Represent NYC: Saving Lives and Protecting Our Rights

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

story.

 

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

talked about.

 

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

session?

 

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

mandated."

 

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

for voters.

 

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

sure?

 

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

senate.

 

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

out?

 

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.