in the 20th District heats up as Kirsten Gillibrand pockets
a slew of labor-union endorsements
Few onlookers were surprised when Republican U.S. Rep. John
Sweeney failed to receive the endorsement of the American
Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
(AFL-CIO) at its convention Monday at the Desmond Hotel in
The bigger surprise came when the labor federation gave its
endorsement to Kirsten Gillibrand, Sweeney’s Democratic challenger
in the 20th District.
had overwhelming support within that district,” said Mario
Cilento, director of the AFL-CIO public-relations department.
“She has forged a relationship with the rank-and-file members
of the local union, and that related back to the endorsement.
She had great support on the floor with the delegates at the
convention, and that earned her our endorsement.”
The union’s backing of Gillibrand was not necessarily expected,
according to Cilento.
weren’t really any expectations,” he said. “A candidate needs
two-thirds majority support among delegates to receive our
endorsement, so it’s a pretty high threshold.”
Delegates could have voted to endorse neither candidate in
the 20th District race, as they have during previous election
cycles, but several members spoke in opposition to such a
motion. While Sweeney received support from select delegates,
their murmurs were overpowered by the hundreds of representatives
who voted for the union to stand behind Gillibrand.
Sweeney also was passed over for AFL-CIO endorsements during
his previous reelection campaigns within the past four to
six years, according to Cilento.
This is despite Sweeney’s earlier ties to labor—his father
was president of a shirt- cutters union in Troy—and the more
than two years he spent as New York state commissioner of
labor. During his years as commissioner, Sweeney “gave the
Labor Department a more pro-active role throughout the state
and nation,” a biography on Sweeney’s 2006 campaign Web site
said. “His efforts focused on reducing onerous government
regulations on business and stimulating economic growth while
protecting the well-being of the state’s workforce.”
AFL-CIO officials contend Sweeney’s congressional voting record
tells another story, one in which the congressman’s voting
on labor issues often has failed to protect working families.
overall voting record played into it,” Cilento said of the
lack of support for endorsing Sweeney at Monday’s convention.
The national AFL-CIO tracks congressional voting records on
its Web site, aflcio.org. Senators and representatives from
each state are rated based on how they vote on working-family
issues, including Social Security, Medicare, unions and workplace
safety, among others.
In 2005, Sweeney’s record aligned with the union’s position
on labor issues 27 percent of the time. During the entirety
of his seven years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he
has voted for working-family issues 35 percent of the time,
according to the Web site.
notable that the AFL-CIO has opted not to endorse in this
district in the past,” said Allison Price, a spokesperson
for Gillibrand’s campaign. “But this year, they decided to
support the challenger because they’re sick of Congressman
Sweeney’s lack of record in supporting working families.”
Even without the AFL-CIO backing, Sweeney already has secured
endorsements from the Saratoga Fire Fighter’s Union and the
Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council.
Representatives from Sweeney’s campaign could not be reached
For Gillibrand, the AFL-CIO backing will be added to a list
of other labor endorsements, the most recent of which was
announced last week by the New York State United Teachers,
the state’s largest union. These approvals represent “the
big two” among labor endorsements, according to Price. Additional
support has come from at least 16 other labor organizations.
think it is a bit like a snowball,” Price said of the multiple
endorsements. “You get one, and it keeps rolling downhill,
but the main reason is that John Sweeney has been playing
politics with several issues that affect working families.”
Many of the endorsements will come with dollars and union-organized
campaigning to back up expressed support.
will undertake an extensive grassroots campaign,” Cilento
said of the AFL-CIO effort. He detailed an operation that
will include mailings, phone-bank calling and union members
visiting fellow members to discuss issues and candidates.
New York’s 20th District includes all or portions of Columbia,
Dutchess, Essex, Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Rensselaer, Saratoga,
Warren and Washington counties.
to a recent report in the Aug. 21 issue of The
New Yorker by Seymour Hersh, Israel asked
U.S. officials for permission to launch a full-scale
offensive against Hezbollah months before fighting
began—before the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier
that supposedly triggered the war. Hersh further
reported the U.S. officials looked at the conflict
as “the mirror image of what the United States
has been planning for Iran.” A former senior intelligence
official reportedly told Hersh that Vice President
Dick Cheney said: “What if the Israelis execute
their part of this first, and it’s really successful?
It’d be great. We can learn what to do in Iran
by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon.”
the News Not Printed
the Aug. 13 issue of The New York Times, Public
Editor Byron Calame revealed that the paper had
in fact delayed publication of James Risen’s article
on the Bush administration’s program of warrantless
wiretapping so that it would not run before the
2004 elections. The Times had previously
indicated that the article could not have run
before the elections. However, Calame reports
that Times executive editor Bill Keller
now claims that “a major reason for the publication
delays was the administration’s claim that everyone
involved was satisfied with the program’s legality.”
future of Insite, North America’s only legal,
supervised drug-injection facility, remains uncertain
as the Sept. 12 deadline for Canadian federal
government approval to continue the facility approaches.
Insite, located in downtown Vancouver, British
Columbia, allows addicts to inject their own drugs
in the presence of health professionals. During
the past two years, more than 7,000 people have
registered at the facility, with average daily
visits of around 600 individuals. Insite first
opened in 2003 as a scientific-research pilot
our service-based economy, it is no surprise that
Starbucks finds itself at the center of the continuing
struggle for workers’ rights. Daniel Gross, organizer
for the Industrial Workers of the World, was fired
in what many allege was retaliation for his union
activities. This is apparently the fourth time
within the past year that Starbucks has fired
an IWW barista involved in labor activity.
advocates are still fighting to end the exorbitant rates charged
on calls from inmates
The rate charged by Verizon for calls made by inmates in New
York state prisons is an illegal tax, according to Rachel
Meeropol, an attorney with Center for Constitutional Rights.
These calls are billed a premium 630-percent higher than the
rate charged the general public.
time an individual has been billed these rates,” she said,
“they have been forced to pay an unlawful tax.” And it has
been going on for 10 years.
Last month, CCR learned that Walton v. New York, a
case they brought in 2004 to challenge the contract Verizon/MCI
has with the state, will be heard in front of the Court of
Appeals, the state’ highest court.
More than 500,000 phone calls are made monthly from New York
state prisons, according to the New York Campaign for Telephone
Justice. Each call, which can only be made collect through
the Verizon system, is charged a premium of $3 per connection
and $.16 a minute. From the money raised, the state receives
a commission of 57.5 percent.
Meeropol simply doesn’t see how this is legal.
state makes a couple different arguments,” she said “They
try to make the argument that much of the money is spent on
programs that also benefit the families of prisoners. There
are some programs . . . such as the family-reunification program
that does receive some small amount of money. . . . But if
you look at the amount of money that is spent on these programs,
it is a minority that they are getting from the contract.”
bulk of the money is spent on HIV care,” she added, “and staffing
for prison-health provisions.”
When contacted, the DOCS directed inquiries to a 2003 press
release. In it, the agency claimed that $39 million was raised
from the program in fiscal year 2002, more than $22 million
of which went to the state. Of those funds, only $5 million
were spent on family related programs. The rest was used for
general operational costs.
These operating costs, CCR’s lawsuit contends, ought to be
absorbed by the state. The millions of dollars in commissions
have provided the state an opportunity to fund general operations
through an unlegislated tax, Meeropol said, “an unlawful tax.
And it is being levied in a discriminatory manner against
individuals who have loved ones in prison.”
The lawsuit also argues that the tax invades the First Amendment
rights of family members of prisoners and lawyers of prisoners
who are burdened in their ability to communicate with their
loved ones or their clients.
cost is being leveled unfairly on the family members of prisoners,”
she said. “There is no reason to make them pay for something
that benefits all members of the state.”
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens) agrees.
is just another tax on a family who was going to pay it simply
because their loved one is in jail,” he said.
Aubry sponsored legislation (A07231) this year that would
have acted to regulate the rate a phone company can charge
prisoners. The bill passed through the Assembly, but a similar
bill died in the Senate.
did an investigation and looked at the cost of these calls,”
he said, before authoring the bill. “What we found was that
they were essentially exorbitant. . . . The amount of money
that was being generated for the state and for the company
was extraordinary.” And it is being bilked, he said, from
some of the most vulnerable in our state.
and children,” he said, who just can’t afford to travel to
visit their loved ones. “Most of the prisoners come from the
city and most of the prisons are upstate. So physically to
get to them, it is an extraordinary trip for poor people.”
while we are making money off of these families—and it is
the families, not the inmates,” Aubry added—“we are causing
ourselves more problems, we have to spend more money because
those who are not successfully rehabilitated they come back
and cost the system an incredible amount of money, much more
than the amount of money we make off this phone system.”
Aubry is addressing a correlation between the strength of
the bond that prisoners have with their families while in
prison and their ability to come out of prison and stay out.
chances are just better,” said Alison Coleman, director of
Prison Families of New York. She pointed to a study done by
the California Department of Corrections. The study showed
that “men and women in prison who maintain relationships with
their loved ones are more likely to complete their parole
Three years ago, Coleman submitted a petition to the state’s
Public Service Commission [“1-800-Cash-Cow,” Newsfront, Aug.
25, 2003] in the effort to change the rate charged by MCI
Since then, she says, nothing has changed.
except that more and more people all over the state are aware
of this problem. We have been carrying on a really extensive
grassroots campaign. But what does that mean?” she asks. “I
is no one that I have talked to that says, ‘Gee, that sounds
like the thing we ought to do.’ Nobody,” Aubry said. “Even
those people who believe that it is a good resource for the
[prison] system. It is our responsibility as the state; the
prisoners already have to pay fees for being indicted and
incarcerated. Those fees are already in place. The families
should not have to pay fees for desiring to be a part of their
loved one’s life.”
Boards With Clinton
Clinton (D-N.Y.) took time out of her busy schedule Monday
to enjoy a karate demonstration at the Arbor Hill Community
Center. Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, also pictured, stopped
by to rub shoulders with the former first lady. Clinton had
put in an appearance at the AFL-CIO convention earlier that
day in Albany to rally the troops and give a shout-out to
her fellow Democrat (and candidate for U.S. Congress) Kirsten
loose ends this week-