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Embattled Cuomo looks to labor for support

By Suzanne Bates

As the number of sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo mount, the embattled governor has relied on his friends in the labor movement to stand by him.

Melissa DeRosa, the top unelected official in state government, and a former union employee, so far has stood by Cuomo despite the increasing number of allegations. DeRosa’s father is Giorgio DeRosa, a powerful New York lobbyist and former political director for Public Employees Federation (PEF), which represents 55,000 public employees in New York.

In a 2017 speech, Melissa DeRosa said women in senior leadership had not done enough to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.

“The lack of progress that’s been made in this area … is a direct result of the fact that women in senior leadership positions did not use those positions to speak frankly on these topics,” she said.

Cuomo has denied sexual harassment allegations, which surfaced soon after he was weakened by a New York Attorney General report that detailed how his administration hid the true number of Covid-19 nursing home deaths. 

Cuomo received the backing of several unions when he ran for reelection in 2018, including 1199 SEIU, PEF, and Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) – and as of yet, none of those unions have distanced themselves from him. 

While unions like AFSCME, which is affiliated with CSEA, and SEIU, which has itself faced allegations of covering up sexual harassment by senior leaders, spoke out in strong support of the #metoo movement, union leaders have remained silent about the allegations against Cuomo.

While Cuomo hasn’t always had an easy relationship with labor leaders, recent moves show he is increasingly trying to court their support and favor. A recent New York Times profile noted how Cuomo has “rewarded unions that would stand with him come campaign season…”, or, it seems, that would stand with him during a crisis. 

Despite previously expressing reservations, Cuomo agreed to a large tax increase on higher income individuals in the state budget – something several state unions lobbied for. The budget also blocked spending on charter schools, despite long waiting lists at those schools. That change was made in consultation with New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and United Federation of Teachers (UFT), according to Michael Benedetto, chair of the Assembly’s education committee.

Earlier this month, Cuomo appointed several state union leaders to a committee tasked with building a monument to essential workers in New York City. Appointees include presidents of all the major public sector unions – including Andrew Pallotta, president of NYSUT; Wayne Spencer, president of PEF; Mary Sullivan, president of CSEA; Mario Cilento, president of New York AFL-CIO; and George Greshem, president of 1199 SEIU.

Cuomo also recently backed a salary increase for state employees, after pushing for months for a delay because of the pandemic. 

Whether labor will continue to stand with Cuomo if more allegations emerge remains to be seen. So far, Cuomo has managed to keep labor leaders in his camp.

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.

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