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Labor Perspective From New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, A Former Union Organizer Who Now Represents District 43 In Brooklyn: "No Doubt About It - If It Weren’t For Organized Labor, There Would Not Have Been A Recovery"

Published Wednesday, September 8, 2021
by New York City Councilman Justin Brannan
Labor Perspective From New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, A Former Union Organizer Who Now Represents District 43 In Brooklyn:

Each year, Labor Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the importance of Organized Labor in providing basic rights and protections to Workers everywhere, but in New York City - where Essential Workers are helping us dig out from COVID, we should brainstorm ways to become the Union Town we always talk about being.

To the extent that we’ve made it out of the first few waves of a global pandemic, we owe it all to New York City’s Essential Workers.

Not only the Workers who have administered vaccines and Nurses who cared for us in hospitals, but the Teachers who taught our children, the Bus Drivers who kept our city moving, the Office Cleaners, Sanitation Workers, Police Officers and Firefighters.

There should be no doubt about it: If it weren’t for Organized Labor, there would not have been a recovery.

And without the Workers in our hotel, hospitality and tourism industry, there will be no New York City comeback story. 

Given this, it should be a priority for the incoming Council to center Organized Labor in our work.

One could be forgiven for wondering why the Council does not take a more proactive role in strengthening Organized Labor in the first place.

Of course, most members are in touch with Unions to get their input and feedback on legislation or support their efforts on an individual member basis, but what role does the Council, as the City’s Legislative Body, play in the development and strengthening of Organized Labor itself?

Right now, very little.

Part of the problem is that the Labor Committee - even when run by strong leaders who know the importance of Organized Labor like my friend and colleague Councilman Miller - has been defanged by the New York City Administrative Code, and Home Rule limitations prevent the Committee from hearing legislation that would go a long way to strengthening Worker Power.

But we have an opportunity to fix that: the next Council class should partner with our colleagues in the New York State Legislature to enact changes to State Labor Law and the Charter to give us a supercharged Labor Committee.

If the City Council had a Labor Committee with real teeth, the Council could play an oversight role during Union Organizing Drives within the five boroughs, which are thankfully happening with increasing frequency.

The committee could evaluate whether companies and institutions are violating the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) and determine whether Labor Peace Agreements are being honored. 

The committee could also evaluate ways to reward Essential Workers who shepherd our city through emergencies like the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Should those Workers be offered early retirement?

Changes to their pay?

Increased pension benefits?

The committee could play a bigger role in determining what is feasible for the city to enact for its Workers and how best to honor Front Line Workers for their contributions.

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