October 8, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
“If you don’t have a strong political program, you can’t represent your members,” says Roger Clayman, executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor. With about 250,000 union members on Long Island, from the New York State United Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Civil Service Employees Association, along with building-trades, utility, and health-care locals, the federation is active “in every town,” he adds.
Its biggest local concerns, he says, are economic development, “that public money that’s spent for job creation actually goes to creating good jobs,” and “resisting the downward pressure on jobs in the public sector.”
Most development projects that use public funds can’t document any actual job creation in the area, he explains. The Marriott hotel being constructed in Central Islip is getting $2.3 million in tax breaks from the town’s Industrial Development Agency, but it’s “being built nonunion with out-of-state workers.”
To counter this, the federation is lobbying town boards to require contractors on large or subsidized projects to have a state-approved apprenticeship program—which would effectively mean hiring union workers. It’s also trying to create apprenticeship opportunities, like the New York City District Council of Carpenters’ BuildingWorks program, for people in minority communities.
“We want to replicate them on Long Island,” says Clayman, “but you can’t replicate them with nonunion workers.” If local governments and developers are willing to work with unions, he adds, they can ensure good jobs through project-labor and community-benefits agreements.
The federation, together with IBEW Local 1049, is also collecting petitions to get the state Public Service Commission to stop National Grid, Long Island’s power company, from moving its customer-service call center from Melville to Brooklyn.
On the national level, the federation plans to lobby Long Island’s congressional delegation against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. It’s also “very much involved” on immigration, one of several issues where it’s allied with Long Island Jobs with Justice.
“It’s really a workers’ rights issue,” says Clayman, and the goal is to persuade people that “immigrants are not the enemy,” that what drives down wages is that the undocumented can’t complain about labor-law violations.
Electorally, the federation is focusing on unseating Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, hoping to turn around his policies of layoffs, service cuts, and privatization. It’s backing Democrat Tom Suozzi, who lost re-election to Mangano in 2009. Suozzi, Clayman says, “did some hard bargaining, but he never tried to break the union contract”—unlike Mangano, who the courts stopped from reopening county workers’ contracts.
The federation campaigns only among its members, Clayman says, but their numbers in Nassau far exceed Mangano’s 386-vote margin in 2009. “Reaching your own members is most effective,” he explains. In today’s media environment, this requires a “multipronged approach” of online videos, phone banking, going door-to-door, sending letters, and producing flyers. Most important, he adds, is “having workers talk to workers… having that one-on-one explaining why it matters.”