Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Compare the Power of the UFT to Hotel Trades Council

In recent years, it [Hotel Trades Council] has helped scuttle an attempt to rezone a swath of Midtown Manhattan, halted the conversion of hotels into condominiums and pressured city officials to spend millions of dollars combating Airbnb — a company that the union views as a threat to hotels and hotel jobs. Its most recent victory came last month in New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan, when the union won a multimillion-dollar showdown with Airbnb in Jersey City over a referendum on restrictions to home sharing.... NYT - article below.
There was a fascinating piece in the NYT about the Hotel Trades Council union and its leader, Peter Ward and how he responded to the threat of  Airbnb to union hotel jobs. The subheadline says it all:

The hotel workers’ union has become one of the most feared political forces in New York.

Is the UFT a feared political force?

Compare Ward's response to that of the UFT over the assault on union jobs by charter schools, which I would estimate has taken over 10,000 potential UFT jobs away here in the city. The UFT strategy has been to accept those losses (it has been incredibly weak in organizing charter school teachers - compare that to the Chicago Teacher Union which has been very successful and has organized charter teachers into their union to the point that they were able to pull of a charter strike) but has managed to hold the line on the expansion of charters - so far.

From almost Day 1 (I was an initial supporter of the original Shanker idea of charters if they were run by teachers and were unionized) I and others urged the UFT to take a strong stand but instead Randi played her little games - by even opening our own charter which has not gotten good reviews.

Now we every day here about the evils of charters:
Why Democrats must choose between teachers and charter schools

The latest outrage is so-called Democratic candidate for president Mike Bloomberg with this arrogant in your face All-In on charters:
Bloomberg education plan to promote charter school expansion

How can someone hope to win the Democratic nomination by promoting an anti-union idea? Well, Obama did it - twice. With no pushback from the teacher unions, possibly the key people in a campaign to win the presidency. That lack of pushback has emboldened Bloomberg.

What would Peter Ward do? I think he would fire a shot across Bloomberg's bow - you will never get the nomination on our watch. That is what both the NEA and AFT should be saying today. But they won't.

Here is the NYT article:
The hotel workers’ union has become one of the most feared political forces in New York.

With the presidential campaign of Mayor Bill de Blasio foundering from the start, desperation mode hit early. He needed money, support — anything that might prolong his chances.
The mayor’s crisis became one union’s opportunity.
The Hotel Trades Council endorsed Mr. de Blasio for the Democratic nomination and then spent $440,000 on ads outside New York supporting his candidacy. It marshaled a torrent of small-dollar contributions from thousands of room attendants and bartenders, bellhops and banquet waiters — accounting for about 30 percent of all of Mr. de Blasio’s total donors.
For Peter Ward, the council’s president, the effort served two purposes. It gave the union a chance to demonstrate its small-donor operation in a way that he said would “be visible to candidates” in future races, like the 2021 mayoral contest.
But Mr. Ward was after something else: new rules that would effectively restrict most nonunion hotels from opening in New York City. He may soon get what he wants.
With a potent mixture of campaign cash, canny bets on local races and union members ready to take to the streets, Mr. Ward has transformed his union of 33,600 hotel workers into one of the most imposing political forces in New York.
In recent years, it has helped scuttle an attempt to rezone a swath of Midtown Manhattan, halted the conversion of hotels into condominiums and pressured city officials to spend millions of dollars combating Airbnb — a company that the union views as a threat to hotels and hotel jobs.
Its most recent victory came last month in New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan, when the union won a multimillion-dollar showdown with Airbnb in Jersey City over a referendum on restrictions to home sharing.
Across the nation, organized labor has been suffering a decades-long loss in power and numbers, with anti-union legislation and court rulings expediting the decline.
But there has also been recent evidence of resurgence, in places like West Virginia and on the Democratic presidential campaign trail, and the New York hotel union’s efforts are another stark example.
The union is now close to a groundbreaking win in New York: Mayor de Blasio has directed his administration to draft rules that would require hotel developers to obtain a special permit before they can build, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions, a move that would assure input from the union-friendly City Council.
The requirement would almost certainly lead to fewer new nonunion hotels and more union jobs, industry experts said.
“To me, the definition of stupid is a person who doesn’t exercise some kind of enlightened self-interest,” Mr. Ward said in a recent interview. “You have choices about things that benefit you. Most people are smart enough to pick the better choice.”
In more than 40 interviews with elected leaders, union officials, real estate developers, political consultants and business executives, most offered praise for Mr. Ward’s ingenuity and political savvy. Many said they feared his wrath. Few were willing to go on the record.
“The old Machiavellian question: Would you would rather be feared or loved?” said James Skoufis, a Democratic state senator who has tangled with the union. “H.T.C. clearly would rather be feared.”

The union, while small compared to some in New York, maintains its outsize political power through the loyalty of its members, which Mr. Ward, 62, has secured by battling to get them some of the most generous pay and benefits of any hotel workers in the country.
A room attendant in the Hotel Trades Council makes nearly $34 an hour in wages — at least $10 more than the hourly wage in cities like Los Angeles or Chicago, the union said — and receives generous health care and retirement benefits. (Nonunion attendants often make far less.)
Members are expected to be politically active: to attend phone banks for candidates, knock on doors, go to rallies. “You commit your time to be an activist for your interest,” said Mr. Ward, a high school dropout who started as a clerk in the union four decades ago. He now earns a total of $515,000 from his position in the Hotel Trades Council, combined with his roles in the international Unite Here — a union for American and Canadian hotel and garment workers — and in its local affiliate, according to federal filings.
The targets of the union’s activism are chosen strategically, either because they further one of the union’s narrow interests — special hotel permits, casino expansion — or demonstrate its political organizing strength.
“What makes them unique is how much they’re punching above their weight,” said Councilman Rory Lancman of Queens, who lost a Queens congressional race in 2012 to a Hotel Trades Council-backed candidate, in an early demonstration of their electoral influence.
When a new buyer of the Waldorf Astoria announced that it intended to convert the hotel to condominiums, Mr. Ward seemed to lack leverage — so he helped to create some.
The City Council soon took up a bill to place a two-year moratorium on condominium conversions. The bill, moved by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at the union’s behest, would have directly affected the new Waldorf owners.
There was concern among some senior City Hall officials that the measure might be illegal. Nonetheless, the mere possibility that the bill might pass gave Mr. Ward the pressure he needed to cut a deal that provided the hotel’s union workers with a $149 million severance package.
The Waldorf owners agreed to the severance deal “to have some certitude” about the legislation, Mr. Ward acknowledged in the interview in the union’s nondescript Midtown Manhattan headquarters.
With the severance deal in place, a last-minute carve out to exempt the Waldorf was inserted in the bill, allowing the conversion to proceed.
Among the union’s most important yet least heralded victories came six years ago in its war with Airbnb.
Airbnb had negotiated a deal with Eric T. Schneiderman, then the state attorney general, to pay a lump sum to settle back taxes, collect taxes on future stays and cooperate with authorities trying to investigate renters with multiple listings — a calculated decision to accept some regulation in order to gain legitimacy.
Before putting pen to paper, Mr. Schneiderman presented the deal in person to Mr. Ward.
Mr. Ward was not pleased and complained vociferously, including to City Hall, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
Soon after, the council’s international counterpart, Unite Here, donated $200,000 to Mayor de Blasio’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York. Mr. Ward said he had nothing to do with the contribution.
Two days later, the deal with Airbnb abruptly fell apart.
Airbnb’s increasing presence in New York would draw Mr. Ward into action again. In September 2017, he convened a group of top hotel executives to the Liaison hotel in Washington and asked them for $10 million to battle Airbnb, according to four people with direct knowledge of the gathering.
Several companies agreed to give, ultimately contributing about half the requested amount, according to one of the people.
The money went to a nonprofit entity, known as Share Better, for a media campaign run by Neal Kwatra, Mr. Ward’s longtime political strategist, who was also at the meeting in Washington. Since then, the hotel industry’s money has been spent on community meetings, mailers, online ads and television spots to counter Airbnb’s message.
In the last decade, the union has poured more than $7 million directly into state races, usually benefiting Democrats, sometimes helping Republicans — but always acting in the union’s own interests. The union employed four outside lobbying firms this year, state records show, and has paid at least $600,000 in lobbying fees since 2015.
In 2016, as Democrats across New York were trying to oust Republicans from the State Senate, the Hotel Trades Council used two entities to donate $210,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee to help keep that party in power.
Republicans in the Senate had supported the union’s priority in Albany that year: legislation to empower the state to fine hosts up to $7,500 if they illegally listed a property on a rental platform like Airbnb. “I don’t think the bill gets passed without them,” Mr. Ward said.
Meanwhile, Democrats like Senator Skoufis and Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol of Brooklyn, who have supported legislation that would help Airbnb, have faced the union’s wrath and threats to unseat them.
“I must be the only person in the Legislature who opposed this union,” said Mr. Lentol.
In New York City, the union used $400,000 from its independent expenditure committee to boost a slate of City Council candidates in 2017; that slate then backed the union’s choice for speaker, Mr. Johnson, a Manhattan councilman and longtime ally of the union.
The union’s support of Mr. de Blasio has been just as opportunistic, but less direct. It did not back him for mayor during the 2013 Democratic primary, instead spending more than $400,000 to support his rival, Christine Quinn.
But immediately after Mr. de Blasio's victory, Mr. Ward strongly backed the mayor’s push on universal prekindergarten and, later, on affordable housing.
The union’s most noticeable support of the mayor came in June, when it announced it would endorse Mr. de Blasio for the Democratic nomination for president.
It raised more than $80,000 for his campaign, according to an analysis of available campaign finance filings by The New York Times.
The $440,000 in advertising buys fueled the few images voters in Iowa and South Carolina saw of the New York City mayor before he dropped out of the race.
A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, Jane Meyer, said “no contributions or endorsements ever factor into” decision making at City Hall.
For years, Mr. Ward’s biggest priority has been the creation of a special permit for all new hotel construction in New York City. The permit would require hotel developers to get approval on individual projects from the City Council, providing Mr. Ward with leverage to ensure new hotels are unionized.
Developers complain that the rule would add two years to what is already a roughly three-year process, making it all but impossible to plan or build new hotels in the city at a time of record tourism.
“Effectively speaking, it’s a ban,” said Gene Kaufman, one of the city’s most prolific architects for new hotels.
Noah Kazis, a legal fellow at New York University’s Furman Center, said that special permits create a discretionary process — giving a veto to politicians — and “discretionary processes add costs, add delay and add uncertainty to the development process, which is one of the reasons why New York has historically avoided them.”
Indeed, the idea of extending the permits citywide has caused dismay among planners and some senior officials inside City Hall, who believe that the policy has little justification from a city planning perspective, could spur other industries or unions to seek similar protections and might be illegal.
Nonetheless, Ms. Meyer, the mayoral spokeswoman, said the city is trying to implement the policy before Mr. de Blasio leaves office.
Union officials said the conversations with the city over citywide permits had been going on for months before their endorsement of Mr. de Blasio for president. Mr. Ward said that he never asked for the mayor’s support on the special permits in exchange for the union’s presidential endorsement.
“I mean, Jesus Christ, how stupid would you be to have that conversation?” he said. 

J. David Goodman covers lobbying, fund-raising and the influence of money in politics. A former reporter in City Hall and at police headquarters in New York, he has written about government, politics and criminal justice for The Times since 2012. @jdavidgoodman 

1 comment:

  1. Great article and post. The thing that struck me was that the hotel union demanded an active participating rank and file. The UFT has intentionally cultivated an apathetic rank and file. Then the obvious comparisons between Ward and Mulgrew - Mulgrew gave money to deBlasio before the last contract negotiation and we got what is historically the worst contract ever ( barring the co-sponsored Bloomberg/Weingarten 2005 UFT suicide note).


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.