Unions top lobbying list

by Ken Girardin |  | NY Torch

New York’s government unions collectively spent more on lobbying last year than the state’s biggest trial lawyers, landlord, tobacco and hospital interests combined. And topping the list, as usual, was New York’s powerful conglomerate of public education unions.

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) spent $1.4 million, ranking fourth in isolation, according to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) annual report. Add to that the lobbying spending of NYSUT-affiliated United Federation of Teachers, United University Professions and the Professional Staff Congress (its CUNY local), and total education union spending came to $3.5 million, easily exceeding the $2.9 million spent by the Greater New York Hospital Association, which ranked first.

NYSUT and other government unions—those representing public employees almost exclusively—together spent at least $8.4 $8.5 million to lobby state and local officials, based on reports from 72 75 of them. This exceeded the total spent by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the Rent Stabilization Association, GNYHA, the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS), the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and tobacco giant Altria—combined. That’s a continuation of a trend observed from 2013-2016, as explained in this January report.

The figure for government unions doesn’t include the building trades or other private-sector labor unions, which spent another $4.6 million while also representing some public-sector workers. All told, organized labor spent at least $13 million last year to influence public policy in New York.

The unions’ priorities in Albany have ranged from weakening the state property tax cap to trapping government workers into paying union dues. Law enforcement unions have sought to strip local officials of their powers to discipline police officers, while state worker unions have pushed back on virtually any proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo that would reduce the state’s reliance on unionized workers.

Last year may have been the high-water mark for the unions’ lobbying spending, however, since the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks on the constitutionality of compulsory union fees in Janus v. AFSCME. If the unions can’t force people to pay them as a condition of employment, it’s unlikely they will be able to afford the same level of spending that’s been their weapon of choice in policy disputes, especially in Albany.

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- Ken Girardin is the Policy Analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy.