Tall Tales

With Rivera in Lead, Unions Ditch Dems for 'Lincolnian' Gov

Nor does the Lincoln of Albany have much standing on another issue long considered crucial by organized labor: workers' compensation. The state's level of reimbursement for injured workers has fallen so low that New York now registers dead last of all states in the nation. New York's weekly benefit of $400 has remained unchanged throughout Pataki's two terms, and now represents just 49 percent of the state's average weekly wage. This, the Fiscal Policy Institute found, puts New York far behind even next-to-last Georgia, which allots 60 percent of its weekly wage for people hurt on the job.

Unemployment insurance has been another embarrassment under the Pataki administration. Despite years of warnings that the state needed to increase its payroll tax rate and create a reserve trust to meet a potential surge in unemployment claims, Pataki did neither. Rankings showed New York third from the bottom among states in terms of unemployment reserves, which are supposed to be the equivalent of a year's worth of payments.

When the recession and the September 11 tragedy hit, forcing more than 100,000 workers out of their jobs, New York had less than a third of the reserves required to meet the new claims. Now the administration is scrambling, and among the proposals is to use funds from the state's federal welfare block grant to fill the gap.

The ability of the sons and daughters of working families to get an affordable college education also hasn't gotten much help from the new Abe. The Pataki administration has advanced a series of cuts and changes in the Tuition Assistance Plan since the mid 1990s. Its latest proposal is to hold back one-third of a student's TAP grant until graduation. The rhetoric supporting the idea holds that this is a way to assure that students graduate. But Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Group said, "This is a fairly naked scheme to shift the cost of paying for school onto the credit cards of students and their families."

Of course, this isn't the first time labor has fallen for the GOP. In the 1960s, many unions, including what was then Local 1199, backed another Republican gubernatorial incumbent, Nelson Rockefeller. Unlike Pataki, Rockefeller had a solid record with labor. What had he done for working families? A partial list: the right of hospital workers to organize, the nation's first state minimum wage, improved workers' compensation, a new state university system, and massive transit expansions.

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