Features, Law and Politics, Municipal Government, New York

Level of Membership ‘Engagement’ Is Challenged

August 29, 2018

By Joe Maniscalco

New York, NY – As organized labor’s existential crisis continues in wake of the Janus decision and union leaders look for ways to grow the movement in the face of continued attacks —membership “engagement” has become the watchword. But how much “engagement” is actually possible if members don’t feel they have a voice in how the union flexes its political muscle?  

CWA’s rank & file show the power of their numbers.

The gubernatorial showdown between Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon underscores the democracy gap that currently exists.

At CWA Local 1180’s inaugural town hall streamed live earlier this month, Luis Gonzalez, a development manager at the Alliance for a Greater New York [ALIGN], challenged the “unilateral” decision made to break with the Working Families Party after the WFP chose to back Nixon over Cuomo. 

“It really hit me hard,” Gonzalez later told LaborPress. “It just didn’t sit right with me. And then seeing what happened in the election with [Congressman Joseph] Crowley’s defeat — CWA endorsing Crowley; him losing [to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]. When are we able to have our input?”

CWA Local 1180 President Gloria Middleton said that her union encourages members to attend candidate screenings and provide their input, but conceded, “This political game is vicious.”

“Nine times out of 10, we go with what our members want,” Middleton told LaborPress. “But there’s always that 10-percent where we have to do what we have to do because it’s politically strategic for our members at large.”

Nine times out of 10, we go with what our members want. But there’s always that 10-percent where we have to do what we have to do because it’s politically strategic for our members at large. — CWA Local 1180 President Gloria Middleton. 

The Local 1180 president described often being caught in a “Catch-22” and “not always making the right decisions.” 

“We think we picked the best candidate, but it doesn’t always happen,” Middleton said. “Look at the Bernie [Sanders]/Hillary [Clinton] situation. That was pure politics — Bernie should have got the nomination — he didn’t. The Democratic Party, doing what it did, gave it to Hillary, and as a result, we have Trump.”

The Communications Workers of America were one of the few labor unions to endorse Sanders over Clinton in the 2106 Democratic Primary. 

Monise Etienne, a PAA [Principle Administrative Associative] with the NYC Comptroller’s office, said, “I support whoever my union supports because I know they have our backs, and they look out for the members.”

New York City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Committee on Civl Service & Labor, also talked membership engagement saying,“If the membership is not sophisticated and engaged, it doesn’t work.”

“The leadership has good ideas, but the execution has to come from the rank & file,” Council Member Miller said. 

Middleton called for “another way where we can change the system that exists.”

“And until we get money out of politics,” she said, “it’s not going to happen.”

August 29, 2018

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