Union-affiliated PACs put millions to work for New York City Council candidates

As corporate and real estate-funded groups spend heavily to make their mark on a new class of city council members, unions are putting last-minute money behind pro-worker candidates.

Five independent spending groups affiliated with unions lost more than $ 2 million to stimulate 47 city council candidates in the five boroughs, according to a June 17 spending analysis by THE CITY.

That works out to an average of nearly $ 44,000 per candidate – but Crystal Hudson, who competes in a packed Brooklyn race, benefited the most as the June 22 primaries approached.

With competitive races for 35 of the 51 seats that make up the city council, interested parties see a historic opportunity to elect a slate of members who will serve as a check on the new mayor and push legislation that guides the city into a post-pandemic future. .

One of the groups, Hard Work 2021 – a coalition of SEIU 32BJ, Communications Workers of America District 1, District Council 37 Public Employees Union, Hotel Trades Council and New York State Nurses Association – spent $ 980,949, the most money of any super PAC affiliated to a trade union.

The money paid for digital video ads and multilingual direct mail that declare candidates “strong at work.”

” Trade unions [are] joining a clear message that is more or less uniquely focused on workers and workers’ rights, ”said Hae-Lin Choi, spokesperson for CWA and the independent spending group. “We really feel like we have the power, the responsibility and the opportunity to shape these Council races… We are at the table, fundamentally, to shape the recovery to make sure we don’t forget the essential workers. . “

While the five unions have long worked closely together, Labor Strong represents the first time they have teamed up to financially support political candidates – an effort of around a year and a half, according to Choi.

Recovery for workers

Although the five groups are not always aligned with a single candidate in a district, their messages on postcards, digital ads, flyers and websites are similar: they emphasize the importance of protecting workers during the recovery. pandemic and highlight candidates – a mix of newcomers and incumbents – who pledge to fight for union jobs, affordable housing and health care.

“We know how quickly after a crisis the focus will be on supporting businesses and recovering the economy – depending on real estate and big business,” Choi said. But labor groups want to focus on continued support for “the workers we all applauded for during the darkest times.”

Labor force has so far backed 29 city council candidates, but with a total budget of just over $ 1 million, PAC plans to support a total of 34 candidates. The group will not spend on other races, unlike the other four independent work-related expenses.

Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC supported 15 candidates for the Council with $ 145,804. Carpenters for progress, an independent expense affiliated with the District Carpenters Council, spent $ 113,544 to support four candidates for city council.

Plows Build a Better New York fell $ 142,610 in support of 14 candidates for Council supported by Mason Tenders and Laborers Local 79, a union of construction workers. Hotel workers for stronger communities, financed by the hotel unions Hotel Trades Council and UNITE HERE, supported 11 Council candidates with a total of $ 677,987.

In total, the groups rained the most in Queens, spending $ 762,840 to support 17 candidates. These top three beneficiaries were Austin Shafran, Amit Bagga, and Sandra Ung, with $ 133,137, $ 116,299, and $ 93,671 spent on each, respectively.

Candidates fought for and then touted union approvals, which sometimes came with the manpower needed to make many calls and knock on many doors for candidates.

Spending by independent labor expense groups – which aren’t allowed to coordinate with campaigns – goes beyond a simple badge of approval. It is an effort to compete with other interests by pumping money into races and to allow candidates to stand out in a crowded field.

“We were naive to think you could do this without getting more serious about money,” said Ed Ott, former executive director of the New York Central Labor Council and former distinguished speaker at CUNY.

The $ 2.06 million spent by union affiliated PACs exceeds the expenses of two independent expense groups financed mainly by real estate money, Common sense NYC and New York voters, who lost $ 783,920 and $ 184,444 respectively on city council races.

In some cases, the candidates supported by work and real estate overlap. Shaun Abreu of Manhattan, for example, is supported by Voters of NYC, Carpenters, Empire Strong and Hotel Workers.

In other cases, Common Sense NYC has opposed worker-backed candidates, like Brooklyn’s Alexa Aviles, when they benefited from Labor Strong’s spending.

“With the real estate industry and the workers building things, we want to eat and they want to grow. There’s a symbiotic relationship there, ”said Ott. “Where we differ: They want to build it as cheaply as possible, and we want to make a really living living wage with benefits. “

Crystal clear

The groups collectively spent the most money on behalf of Brooklyn District 35 candidate Hudson. Three of the five groups – Carpenters, Empire Strong and Hotel Workers – supported her with $ 187,892.

The second highest amount, $ 153,844, was spent on behalf of Carmen De La Rosa of Manhattan, a current member of the State Assembly, by four of the five groups: Empire Strong, Hotel Workers, Labor Strong and Laborers Building in Better New York.

“My campaign talks about things that work families care about: more unionized jobs, a guaranteed paycheck, protections for workers like extended paid sick leave, a permanent relief and sponsored benefits fund. by the city and really affordable housing, ”Hudson said in a statement.

Crystal Hudson.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

She added that she was focusing on uplifting workers who were “on the front lines of this pandemic”.

It’s a message resonating with John Santos, vice president of 32BJ and director of the New York subway, who is also concerned about union members who haven’t worked because of the pandemic.

“Hundreds of our members at Barclays have been out of work for almost a year and a half and our residential members are putting their lives at risk every day during the height of the pandemic to keep everyone safe,” Santos said.

He said he believed Hudson would promote good jobs and fight for the more than 1,000 members of his union who live or work in the district, which includes Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Downtown Brooklyn. and part of Bedford-Stuyvesant. .

Michael Hollingsworth, a tenant organizer and main rival of Hudson in the district, saw only $ 4,575 in spending on his behalf from Laborers Building in Better New York. (Labor Strong didn’t spend in the district because the groups involved couldn’t agree on a candidate, Choi said.)

His obtaining the support of the Mason Tenders was based on his involvement in a particularly busy development project in the district: the Bedford Union Armory.

The Armory is an abandoned city-owned building that is being transformed into a community recreation center with adjoining apartments. Construction workers complained about the use of non-union labor on the project, which also met with strong opposition from local tenant advocacy organizations who voiced concerns over gentrification. .

“There was a big argument a few years ago about the Bedford Union Armory project, which we opposed, and Hollingsworth was there. on the picket lines with us, ”said Mike McGuire, District Council Director for Mason Tenders. “We love her. We love Crystal too, but the pre-existing relationship with Hollingsworth wins out.”

Limited-time Democratic Council member Laurie Cumbo supported the development. As they race to replace her, Hollingsworth and Hudson have both said they oppose the project. Hudson previously worked for Cumbo.

“I am proud to have fought alongside Workers Local 79 against the redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory, and I continue to support them,” Hollingsworth said in a statement.

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