Cuomo’s Minimum-Wage Push is Really Big Labor’s

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice (MCCEJ)—the union-backed coalition behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s minimum wage push—has reportedly spent $1.72 million this year on Fight for $15 lobbying.

It begs the question: Whom is the governor really fighting for?

MCCEJ is an offshoot of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of America’s most political labor unions. The SEIU spent as much as $50 million on the Fight for $15 from 2012 to 2014 alone—long before ramping up efforts in 2015 and early 2016. According to state lobbying reports, MCCEJ and SEIU Local 1199—the union’s most politically active arm—are located in the same midtown office building.

And a deeper dive into data compiled by the National Institute for Money in State Politics shows a rather cozy relationship between Cuomo and the fiercest fighter for $15. The SEIU’s national headquarters has made six separate donations to Cuomo’s campaigns totaling $90,000 since 2006. SEIU Local 32BJ has written 16 checks to Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul that surpass $90,000. And Local 1199 leads the pack: The union has contributed more than $152,100 to the governor dating back to his run for attorney general in 2006.

Through MCCEJ, the SEIU even paid for Cuomo’s RV and meeting space for a recent event—further blurring the lines between union organizing and Democratic politicking. The relationship goes way back: “We have a good relationship with Andrew Cuomo,” SEIU 1199 spokeswoman Leah Gonzalez said back in 2010. “We certainly hope and expect that to continue.”

So back to the question: Is Cuomo fighting for hardworking New Yorkers or the state’s union bosses? Consider this observation by Susan Lerner, executive director of the nonpartisan Common Cause New York: “This is setting up a shadow government and it blurs the line between private campaigning and public policy.”

Union causes and Democratic causes are now almost impossible to separate. A new analysis from the Center for Union Facts found that America’s largest unions sent nearly $420 million to the Democratic Party and closely aligned liberal special interest groups from 2012 to 2014. The SEIU’s national headquarters contributed over $12 million to the Democratic Party and left-wing groups on its own (without even taking into account local and regional affiliates).

But where do union members stand? In 2014, 38% of those in union households voted Republican. In 2012, that number was 43%. The SEIU’s national president, Mary Kay Henry, recently acknowledged that “64% of our public members identify as conservative and are much more interested in the Republican debate than the Democratic debate at this moment.” The SEIU later claimed that the number is closer to 36%, still a substantial minority.

Yet the nearly $420 million dished out by the Big Labor was almost exclusively taken from member dues. And in states without right-to-work laws—such as New York—union members are essentially forced to scratch union leadership’s political itch. There is no law requiring union bosses to obtain affirmative consent from their members before spending dues money on left-wing politics and lobbying—or fancy RVs for that matter.

Shouldn’t union members have the right to conscientiously object?

Fortunately, Congress is working to guarantee it. The Employee Rights Act is one piece of legislation which would allow the union workforce to sign off on political expenditures before they’re stamped and shipped. The bill would protect worker voice by protecting workers’ paychecks.

If SEIU bosses have the right to pay for Governor Cuomo’s RV, then SEIU members have the right to say yes or no.