New York, NY – This past week, New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson strongly threw his support behind the Building Trades’ #CountMeIn campaign against so-called “open shop” development — but how much help can union hardhats truly expect to get given the predominance of Real Estate Industry money in New York City politics?
At Wednesday’s City Hall press conference trumpeting Council Member Costa Constantinides’ [D-District 22] new resolution supporting the #CountMeIn movement, Campaign Director Mike Hellstrom made it clear that the year-long protests that have, at times stopped New York City traffic, is all about fighting corporate greed and the money-class’ own campaign to further “undermine the middle class.”
To get what they want, the Real Estate Industry, led by REBY — the Real Estate Board of New York — expends what learned economists define as “boatloads of cash” lobbying elected officials and contributing to their election campaigns.
And among the many things deep-pocketed developers, who already benefit wildly from public subsidies, desire — is to build using more cheap nonunion labor.
“Real estate is not as powerful as it once was,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Ben Kallos [D-District 5] told LaborPress on Wednesday. “That being said, the city still runs on real estate money and campaign finance. I’m hoping that your readers and every union in this city will ask their members to vote ‘yes’ on question one on the ballot on November 6, to get real estate money out of politics and replace it with public dollars.”
The city still runs on real estate money and campaign finance. I’m hoping that your readers and every union in this city will ask their members to vote ‘yes’ on question one on the ballot on November 6, to get real estate money out of politics and replace it with public dollars.” — NYC Council Member Ben Kallos
In two weeks, voters will be asked if they want to lower the contribution limits and increase public matching funds for candidates running for city office. If passed, the cap on individual contributions would be lowered by more than 60 percent — while matching rates would increase — from $6 in public funds for every $1 in private contributions, to $8 in public funds for every $1 in private contributions.
Former New York State Assembly Member and current City Council Member Rory Lancman [D-Distric 24], told LaborPress on Wednesday that, yes, “REBNY invests a lot of resources in politics that can be an obstacle to reform issues.”
“It took us three-plus years getting the Construction Safety Act done in the last Council, and I don’t think anybody could articulate a really good policy reason why that bill wasn’t a simple bill to do,” the Queens legislator said. “And so, in a political process where very often money talks, the Real Estate Board is able to have an outside influence relative to the number of people who would really be affected by the positive things that we’re trying to do.”
September’s Democratic primaries saw the ascendancy of progressive candidates committed to breaking the real estate industry’s choke hold on New York politics. Rising Democratic superstars, including Alexandria Ocassio-Cortess, Julia Salazar and Alessandra Biaggi, as well as Council Member Kallos, were all early supporters of the StopREBNYBullies.org campaign — a grassroots effort to beat back Real Estate Industry dollars and promote working class reforms.
StopREBNYBullies architect Ray Rogers said Constantinides’ #CountMeIn resolution deserves the full backing of the everyone in the New York City Council.
“Unscrupulous property speculators, developers, landlords and those bankrolling them, along with their spokesman REBNY President John Banks, have targeted labor unions like they have targeted small businesses as irrelevant, expendable and an impediment to maximizing profits,” he said.
On Wednesday, Catalina Cruz, former chief of staff for City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Democratic candidate for the New York State Assembly representing District 39, told trade unionists, “You have a partner who is going to fight to make sure you are counted.”
“[Hudson Yards developer] Related [Cos.] is just the beginning — we know that,” Cruz said. “They want to take advantage of the fact that people need money to survive; that workers want to work. [But] they want to give you a measly couple of dollars; no training, no safety. We will not stand by while that happens.”
Backing progressive, pro-worker candidates and voting “yes” to curb on Real Estate Industry money on November 6, isn’t the end of the story, however.
“Ultimately, once we do all that, we need to make sure that we’re watching where elected officials are getting their money from — and if they’re showing up here and saying to count them in, but they’re taking tens, if not hundreds, if not millions of dollars from real estate…follow the money if you want to know who they work for,” Council Member Kallos added.
A spokesperson for the City Council speaker told LaborPress following Wednesday’s press conference, that both Speaker Johnson and this City Council are proud to stand with unions, and will continue to support New York City workers as they did this week.