What does a Senate supermajority mean for labor?
Stephon Johnson | 12/3/2020, midnight
New York State Senate Democrats have a lot to celebrate about at the end of the year.
Weeks after Election Day, Senate Democrats have sealed up a 42 to 21 supermajority for the liberal wing of the State Senate. Democrats can now implement their agenda with no roadblocks. Outside of general questions over whether or not they do it, one question hovers around the minds of many: what does this mean for the labor movement?
Unions have seen President Donald Trump’s administration doing everything in their power to take away the union’s power. During his run he picked Peter Robb to run the National Labor Relations Board. The same Robb from President Ronald Reagan’s administration who fired striking air-traffic controllers in 1981. Trump’s NLRB banned unions from bargaining COVID-19 safety and eliminated President Barack Obama-era mandates slowing down the process of union elections. In July, Trump rolled back more regulations saying it would grow the economy and allow businesses to flourish.
Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU, hopes the state and President-Elect Joe Biden can stem the tide. But he’s looking to the state first.
Bragg stated that the people of New York have spoken and want Albany to “…to fight for economic and social justice for all New Yorkers. COVID has laid bare extreme inequities for Black and Brown communities, and has deepened the divide between those who have access to good jobs, health care, paid sick days and quality education and those who are falling further behind due to the pandemic. By voting for a supermajority that supports working people, New Yorkers made it clear that they want real solutions to the problems facing our state.”
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will now oversee something the Democrats have fought for a long time: a veto-proof Senate. While the Senate has accomplished some Democratic victories like banning chokeholds and overall police reform, they can now pass laws without New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s input. Some of the issues Democrats have wanted to tackle? Legalization of marijuana and taxes on the rich and wealthy.
Stewart-Cousins said that, on top of COVID-19 related laws regarding evictions, she and the Senate have their eyes on union issues.
“By sending a supermajority of Senate Democrats to Albany, New Yorkers have made it clear that they want government to keep working for them and standing up for New York values and for the hardworking men and women of this State,” said Stewart-Cousins. “The Senate Majority is ready to lead New York on the pathway of rebuilding while standing up for our brothers and sisters in labor and by passing progressive legislation that will allow New Yorkers from every corner of the state to thrive.”
It also gives Democrats the power to redraw state districting lines as they so choose since they don’t need Republican input.
The state’s financial well-being is at stake with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on all fronts in 2020. The state could legalize sports gambling, something that Cuomo isn’t a fan of. They could also potentially kill off rent and mortgage payments while New York is in a state of emergency.
With a projected revenue shortfall of $59 billion, some of these measures can help put money back in union members’ pockets. New York State Senator Jamaal Bailey said that he’s ready to welcome the voice of labor in the room.
“As a product of labor, I have great respect and support for the labor movement. I believe that having a supermajority in the Senate will allow for many necessary reforms to take place. Additionally, having representation from all regions of the state will allow for a diverse set of issues and priorities. Labor is something that has always been of importance within the democratic conference and will continue to be a main focus within the supermajority.”
Bailey also said that he isn’t worried about any pushback from the GOP.
“Although I have differences with the NY GOP, I have always gotten along with my Senate colleagues from across the aisle. I have had some incredible conversations with them and have always had respect for them.”
But the GOP expressed displeasure with labor unions potentially having more power in state government. NYGOP Chairman Nick Langworthy asserted that labor power will drive businesses out of New York.
“New York is already the least business-friendly climate in the nation and the Senate Democrats’ big-government agenda will kill even more jobs and small businesses that are already reeling as a result of the pandemic,” said Langworthy in an emailed statement. “While Democrats cater to union bosses to protect their own political power, Republicans will offer a bold economic agenda that will lift everyone up—business owners and workers alike.”
Bragg, however, isn’t worried about what a Democratic supermajority means for business in New York State. He’s more concerned with what those businesses do to their employees, how law enforcement treats Black and Brown people and the tribulations of undocumented New Yorkers.
“Now Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and members of the Senate can continue to lead the way on workers’ rights, voting rights, racial justice, police and criminal justice reform, protections for immigrants, and climate justice,” said Bragg.