When Labor Supports the Enemy


Who is to blame for organized labor’s descent in political irrelevancy? Ronald Reagan? The Koch brothers? Good answers, but maybe we need to look at labor leaders themselves.

Consider the case of this year’s mayor’s race in New York City, one of the last bastions of union political power. There are three candidates in the Democratic Party primary who are considered progressive—former Comptroller and previous mayoral nominee Williams Thompson, current Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. The front-runner is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has over the years curried favor with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the real estate sector. She also angered labor activists by blocking a measure that would grant sick-days to low-wage retail workers.

The New York Times reported that the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has endorsed Quinn because she is the most electable in a year when the Democrat will likely face a strong Republican in the general election. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 spokesperson Pat Purcell defended his union’s endorsement of Quinn to City and State saying, “Nowhere has Speaker Quinn said that she opposes paid sick days. She says she supports the concept, but there is a very real conversation to be had about, especially now in light of [Hurricane] Sandy, when do you do a paid sick bill and how do you do it in a way that does not put a burden on an already fragile economy? We’re very supportive of paid sick days, but we also have to look at the big picture.”

Quinn’s campaign is already awash with union money, including donations from the two largest Service Employees International Union locals in New York City, 1199 (health care workers) and 32BJ (building workers, security guards and custodians).

And so the outrage over Quinn’s allegiance to Bloomberg and the business lobby on the sick days bill was clearly all for show, and now Quinn can sleep soundly at night, knowing that shoving her thumb in the eyes of low-wage workers causes no political consequence. According to the RWDSU, she is the “electable” one, meaning the one who has raised the most money and the one closest to the incumbent.

The UFCW Local 1500 line that Quinn supports the bill’s concept is a tad naïve. Anyone who has played the political game long enough knows that when you ask a politician “when?” and she says “later” she really means “never.” Purcell also makes two arguments on behalf of the bosses: one being the “shock doctrine” method of invoking an unprecedented catastrophe to subvert any reform efforts and the other is the implication that worker protection is antithetical to prosperity, as labor activists have gone to great lengths to refute this myth specifically regarding this legislation.

It makes one wonder why unions bother with political endorsements at all. If they’re just going to wait to see which Democrat raises the most cash and then offer to support that candidate, what incentive does that candidate have to return the political favor after he or she is elected? It’s a bit like the insecure kid on the playground who wants to join the in-crowd. He waits to see what dominant opinion is, and then registers his agreement. It’ll make him feel accepted. But none of the cool kids are really that interested.

Political risk aversion is deeply rooted. RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum had a salary of just under $250,000 in 2011 (2012 data is not yet available), as did UFCW Local 1500 President Bruce Both. Unless rank-and-filers mount an opposition campaign based on these issues, these leaders have little reason to choose principle over closeness with Democratic leaders. In 2014, a single mom working at a fast-food joint my fall behind in her rent because she missed work due to an illness, but these two men will be unscathed in a far away tax bracket.

Here’s the kicker: The city is making progress in passing the sick-days bill, although it has a new line allowing managers to offer sick days or shift swapping. Rahul Saksena, the policy director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, said “we are concerned about the so-called ‘shift-swapping’ provision, which our members tell us will give restaurant owners and managers the green-light to continue pressuring their workers to swap shifts instead of taking a paid sick day. Shift swapping is the current practice in the restaurant industry.  It is a broken practice that should not be legitimized by the law.”

So maybe Quinn will oversee a sick days bill. It will be one that has been weakened by the political process, sort of like the labor movement.

Ari Paul is a contributor to Free Speech Radio News and the Indypendent. His articles have also appeared in The NationThe GuardianZ Magazine and The American Prospect.

November 26, 2015
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration