Cuomo will make peace with the unions before 2016

It was organized labor unions that gave working people in this country a chance to share in the American dream. Now these same unions are under attack and it shows in the decreasing numbers of Americans who join unions. Some of the problems, of course, have to do with the often incorrect perception on the part of many Americans that unions have been infiltrated by shady characters and are led by fat cats who smoke big cigars and ride around in fancy cars. This narrative continues that the initiative that made this country great has been drained out of the American spirit because of unions. In a lot of places, when people are asked to join a union they do not, fearing that their already low wages will be drained even further and that they will have little to show for their investment.

Nevertheless, my bet is that unions will rise again. Many of the worst among them have been purged of the bad seeds or have at least learned their lessons. In fact, those elected leaders who have harnessed the public antipathy toward unions do so at their own risk. My bet is that the sleeping tiger may well wake up and bite them in the posterior. Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, and his compatriot, Andrew Cuomo, who some of the state’s workers are calling “Governor One Percent,” have waged a somewhat successful campaign to cut down on the benefits that civil service unions enjoy. In fact, there are rumblings among organized state, county and city workers that portend big trouble for anyone who thinks it’s wise to scapegoat the people who carry the bedpans, repair the roads, teach the children, nurse the sick, risk their lives on our mean streets and in our prisons, and care for the mentally ill and the addicted. My labor sources tell me that “…we will never forget Cuomo’s perfidy.”

The members of the Legislature who went along with Cuomo’s plan to cut down on benefits have been feeling the heat but they did put the brakes on much of what the governor wanted. In order to understand why the leaders of both the Republican Senate and the Democratic Assembly said ‘no’ to much of Andrew’s plan, you must understand the history of the relationship between both houses and the unions. Many years ago, under the direction of labor leaders like Norman Adler, a deal was cut with both the Assembly Democrats and the Senate Republicans that they would be the beneficiaries of union money and campaign help. In fact, when it looked like the Democrats would take the Senate, organized civil service unions still supported the Senate Republicans. It should come as no surprise that the very aggressive governor who was going for far more was held to a minimum by the two leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos. Now it remains to be seen whether the unions are angry enough to get even with the governor. Many, me included, believe that Cuomo, the Machiavellian pragmatist, will find a way to win back the unions. In other words, he’ll give them something big. That has always been his style. He makes peace with his enemies. He appears to think that everyone has his or her price. The list of such conquests goes on and on.

From the beginning, the number “2016” has been on everyone’s lips. The theory is that Cuomo will run for president that year. But something interesting happened last week. United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who succeeded Hillary Clinton, announced that she would be the first to support Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Andrew heard that. More importantly, union support in that primary, if such a thing happens, is going to be crucial, not only in New York but across the country. What is that old saying, “Revenge is a dish best served cold?” Andrew has some repair work to do, and fast. But is it too late?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/26/12

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