August 21, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Despite reported threats from a very upset Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state AFL-CIO closed its convention earlier this week without endorsing the chief executive’s re-election bid. But does that mean organized labor is starting to tentatively look outside the Democratic Party box?
A source close to one of the labor groups highly critical of Cuomo’s record after four years in office, called the Public Employees Federation’s earlier decision to back primary challenger Zephyr Teachout a “gutsy move” – and said that his organization would be willing to consider “lots of other options.”
“I think our organization is fed up with corporate Democrats who have strayed far from the traditional party platform,” the source said.
In the days leading up to the April 18, AFL-CIO convention in New York City, an angry Governor Cuomo reportedly reminded his critics behind closed doors that his re-election is a sure thing, and promised there would be “repercussions” if his detractors did not abandon their efforts to block his coveted endorsement.
“This isn’t something you get as of right,” Steve Allinger, legislative director, New York State United Teachers, later said on the convention floor. “It reflects a consensus view that there just isn’t support for a candidate for governor.”
The AFL-CIO finds itself in a tough position trying to recognize a diversity of views amongst in vast membership, while also projecting a united front in the face of a chief executive that has been criticized for employing a “divide and conquer” strategy against working men and women.
So, even though the level of dissatisfaction with the governor is running high among certain quarters of the AFL-CIO’s 3,000 affiliated public sector, private sector, and building trades unions, that doesn’t mean that the federation as whole will someday soon decide to follow PEF’s lead, or look even farther beyond to a third party candidate.
“We’re a Pepsi and Coke nation in a two-party world,” said another source close the AFL-CIO convention. “Revolutions require a lot more dissatisfaction than this. And like any other business, non-profit or entity, you have to be well-funded and well-messaged. Most other [political] groups are neither.”
Howie Hawkins, the Green Party Candidate for New York State governor, acknowledged that his worker-championing party will probably have to start winning more elections at different levels of government before they can hope to garner major union support.
“They’re not going to stick their necks out until they see us as a significant factor,” Hawkins said. “But the rank and file also needs to push our unions to look at the Greens.”
In contrast to his 2010 gubernatorial run when he placed third in a field of seven, but couldn’t get in the door, the Teamster turned candidate says that many labor unions are now at least “listening and interested” in his Green Party campaign.
According to Allinger, the most important thing for the AFL-CIO is to “galvanize grassroots labor support for candidates we’re passionate about, and make a difference in the lives of our members.”
“Obviously, there are people with differing views,” Allinger said. “Some people do support the governor. Some don’t. Some support Howie Hawkins. You have to keep an open mind.”