Public employee unions are used to enjoying a lot of influence in state politics, as politicians turn to them for help with 'get out the vote' efforts and fundraising support. Thanks to state budget cutbacks, they've faced a rough couple of years. The passage of Tier VI legislation last week has some of them reconsidering their role in politics. Capital Tonight’s Nick Reisman reports.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- As retirement plans are scaled back and less generous contracts are negotiated, organized labor has been dealt some serious blows in Albany. Unions remain a potent force in state politics, but labor leaders say they're retooling in the wake of the newly minted Tier VI plan, the latest of their political setbacks.
NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said, "Political clout is in tact. This is a coordinated effort amongst the governor, the Senate and Assembly. They had a plan. They implemented it and it came out they way they wanted it to. For the labor movement, now it's our responsibility to re-evaluate everything moving forward."
Unions have become a target for fiscal watchdogs in an age of lean state budgets. With money scarce and elected officials loathe to raising taxes, they've turned to slicing their own budgets. Often that means cutting salaries, benefits and other employee costs. While labor has traditionally countered with affective ad campaigns, Governor Cuomo has the Committee to Save New York, a wealthy coalition of businesses backing his fiscally conservative agenda. Unions say they aren't done yet. The state teachers union rallied at the Capitol Tuesday, hoping their concerns over competitive grants for education aid will be met once the state budget is completed.
NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi said, "There's time for people to do the right thing, and there's very important issues out there we'd like to see them address, and then my leaders will look at total records, and we'll be guided by what they tell us to do."
An optional defined contribution plan similar to a 401K was altered in the final version so it only affects future non-union workers who make above 75,000 -- a move supported by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
"To the extent that was my biggest concern out there, I was pleased to see that was largely taken off the table," DiNapoli said.
The Civil Service Employees Association announced on Monday they would yank all their political support -- including endorsements and campaign cash -- in order to reassess their governmental goals. Leaders in the Assembly and Senate whose conferences have benefitted from union largesse say they aren't concerned.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said, "That's their right to do it. Some years they endorse you, some years they don't, but that's the decisions they have to make."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, "I think the public and CSEA and anybody else is free to always assess who they think is worthy of their support and support should not come as a result of a vote yes or a vote no on any particular bill.