New York City council staffers unionize
The New York City Council aides who banded together to form a union have gotten their approval. | Zack Frank/Shutterstock

NEW YORK (PAI)—Some 356 New York City Council staffers are now union members, joining 21 financial analysts who previously unionized, their union, the Association of Legislative Employees, announced.

The combined total of 377 members makes ALE, which will be an independent union, the largest union of legislative staffers in the U.S., the organizing committee said.

Their union also follows a recent trend among workers in legislative and political offices. Staffers at several Democratic presidential campaigns, notably Sen. Bernie Sanders’ workers, unionized last year. This year, staffers of at least one legislature, Oregon, did so. All those efforts came through voluntary recognition.

Indeed, in the Big Apple, this 21-month organizing drive was characterized by more than just voluntary recognition. Instead, by January, it had outright support from 28 of the council’s 51 members. It also had wide support from other Big Apple unions, including one which represents workers at the city’s Office of Public Advocate.

Ordinarily, legislative staffers for politicians—including members of Congress—are “at will” employees, whose salaries can vary wildly and who are subject to their bosses’ whims. The same non-standards apply to political campaign workers, too.

Whims, pay, and working conditions were keys in this drive. One “whim” was far more than that: Former council member Andy King’s repeatedly intimidated and punished staffers to prevent them from testifying about his sexual harassment. King was later expelled. And staff noticed when council members gave themselves a $36,000 yearly raise in 2016, to $148,500.

Health and safety played a part in the organizing success, leaders of the drive told an Aug. 26 press conference. A key issue is negotiating the safe return to work of staffers who had to shift to remote work when the coronavirus pandemic hit New York hard—and first.

“As a working mom, I cannot begin to tell you how challenging it has been to balance my profession without compromising my family obligations,” said Kristia Winter, legislative director for Council Member Farah Louis. “There is no work-life balance when we log far more than the 35 hours full-timers are compensated for weekly. As staffers, we need to be heard, by having a seat at the table where we can weigh in on how the council can become a safe, equitable, and inclusive workplace for all.”

“We need to change unfair policies that underpay and overwork staff, which contributes to the high turnover rate,” added Kana Ervin, deputy chief of staff for Council Member Margaret Chin.

Following the voluntary recognition by their bosses—the council members—the ALE will draw up a constitution, set bargaining aims, and elect a bargaining committee, organizers said.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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