that they were seeking voluntary recognition from the Majority Leader “in the near future.”

“In the coming months, we will share more on our democratically decided demands, anticipated bargaining unit, and timeline for voluntary recognition,” stated the letter, which was also posted to social media July 15. “At this stage, our intention is merely to make ourselves known, so that we can continue to organize in public without fear of retaliation. We look forward to embarking on this process with you, and eventually sitting at the table to collectively bargain a contract that recognizes the value and level of service we bring to the New York State Legislature.”

A spokesperson for Stewart-Cousins praised the legislative staff for doing a “tremendous amount of work in unprecedented times … . Obviously this process is just beginning and we will continue these crucial discussions as the process moves forward.”

Although the staffers have not yet come up with a list of demands, they said they have often faced pay disparities.

“A legislative director could make $70,000 in one office and $40,000 in another office and yet have the same expectations and work just as hard,” explained Samantha Walsh, legislative director for Senator Jessica Ramos. Walsh added that there are high turnover rates among Senate staff.

Astrid M. Aune, the communications director for Ramos and co-chairs the NYSLWU’s communications committee, told news outlet City and State that those who enter public service have a lot of drive to help people — and that impulse can be taken advantage of.

“So what we are looking for is some sort of uniformity and structure and really the same rights that we fight for our constituents and every other public sector employee to be applied to us,” she said.

Worked one day, left on another 

Several staffers also said they are seeking overtime pay and a better work-life balance.

“I think every one of us who's worked here in Albany has come to work one morning and left work the following afternoon, without really knowing sometimes that that day was going to be a day like that,” Frank Sainato, deputy communications director for Senator Samra Brouk, told Gothamist.

The staffers have received bipartisan support for their organizing efforts, including from Senator Jabari Brisport, Senator Mike Martucci and Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas.

“The truth is that no elected official could do what we do without our staff,” González-Rojas said.

More than 350 New York City Council staffers formed the Association of Legislative Employees nearly a year ago, after organizing began in late 2019. Congressional staffers working at eight U.S. House of Representatives offices filed petitions to unionize earlier this month.

“This is a moment in time for labor; I think we’re learning from each other,” Becky White, director of policy for Senator Andrew Gounardes, told The Chief. “We believe this is long overdue. We can’t show up to fight for teachers, firefighters and other public workers but not legislative staff.”

The state staffers’ letter mentioned concerns “from all corners” that they would be unable to organize under the state’s Taylor Law, which outlines the rights and limitations of public employee unions. 

The union organizers, who have retained counsel, believed that because the Taylor Law does not specifically exempt legislative staff from the right to collectively bargain — as it does for judges — they would legally be able to organize.

So far, 79 staffers working in 18 Senators’ offices have signed on to join the NYSLWU. If the union is not voluntarily recognized by the Senate majority leader, the NYSLWU would need the signatures of at least 30 percent of the 700-plus legislative staffers in order to file for an election with the Public Employee Relations Board.



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