More than a decade ago, while first running for City Council, Bill de Blasio was a paid consultant for the Service Employees International Union’s New York state council.
As a councilmember, and later the city’s public advocate, de Blasio kept an alliance with SEIU and other entities active in organized labor. And in May, a key affiliate — 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East<NO1>cq<NO> — endorsed the Brooklyn Democrat even as he trailed rivals in polls.
The organization, he said then, would be a “difference-maker” in the race.
Now the question becomes what difference the long-term alliance will make in how the new mayor governs.
Others with past SEIU affiliations are preparing to take key jobs in the new administration. First Deputy Mayor-to-be Anthony Shorris consulted part-time for then-Local 1199’s National Benefit Fund (while also an official in the city’s Department of Education). Dominic Williams, named last week as Shorris’ chief of staff, once “developed pension strategies” for SEIU, according to his transition bio. Emma Wolfe, picked as intergovernmental affairs director, has been an 1199 organizer.
Also, de Blasio’s non-paid 60-member transition team includes 1199 president George Gresham. Moreover, Patrick Gaspard, currently the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, has been a friend and political adviser to the mayor-elect. Gaspard, a former top national Democratic Party official, previously served for 9 years as executive vice president for politics and legislation for 1199SEIU.
What practical impact this SEIU thread may have “remains to be seen,” said a well-placed operative involved in city labor politics who declined to be identified. “It would probably be just a matter of shared political and social values on issues the mayor cares about, such as policing and public schools.”
Notably, this source said, neither 1199SEIU nor SEIU 32 B-J, which represents custodial and maintenance employees, would figure to be big players in upcoming municipal contract talks with City Hall. In that arena, the more important negotiators include District Council 37, the uniformed services unions, and the United Federation of Teachers — which all endorsed other Democrats for mayor. So did 32B-J, which backed ex-Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and which represents some 5,000 city school cleaners. For its part, 1199SEIU represents several thousand city employees in health-related jobs.
SEIU bills itself as the fastest-growing union in North America, has the largest membership in healthcare and property services, and is the second-largest public-service union.
Dan Janison is a Newsday columnist.