Thomas Hartnett, ex-state labor head, dies

Thomas Hartnett, the former head of labor for

Thomas Hartnett, the former head of labor for New York State who 25 years ago helped broker a resolution to a Long Island Rail Road union strike, died on Aug. 28, 2012, of complications from cancer. He was 67. Newsday's obituary for Thomas Hartnett
(Credit: Handout)

Thomas Hartnett, the former head of labor for New York State who 25 years ago helped broker a resolution to a Long Island Rail Road union strike, died on Aug. 28 from complications from cancer, his wife said. He was 67.

Hartnett, who lived in Albany, grew up in the Bronx, graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1972 and received a law degree from Seton Hall University in 1976. He practiced labor law before joining then-Gov. Mario Cuomo's office of employee relations in 1983.

Longtime friend and colleague Richard Winsten said Hartnett was one of the architects of the modern Empire Plan health benefits plan for municipal workers in the state.

As Cuomo's chief negotiator, Hartnett played a critical role in ending an 11-day strike by LIRR workers in 1987.

"Tom was a master of finding a win-win solution -- something that each side could walk away from feeling that they achieved something, but also served a larger good," said Winsten, co-chairman of the government-relations practice at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein in Garden City.

Winsten noted that Hartnett held jobs as a bouncer and a cabdriver before becoming an attorney. "He knew what it was like to work for a living, and never forgot where he came from," Winsten said.

Later in 1987, Cuomo promoted Hartnett to be New York State's commissioner of labor, a job he held until 1991. In that post, Hartnett helped reform state child labor laws and increased the state minimum wage and unemployment insurance benefits, colleagues said.

"He was a pro," Cuomo said yesterday. "He was extremely bright and a very hard worker. He was a really good public servant for a long time and we are indebted to him."

In 1991, Hartnett joined Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, working in Albany in the firm's labor and government-relations practices. He represented the Shinnecock Nation in its bid to open a casino on Long Island.

Nancy Hodes, Hartnett's wife of 10 years, called her husband an "extremely compassionate" man who, even while hospitalized in his final days, was concerned with making sure his mail carrier got the Mets tickets he promised him.

"I loved him dearly," she said.

Hartnett is survived by four children, two stepchildren, and three grandchildren. He was buried Saturday at the Albany Rural Cemetery in Albany.

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