Labor Costs

Union endorsements are dirty, if the mayor loses them

"The basic issue when we look at a candidate is how their serving in that office will impact our members in terms of good jobs," says Richard Weiss of the Mason Tenders, which is backing the mayor for, among other things, approving a new agreement to have union workers fix up buildings the School Construction Authority leases from private companies. The scuttled Jets stadium plan—along with the other development projects Bloomberg has supported—is also key to the support Bloomberg has received from a host of trade unions.

The hubbub over 1199 ignores the fact that unions, like other political organizations, are always looking for the best deal possible for their members, and they don't—strategically, they shouldn't—give their endorsements away for nothing. Not that every union sets up an explicit quid pro quo; Weiss stresses that Bloomberg has given no assurances of what will happen over the next four years. Nor do unions robotically back a candidate who gave them a raise: Teamsters Local 237 went with Gifford Miller in the primary even though Bloomberg increased its members' salaries.

But as Tony Speelman of Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which also was on Miller's team, puts it, "Whenever a union endorses, you do it because of what they do for the workers. We stay away from the issues that are divisive. We never talk about gun control or abortion or stuff like that." As of last week, Local 1500 was still deciding what to do in the general election. "At this point we're still going over what each campaign has said to us about what each campaign can do for our members," said Pat Purcell, the organizing director.

Lost in the uproar over the 1199 endorsement are the workers that the purported deal involved. They take care of sick people for around $7 an hour, often with no health insurance. They do, in fact, work for the city; they are just paid through contracts with outside firms. That saves taxpayers money—at least until the workers use Medicaid, or apply for food stamps, or take the Earned Income Tax Credit on their income taxes. It's worth remembering that taxpayers fund those subsidies for employers who don't provide enough benefits and pay to support families.

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