On this episode of “Represent NYC,” New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli talks with Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, about the attack on unions, labor protections and workers' rights. Later in the show, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman discusses how the State Senate was addressing the now-expired speed camera law, reproductive rights and MTA repairs.
This episode originally aired in August 2018.
Read the full episode transcript below:
Tom DiNapoli: Hello, and welcome to Represent NYC on the Manhattan
Neighborhood Network. Thank you for joining us, I'm New York
State Controller, it's my job to serve as
the state's chief financial officer, making sure New York is on
solid financial ground. New York City is a major part of our state
economy, so I keep a close eye on what's happening in the five
boroughs. Today I'll be discussing the role of labor in the city's
economy, and the recently concluded 2018 state legislative
session. My first guest, Vincent Alvarez, began his career
fighting for worker's rights with the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers Local Three in Flushing, Queens. Today, he
is president of the New York City Central Labor Council. Vinny,
it's great to see you, thanks for being on the show.
Vincent Alvarez: It's great to be here, I appreciate having me onboard on your
show today, look forward to a good conversation.
Tom DiNapoli: Labor is in the news a lot these days, and you know it from the
ground up working in Local Three and working for the chairs in
Central Labor Council, in the forefront of what's happening with
organized labor here in New York City. First, for our viewers
who may not be fully aware, tell us what the Central Labor
Council is and what the role is.
Vincent Alvarez: Well, the Central Labor Council is an affiliated body of the
National AFLCIO who has over 400 organizations like ours
throughout the nation. We're the largest regional labor
federation in the country, we represent over a million workers,
about 1.2, 1.3 million workers, they come from about 300
different unions, public sector unions, private sector unions,
construction trade unions, and we work with them on advocacy
and advancing worker's rights not only for them, but for all
working people throughout this city. It's a great job, and I've
been privileged to have it for the past seven years, and I work
with a great bunch of people.
Tom DiNapoli: It must not always be easy to get 300 unions, you said, to try to
be united on some issues. I'm sure there are times there might
be some differences of opinion and some more local interests,
but that seems to me to be a very key role for the CLC, to be the
vocal point of providing a united front. Many would argue,
today labor is under attack across the country, so a lot is on
your shoulders. How do you build that sense of solidarity among
your private sector unions, public sector unions, big unions,
small unions, some of your colleagues have strong personalities
too, I might add, they're all friends and I know them well, but
that's a lot for you to manage.
Vincent Alvarez: Well, they all have an interest in making sure that the workers
that they represent in their respective industries, that their
economic well-being is improving, that they have opportunity
that they might not otherwise have if they didn't have the
benefits of being represented collectively in the workplace.
You're right, there is an attack on labor, this is an attack that's
been taking place really now for the better part of three-plus
decades. It's a coordinated attack, it's a well-financed attack, it's
attack that's taking place throughout the country, region to
region, in every sector. It's targeted right now certainly on the
public sector unions, but a lot of private sector union members
as well have been targeted throughout the country.
Vincent Alvarez: What's really, I think, a problem is that we see ultimately that
it's hurting all working people, that even though this attack is
directed at some of really the most anti-worker corporate-
backed, well-financed people throughout this country, that
even though they see this attack directed at unionized workers,
it's affecting all working people because we've lifted
traditionally over the years, we've lifted the fall for all working
people in this country, and it bears itself out.
Tom DiNapoli: And the recent victory on raising the minimum wage certainly is
an example of that.
Vincent Alvarez: Sure. Well, ultimately what we want to do is raise wages in this
country, and you talked about wages and you talked about the
attacks, and we're referring to the recent Supreme Court case in
the… case, and really what you have to do is
if you look at the statistics and you look at this 30 or 40-year
time period, you see where workers' voice is limited, where the
attacks have really taken ahold in some of these states
throughout the country. We see the effects of it, so in right-to-
work states, you see low wages, you see union workers making
$11,000 more than their non-union counterparts, that's roughly
13% more, that's real money. That makes a real difference for
working class families throughout this country.
Vincent Alvarez: You know what's different too today I think that we haven't
seen since 15 or so years in this country, is support for unions.
61% of working people today say that they support unions, that
they view them favorably, and that's because they just want to
restore some balance in the workplace.
Tom DiNapoli: I think some of that was evidenced by the vote last year on the
constitutional convention in New York state, and labor was very
concerned about some of the protections, pension and
otherwise, that might've been affected. All the polling showed
that it was going to pass, and it was really labor that led the
argument to point out not just on labor issues but environment,
education, so many other issues that were important that could
be altered in a very negative way, and the vote ends up being
over 80% negative vote. I really do credit labor for galvanizing
the attention on that issue, so I think it does show that people,
in New York anyway, ascribe a lot of credibility.
Tom DiNapoli: I hope people don't forget where they came from, you know
when I've spoken to your and your colleagues, I always
remember my dad being a union guy, a shop steward for a
period of time, my mom was a public sector worker. New York
state continues to, we have the highest percentage of unionized
workforce of any state in the nation, and despite those threats
though, I do think that there's an advantage and credit to union
leaders like yourself who do the right thing, are responsible to
the larger community and not just your own constituency, that
while we've seen other previously labor-friendly states go in the
wrong direction, Midwest particularly, I don't think that's going
to happen here in New York, what do you think?
Vincent Alvarez: Well, I don't think so either, and it's not in anybody's interest
that that happens. In those right-to-work states that you've
mentioned, if you look at poverty rates, we talked about
income, we talked about the ability for working people to raise
to have a likelihood that they're going to have higher wages in
having a union in a workplace in your non-right-to-work states.
If you look at right-to-work states too and you look at poverty
rates, and this is something that you and I have talked about in
making sure that we have economic growth which is going to
sustain the priorities and be able to allow states and cities to
have their priorities fully funded in their municipal budgets.
Vincent Alvarez: If you look at poverty rates in right-to-work states, they're
substantially higher, they're 15.3% versus 12.8% in non-right-to-
work states. There's a lot of statistical evidence that we can look
at that when workers have a voice in the workplace, and when
workers can come together collectively to exercise that right,
that not only do they do better, but the communities in which
they live do better, all working people do better. We're going to
continue to fight for that here.
Tom DiNapoli: You mentioned the Janice decision, that's been very hot in the
news and affects the public sector unions, Supreme Court
decision that basically said the so-called "agency fee", the
requirement that non-members who get benefit of
representation without being members, that they have to pay a
certain fee, now that's changed because of the court decision,
five-four decision, probably not unanticipated given the current
makeup of the court. What do you see as the response to that?
Is it gloom and doom, is this the end of public sector union
strength to have a voice, or just how do you see the reaction to
it among the ranks of unions? Those that are very negative on
unions, they're hailing it as a major turning point, is that really
what this is?
Vincent Alvarez: Absolutely not, because firstly, everybody knows who's a union
member, what the statistics are, and we just mentioned them,
and the benefits, what it really means. I mean, this is a real
financial difference, and not only for them, but for their families
when they have a voice in the workplace, so they know what
that means, and they're going to continue to support their
unions here in New York City and here throughout our state as
well. We have about 25% workers in this city are unionized, one
in four workers, we have a history of support for the trade
union movement in this city, because we know what it means to
the economic well-being of the city and for workers, and we
also have elected officials like yourself and other elected
officials throughout the state, the governor, the mayor here
have been helpful and the legislators have been helpful at doing
what they can to help lift up and support the labor movement,
because they know that it benefits every worker. We will
continue to do the outreach and the connection that we have to
members, to make sure that we're talking to them about the
value of having that voice at work and being in a union, because
there are other folks out there that are in their ear,
unfortunately. We've talked about it, they're very well-financed,
and they are out there and they are trying to tell a different
Tom DiNapoli: Well, it also will, and I think we've seen it before the decision
was rendered, it requires the unions to do a more effective job
of communicating what are the strengths of being in a union,
and how important is it to support the union. My view as to
where it's at right now in fact, the unions have been prepared
for this and have been laying the groundwork to remind their
members how important it is to continue to support the union,
for all the reasons that you've so eloquently stated. My view is
that those that have viewed this as the end of public sector
union strength, they are somewhat celebrating a little too soon,
that's not really what is going to be the reaction.
Tom DiNapoli: In fact, some would argue that this will, in the long run,
strengthen the unions, because in fact it will require a closer
relationship between the members and the leadership.
Vincent Alvarez: It doesn't prevent us from doing the things that hopefully we've
all done in the past and will continue to do, and make sure that
we're talking to our members not even just about wages, but
about safety in the workplace, about protections if they're
injured on the job, about retirement security, which we've both
Tom DiNapoli: All the time.
Vincent Alvarez: All the time.
Tom DiNapoli: Yeah, yeah.
Vincent Alvarez: There's a lot of issues that we will continue to communicate
with our members about.
Tom DiNapoli: Certainly for New York State, we talk about it all the time, so
much of the state's economy is driven by what happens here in
the city, and the city's economy has been strong. We hope it
continues, you know there are questions to how long it will
continue, every recovery has a slowdown at a certain point, and
you mentioned the high percentage of the workforce that is
unionized here in the city. Part of the strength of the city
though is that the economy is different than it was 20, 30 years
ago, it's a more diversified economy. You're seeing a lot of small
businesses, you're seeing the tech center growing, I don't know
if that's an area where you have many union- represented jobs.
Tom DiNapoli: On the other hand, we see the strength of construction, we see
that healthcare consistently grows in terms of employment, the
social service area, hospitality, you know hotels and that sector,
many of these are very highly unionized sectors. Where do you
see the changes in the city's economy impacting on how labor
organizes its members, how the unions manage and navigate
through a changing economic landscape?
Vincent Alvarez: Well, certainly our economy has changed and diversified, I think
it's a good thing. It's diversified a lot over the past decade or so
here in New York City, and that is beneficial for all of us here in
the city, not only for the workers but for our industry partners
and allies as well. The nature of work has changed as well, and
there is a tremendous rise in non-traditional work, in contingent
work and freelancers, in 1099s, in gig economy work. That is
something that is a new reality of the economy, so while our
economy is changing, the nature of work is changing as well,
and but they're still facing the same issues in the workplace and
outside of the workplace that are going to require us to work
with them to somehow collectively all of us make sure that we
come together in industries like you mentioned, tech, that
maybe weren't traditionally organized, and say, "Hey, how do
you have, very simply, a voice in the workplace to talk about
your economic well-being, to talk about issues that you're
facing?", in their various industries.
Vincent Alvarez: Because each and every worker in these different industries are
facing issues that there is no question about, if they go in and
have a conversation with the employer, they have a
conversation with their bosses individually on their own, they
may or may not be successful, but they're going to have a much
higher degree of success when they go in and they talk about
these issues collectively.
Tom DiNapoli: You know, before we started our discussion, before the camera,
we were talking about some of the changing face of the labor
movement in terms of generational changes. In fact, when you
became head of CLC, that was a generational change, and your
counterpart at the state level. What
are you seeing as we move forward with a more diverse
community generally, a younger generation coming forward?
Certainly we know New York continues to be, thankfully, the
place where immigrants feel very welcome, and that certainly
changes the face of the workforce as well. How do you see that,
what will labor in New York City look like 10 years from now,
with the trends that you're starting to see today?
Vincent Alvarez: Well, certainly I think the trends are going to continue that we
see, higher levels of minorities living in New York City or also
working in New York City. There is a huge gap with different
generations now, I have two Millennial children and there is a
big gap certainly between the Gen X-ers, between the
Millennials, and between the Baby Boomer gap and how they
view the world, and how they view the workplace, and how
they view work. Our goal is going to be to continue to make
sure that we're bridging the gap between all of those different
generations of workers, as well as the different industries in
which they're working, and see what we can do to help them
out and to improve their lives just a little bit more.
Tom DiNapoli: With your leadership, Vinny Alvarez, I know that Central Labor
Council here in New York City is going to be successful. Thanks,
we're just about out of time, I appreciate the dialog.
Vincent Alvarez: Appreciate having me on, thanks Tom.
Tom DiNapoli: Great, we'll have you back again. Thanks, Vinny, for joining us,
we're going to take a short break. We've been discussing labor
issues with Vincent Alvarez, head of the Central Labor Council
for New York City. My next guest is going to be senator Brad
Hoylman, thanks for watching Represent NYC on the
Manhattan Neighborhood Network. We will be right back.
Tom DiNapoli: Welcome back to Represent NYC, I'm New York State Controller
Tom DiNapoli. State senator Brad Hoylman has emerged as a
leader in Albany on a number of key issues, and I'm so delighted
that senator Hoylman could take the time to be with us.
Thanks for joining us, Brad.
Brad Hoylman: Yeah, thanks for having me, Tom.
Tom DiNapoli: Our studio is right in your district here.
Brad Hoylman: It is indeed, right in the heart of Hell's Kitchen Upper West Side,
a great neighborhood that really reflects, I think, the diversity of
my district, which extends from the east side of Manhattan to
the west side.
Tom DiNapoli: Prior to your election to the state senate, you certainly had
been immersed in so many of the community issues, head of
the community board, involved with so many nonprofits,
worked partnership for New York City, a very important
leadership role, you brought your knowledge and concern for
the community, your expertise in education. Harvard Law
School, I was looking at the bio, I didn't realize, a Rhodes
Scholar, I mean look at that, wow.
Brad Hoylman: Don't hold it against me, don't hold it against me. That, and
$1.25 gets you a cup of coffee.
Tom DiNapoli: Boy, you certainly hit the ground running when you arrived in
the senate, I saw that, but you really have emerged as one of
the key leaders, just wrapped up the session. You had a number
of priorities, some successes, but a lot of disappointments. In
terms of going around your district now, you've been home,
what are you hearing and what do you say to your constituents
about the unfinished agenda and what your priorities will be as
we go through the rest of the year and head into next year's
Brad Hoylman: Well, something that I've encountered getting on the subway,
which I ride almost every day when I'm not riding a city bike,
someone will come up to me and say, "Senator Hoylman," I'm
usually so pleased that they would recognize me, and then they
say, without missing a beat, "Fix the subway." There's this real
crisis in our mass transit that I believe most New Yorkers feel
correctly hasn't been addressed, it wasn't addressed in our last
session. There's a plan put forward, but we need to fund it and
we need to figure out how to do that.
Tom DiNapoli: The leadership at the MT seems to have figured out, and there's
been some changes there, what the plan is, but the issue is how
to pay for it. That's where this back and forth between the city
and the state, and I guess to be more specific, between the
governor and the mayor that continues to create an inability to
resolve that issue, but that is going to be an issue for the city,
and you know I live on Long Island, it's an issue in terms of Long
Island Railroad, Metro North. When we talk about the economic
strength for New York City, which is key to the economic health
of New York state, if we don't have a quality public transit
system, we're going to fall backward.
Tom DiNapoli: There is a lot of concern about going back to the bad old days of
the 1970s, when there was so much neglect. I think the focus is
there, that's probably better situation than it was two or three
years ago, and a recognition of the problem, but certainly more
work to do, and I know you'll continue to try to build coalition
with suburban and urban members to deal with this issue.
There were some other issues though that you were very very
involved in, the Child Victims Act I know was a big issue for you,
women's reproductive health, and certainly in light of changes
on the US Supreme Court, and we can talk about that as well.
How did you feel when session ended, and all those loose ends,
and there were others I didn't even mention? If you go back for
a special session, what do you want to see get done?
Brad Hoylman: Well, certainly with all the tumult in Washington, and a new
Supreme Court nominee who has made it clear he opposes a
woman's right to choose in a decision that he wrote for the DC
Circuit, we need to make certain that New Yorkers, New York
women are protected. As you know very well, we do not have
the standard of Roe v. Wade in our statutes here in the state,
and we have to fix that through passing the Reproductive
Health Act. The problem has been thus far, the Republicans and
their unwillingness to bring any bill involving women's health to
the floor for a vote. I think a special session would be useful, if
only New Yorkers, who may have those senators as a
representative, would know where they stand, because up until
now, they'd been able to bob and weave around the issue of
reproductive health, saying things like, "We don't need a bill, we
don't need a law in New York because it's constitutionally
Brad Hoylman: Well, now the time has come to put that to the test, so a special
session in connection with that would be very very useful I think
Tom DiNapoli: I mean, I think to your point, many New Yorkers may not realize
or don't remember, they may be too young to remember New
York's laws on abortion predated Roe v. Wade. Then when Roe
v. Wade came in, that became the standard, and everybody said
that is the standard, but if Roe v. Wade falls, then it defaults to
the New York law, which goes back to I guess, what, the early
70s or 1970, and there's some pieces of that law that don't
make sense by our understanding of the issue in 2018. A few
years ago when this bill was first proposed, some people said
exactly as you point out, we don't need it, but who would've
thought we're in this situation?
Tom DiNapoli: I know you pay close attention to what's happening with the
Supreme Court, you're the ranking member on the judiciary
committee, among your many other important committee
assignments. It is, I guess, a stark reminder that as much as we
feel we control in our own state, and your work as a legislator,
we are very much at the mercy of what's going to be coming out
of Washington. The court changes, you know and our reports on
risk to the state budget, and by extension the city budget…
Brad Hoylman: Thank you for those.
Tom DiNapoli: Well, we try to just point out to them, because people need to
know the Trump agenda in terms of cutbacks on healthcare, on
education, on housing. However you feel philosophically about
some of those issues, it will be a real financial hit on the city and
the state, at a time where we've been in relatively good shape.
People say to me, "So, are you worried about the economy?"
You're always worried about economic cycles, but what could
hit us from Washington is really the biggest concern that I have.
Tell us, getting back to the stages of the Child Victims Act,
you've really been, every time I pick up the paper and that
issue's being debated, you're the one who gets quoted, how is it
that we haven't resolved that issue?
Brad Hoylman: It's a problem because we have so many adult survivors of child
sexual abuse in the state of New York, and they currently do not
have the opportunity to bring their abusers to justice, to
confront them, to seek civil redress in courts because of our
outdated and really punitive statute of limitations for child
sexual abuse. If you're a young person and you've been abused
as an adult, you have only until the age of 23 years to file a
criminal or civil claim against them. Once that time has passed,
you have no redress whatsoever, and what that means, Tom, is
that not only is your life damaged, and not only do you have
that pain and suffering for the rest of your adulthood and the
inability to bring closure to that issue, but that predator who
abused you is off scot free, and we've seen time and time again
in New York that these predators who have groomed young
people and abused them take advantage of this loophole, and
continue to abuse children in institutional settings, whether it
be schools or Yeshivas or churches. We really have to
put a stop to that, New York's statute of limitations is the most
punitive in the nation, so we really are protecting the predators
by virtue of this law. We need to turn that around, and I'm
really disappointed that once again, the Republicans would not
bring that to the floor for a vote. They actually broke their own
rules and would not allow a hearing on it in the judiciary
committee, which as you note, I'm the ranking member, and
they continue to basically stall. Once again though, I think the
voters are going to have something to say about it in November.
Tom DiNapoli: November. Speed cameras, that's in the papers every day, is
that likely if there is a special session to be on the agenda for
Brad Hoylman: Well, I think there's a lot of impetus to do that, because the
current law expires at the end of the month. It's just beyond me
that we couldn't come to some resolution on something as life-
saving as speed cameras in front of our schools. The data from
the Department of Transportation shows that they have been
effective in reducing speed and lowering the number of crashes.
I have a daughter who goes to public school, there was a crash
outside of her school just about a year and a half ago where
someone was injured, there's no speed camera there. The
artificial number that has been set for speed cameras should be
raised, I think the cap should be lifted in its entirety.
Brad Hoylman: What are people afraid of, getting tickets? For God's sake, these
are children's lives. It is interesting that we did manage though
to renew the law that allows ticket scalping in the state of New
York, after much debate and hullaballoo and a lot of lobbyists'
efforts, but we couldn't come together and renew the law to
extend the use of speed cameras outside of schools. That really
is a telling statement about where the priorities are in the state
Tom DiNapoli: LGBTQ issues very important, all New Yorkers, transgender
community, that's been one area where New York needs to do
more. What's your sense about how well, or if not so well, we
are in dealing with the issues related to that community?
Brad Hoylman: I really appreciate your work on examining our hate crime
statute, and in particular as it relates to transgender people, so
thank you for that. Transgender people, since Trump's election,
the truth is they are the most targeted population in the
country when it comes to hate crimes, more than any other
group, whether it be religious or ethnic minorities. Here in the
state of New York, we still do not have what I would regard as a
transgender human rights law. Transgender folks are not
protected by the hate crime statute in any part of the state of
New York, not to mention the fact that while the governor has
taken steps to prevent discrimination from healthcare
institutions or educational institutions, those are just executive
orders and have not been put into statute.
Brad Hoylman: We need to pass the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act,
it's long overdue. Transgender folks were intentionally omitted
from our Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act back in the
90s, because it wouldn't pass in the senate.
Tom DiNapoli: It wouldn't pass. I was there, I remember, yeah.
Brad Hoylman: It's too bad, because it's still the case to this day. The senate is
so bad on LGBTQ issues that there is not a single specific LGBTQ
bill that has been brought to the floor for a vote since 2011.
Tom DiNapoli: Wow. There is a changed dynamic in the senate though, and
we're talking a lot about things that didn't get done in
dysfunction, but there is some hope now with the Democrats
coming together, you know basically with three conferences
plus one person, I guess depending on how you count it. How
different did the session end from when it began, where you
had the group of Democrats that were sitting separately, and
then you all come together, how's that transition been working
Brad Hoylman: Well, it was a little odd and awkward at first, to say the least,
but I think we finished the session strongly, mostly due to the
leadership of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is a real conciliator,
she's someone who doesn't hold grudges and looks to the
future. I think that's the kind of leader we need in the senate,
and I don't think it's a coincidence that a woman is the type of
person to get that kind of job done. She's a great collaborator
with her membership and even the Republicans, so I'm looking
forward to her continued management of what, by most
accounts, is a pretty difficult situation when it comes to the
number of factions that we've had in the state senate.
Tom DiNapoli: My observation is you love what you're doing, and I know
you've been immersed in the community, I know you're the
proud father of two right now, with all the other titles you have.
Brad Hoylman: Two forever now.
Tom DiNapoli: Two forever.
Brad Hoylman: I have no news.
Tom DiNapoli: Well, we won't get into that, but-
Brad Hoylman: Two and through.
Tom DiNapoli: You never know, but it must give you a great deal of satisfaction
to know that you're making a difference at a time where some
of these issues are becoming more important and more
pressing today than we probably would've thought. I think
many of us thought the city, the state, the nation was moving in
a certain positive direction, and I sense a fair amount of concern
and despair out there. Someone like you gives me hope, and
gives, I know, your constituents, inspiration, so Senator
Hoylman, keep doing what you're doing.
Brad Hoylman: Thank you, thank you Mr. Controller, and keep doing what
you're doing. We're so appreciative of everything that you're
providing, not just my colleagues in the senate and the
assembly, but every taxpayer in the state of New York.
Tom DiNapoli: Well, I absolutely appreciate the partnership. Thanks for taking
time out of your busy schedule, get back to those great
constituents here in Manhattan, and when you see senator
Hoylman on the streets, say, "Hello senator," and tell him what
your priorities are, and Brad Hoylman will address them. It's
been a real pleasure talking with you, thank you senator. I also
want to thank New York City Central Labor Council president
Vinny Alvarez for sharing his thoughts with me today, I hope our
conversations have provided some helpful insight and
perspective to some of the issues that are shaping New York
City. I'm New York State Controller Tom DiNapoli, thank you for
watching Represent NYC on Manhattan Neighborhood Network.