Guests: NYC Central Labor Council President Vinny Alvarez and NYC Councilman Jumaane Williams
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NYC Central Labor Council President Vinny Alvarez
Alvarez on whether there is a political schism right now in New York’s labor movement between unions pushing for a more progressive agenda and others with a more centrist, pragmatic approach:
VA: “Our members are focused on creating jobs, good jobs, in the union sector predominantly. We represent workers that are in the public sector, the private sector and the construction trades. Our primary focus is always going to be on making sure that we collaborate with the affiliates of the AFL-CIO here in New York City. They do a great job.
We work together on making sure that we’re passing pro-worker legislation, budgets and that we’re supporting them in contract campaigns and more than anything else that we’re protecting, preserving and expanding work opportunity. And that’s where our focus has and always will be. It’s something that I think unites us and has continued to unite us because we know that ultimately that’s what workers want more than anything else. They want a good job. They want good wages, benefits and terms of conditions of employment. So … we’ve always been united and that is something that we continue to work and continue to expand for all our workers that work in these various unions.
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VA: “It’s not partisan work. We were just talking briefly about the politics of what it is we do essentially and you talked about the work that the Working Families Party does. But … the work that we’re involved in primarily is that of representing our constituent unions from the public sector and the private sector and the construction trades and making sure that we’re supporting and advocating positions that are obviously going to advance the wellbeing of their members.
In addition, though, we also work outside of those lanes, if you will, to make sure that we’re representing the interests of all working people in this city. So you and I have spoken about this Bill (Samuels), (about) retirement security. We’re fortunate that most (unionized) workers in the city have retirement security, but we recognize that many do not. So we’re going to work and make sure that we advocate for issues that help grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out that help working class families by advocating for other issues.
And then there are issues that some of our many unions are also involved in as well, in the environmental justice community and others. … And many of our unions are involved in those and wherever there is an alignment between the goals that we’re pursuing at the Central Labor Council and those goals and those issues of shared concern, we’re going to make sure that we participate in causes which are going to … benefit our workers and expand the goals of those organizations. There’s a lot of organizations doing a lot of good work in and around the city. And we do a lot of work with the Immigration Council, … (with) environmental justice groups like ALIGN and others. … So there’s going to be a lot of different issues that we always have to work on from various sectors and we will address them one at a time and make sure that we’re helping to expand the pot for middle class New Yorkers.”
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NYC Councilman Jumaane Williams
Williams on whether the latest spate of arrests at Rikers Island strengthen the case for the prison to be shut down:
JW: “What’s funny to me is how many people are pushing back on Rikers being shut down. And I think people should just step back and wait for the study and the task force to bring its results. People are responding to something that hasn’t even been presented yet. I think there’s no one than can look at what’s happened at Rikers Island and try to say that what’s happening there is good and should continue.
I personally believe it should be shut down, but it has to be shut down responsibly. We should wait until the experts come back with their report. Some of the suggestions I’ve heard make sense; that people who simply have not had enough money to make bail, I don’t think that’s a reason for you to languish in jail. We can do things like ankle bracelets and other things to make sure that people are being monitored.
But I think all of things go hand in hand and I think one of the problems is—I always say this and it may be controversial—but I know people are saying the system is broken. I generally tend to say that I think the system is working how it was designed to work, unfortunately, many, many years ago. Fortunately, there have always been people pushing back on that and it’s always been a struggle. It’s been a part of America, who we are. The system was created, unfortunately, to keep some folks down and there have always been people pushing back on that construct.
So I think that once we think of it in that way—that it’s working the way it was supposed to work—we then understand why it’s so difficult to turn it around. But I’m excited with what’s happening now in our society and in our country that people are ginning up their energy to push back on that construct and say that what we say in this country should be, but not what it is. We can see it out in Rikers. We can see it in the youth jobs. We can see it in the housing. One of things I’m hoping is that a lot of the focus on police and the police shootings I think is good, but the same energy needs to be paid attention to the other agencies that deal with housing, that deal with youth, that deal with jails because it’s the same system that’s killing the same people. It just kills them a little slower.
So the acuteness of an officer killing someone, you can see why that energy comes up. But it’s the same thing that’s happening with other agencies. I’m hoping we can get some of that energy dealing with those agency problems as well. But we all have to say, of course, that these conversations have to go hand in hand with personal responsibility. They intersect personal responsibility and the system that we’re in. So it’s not an excuse given to anyone to misbehave or act in a bad manner. You have to be held responsible. But you have to have that conversation in conjunction with the system that has been in place in our country from the beginning.”
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Williams on his concerns about the amount of power political consultants and lobbyists wield in City Hall and New York City government and how to address this problem:
JW: “I am concerned about … how much power consultants (and) lobbyists wield. I don’t know—obviously wrongdoing is wrongdoing and you have to be held accountable. I’m not sure—it’s one thing to say that this is a problem, it’s another to fix it. So I’m not sure.
Somebody is always going to have some sort of influence on government. Who that is and how they do it—someone’s mom might call, someone’s sister might call, someone who has a large civic association versus someone who has just a block association.
Obviously, a lobbyist—if you’re doing something directly to help someone because they gave you a campaign contribution that’s disgusting and should not be accepted. But I don’t know how else we deal with the issue. I think we have to. I think one of the biggest things is to make sure we’re transparent and who you’re meeting with and who is giving money, which is what I think happened here, which is why we are where we are.
But I would love to hear other ideas about how to prevent that because people are always going to be in an elected official’s ear and it’s usually going to be people that can move a lot of voters or have helped somehow in the past or have provided assistance to you in the past. So I think we have to point it out as a problem. It’s another thing to make sure we’re coming up with solutions that work in the real world.”
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Williams on whether there should be a NYS Constitutional Convention:
JW: “I am absolutely for a People’s Convention. I am absolutely for reviewing the constitution. It’s ridiculous. I mean … the Senate Republicans, who keep blocking ways to fix housing in New York City, have no rent regulation in their districts. So they have no one there to hold them accountable for these bad votes. Same thing with the educational system. Their kids don’t go to these schools. And so it just makes no sense how much power a small group of Senate Republicans hold over New York City and no one can hold them accountable for it.”
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Williams on how we can strengthen gun safety laws in New York City:
JW: “When we look at the gun violence issue, we have to look at two buckets. The two buckets are supply and demand. The supply is usually what people would talk about as gun control laws, … the laws that help deal with the supply of guns that are coming into the community. That’s very important and we have to continue to push that.
Very often though when they’re talking about that, they’re usually talking about high (capacity) magazines and mass shootings, which of course we have to get control of. We want to put the focus also on the handgun violence that (is) killing our young people in New York City and other cities across the country. So we want to make sure when we’re talking about gun control laws that we’re honoring the Second Amendment, but we’re also getting to the looseness of handgun violence.
So we can’t just talk about illegal handguns because all of the guns were legal at some point and so there are loopholes that we have to close. So New York City is limited in what it can do on the supply side, so we have to continue to support things like the loophole checks with background checks, like making sure there’s CDC research when it comes to gun violence and also ensuring that gun manufacturers don’t have immunity.
What we do have the most control over is the demand side, dealing with the issues that promote violence in neighborhoods to begin with, so that even if there are guns available, our young people don’t pick them up. So we all know what that looks like because we’ve had the violence before in communities decades before the shades of young people were different. And they said at that time they needed upward mobility. They needed jobs. They needed a better education and we provided those services to those communities. For some reason we aren’t doing the same thing here.
All of the data looks the same in these communities, whether it’s New York City, whether it’s Baltimore or Los Angeles. The communities that have high gun violence also have a very, very high poverty rate. The ability to access quality education is difficult. Housing in those areas are overpriced and under cared for. So all of those things deal with the demand and we as a city have to put our funding into things that deal with the demand. One of the biggest things we can do right now is support things like youth jobs, universal summer youth jobs. There is nothing else that deals with violence more than a job—more than law enforcement, more than arrests—a job. There was a study in the Wharton School of Business that studied just summer youth in New York City and there was a mortality rate connected with the group of young people who had jobs and the group of young people who didn’t.”
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