Earlier in April, incumbent New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) must have assumed that he was cruising to re-election. As a staunch Labor Union ally who passed a bill raising the state minimum wage to $15 per hour, a fierce foe of gun rights, and the son of talismanic liberal former Governor Mario Cuomo, he should be in great shape.
Instead, Governor Cuomo is flailing, pushing left-wing policies that the Wall Street-backed, often economically centrist governor has previously opposed. Just last week, Cuomo proposed banning plastic shopping bags, after he had shot down efforts by New York City to institute a 5-cent bag tax.
The problem? Cuomo’s allies in Big Labor used member dues to grow a political alligator which wants nothing more than to eat him. Meet the Working Families Party (WFP), a political faction once strongly aligned with the state’s labor unions which controls a ballot access line under New York’s weird “fusion voting” system. The party, in alignment with the establishment leadership of major New York government-worker unions like the New York City’s powerful teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and unions with business before the state like the healthcare workers’ 1199 SEIU, historically has supported Democratic officeholders, including Gov. Cuomo.
But Cuomo’s re-election hit a pothole when the WFP decided to endorse left-wing actress Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial bid, potentially setting up a three-way race in the fall, assuming Cuomo wins the Democratic primary. The Daily Kos just picked Cynthia Nixon as well, calling her a “true progressive.” Unions appear to be reaping their just desserts for spending hundreds of thousands of members’ political checkoff and mandatory dues dollars on creating a radical left-wing faction.
The Working Families Party used to be the handmaid of Big Labor, which orchestrated the WFP’s creation in alignment with the community organizing activist groups which grew out of the now-defunct ACORN network. The WFP New York State Committee divides power between these union leaders and a number of left-wing advocacy groups. But since 2014, when the WFP threatened to support a challenger to Cuomo, establishment government-aligned unions including 1199 SEIU healthcare workers union and the UFT, have started to flee the WFP they helped create.
The last of the big labor unions backing the WFP have seen the WFP’s endorsement of Nixon as a clear declaration of war on their interests. The janitors’ union, SEIU 32BJ, which provided the Working Families Party with $218,350 in 2016, announced it would leave the party after WFP endorsed Nixon. Even the Communications Workers of America — arguably the most left-wing private-sector union in America — which had vowed to increase its support for the WFP after the party endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Presidential primary, announced that it too was walking away.
Labor’s departure from the WFP leaves the party as the representative of a number of community organizing groups—many of which even today rely on union largesse. New York Communities for Change (NYCC), an ACORN successor group which rose to national notice for serving as the “worker center” supporting the SEIU’s campaign to unionize McDonald’s and double the minimum wage, has stayed closely aligned with the WFP — with which it shares office space. Yet, NYCC relies on unions for much of its operating funding, receiving $301,000 from UFT and $60,787 from SEIU 32BJ in 2017. Citizen Action of New York is another WFP member organization subsidized by labor unions: In 2017, it received $72,528 from the SEIU-funded Fast Food Workers Committee and $83,500 from other labor unions, including 32BJ, the CWA, and the UFT.
But the unions aren’t the only New York liberals feeding the radical beast. Cuomo’s own government has supported the community organizers now going after him. A 501(c)(4) advocacy subsidiary of Make the Road New York, a left-wing immigrant and labor advocacy group which has received nearly 40 percent of its revenue from government sources in certain years, is also a member of the WFP.
Cuomo’s and the unions’ war with a left-wing they funded and (in the unions’ case) helped create should serve as a warning for all entities trying to advance themselves by rallying support among the extremists in their base. And no number of concessions will make them back off. Let this be a lesson: You might think the alligator you grow will never get big enough to eat you, but it often does.
As a 501(c)(3), CRC does not attempt to influence the outcome of elections, but its scholars have a long history of discussing labor trends and issues.