NYC union workers rally ahead of Janus + The State of NYC’s Fossil Fuel Divestment

Local News

  • Thousands of protesters, joined by Cuomo and De Blasio, rallied in Manhattan to demand that the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the longstanding precedent that protects the ability of public employee unions to represent their members and even nonmembers, and to speak out on matters of common interest.
  • According the Daily News, in 2012 State Senator Kevin Parker (D-Flatbush) received a taxpayer funded grant of $32,000 for repairs on a home he co-owns with his mother. The grant was routed through a nonprofit set up by the late Vito Lopez, who was an Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic Party boss at the time (Lopez was later censured and forced to resign for sexually harassing multiple female staff members). In response to the accusation, Parker called himself “the fucking Michael Jordan of the New York State Senate.”
  • The Borough President and the entire City Council demand $10 million funding from De Blasio to build Brooklyn’s first burn unit. Currently, burn victims have to go to the Bronx, Manhattan or Staten Island for treatment.
  • About 4,000 people in the City are arrested each year for carrying a folding knife, many of whom are working class people (electricians, plumbers, and construction workers) who need the knives for their work. Around 84 percent of people prosecuted under the law are people of color. The State legislature twice voted to repeal the law criminalizing these knives, but Gov. Cuomo vetoed the repeal each time.
  • Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (D, Queens) and Assembly Member Cathy Nolan rejected the Economic Development Corporation’s plan to build 1,000 residential units (25% affordable) as part of a mixed-use project on public land along the Hunters Point waterfront. Van Bramer and Nolan will join the community in a rally on March 3, organized by the LIC Coalition, where residents, civic groups, and local leaders will call for public goods such as open space, job training centers, and space for the arts. A full list of the group’s demands are written out in a petition that was first released in August 2017.
  • At a meeting about a community-led Bushwick rezoning proposal, the director of the Department of City Planning’s Brooklyn office told community members that the city is concerned about preserving the architecture and character of buildings, not the displacement of longtime residents. The community-led rezoning plan was facilitated by councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal at the neighborhood community board’s request, in response to residents’ concerns around displacement.
  • Mayor de Blasio has failed to take the decline of the bus system seriously even though he has the power to make simple fixes, writes State Senate candidate (District 22, Southern Brooklyn) Ross Barkan.
  • A public radio consortium, including WNYC, announced that it will relaunch Gothamist and a few of its sister sites. Former writers were not told of this deal beforehand and the content of the new website is still unclear.

Elections

  • Governor Cuomo has raised over $2 million in campaign donations from people he has appointed to government positions, reinterpreting his own executive order banning such quid pro quo arrangements.
  • 1199-SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest union in the state, has endorsed Governor Cuomo for re-election.
  • People for Bernie endorsed Council Member Jumaane Williams in his campaign for Lieutenant Governor.
  • Lewis Kaminski, an attorney who was challenging IDC leader Jeff Klein for his District 34 (Bronx/Westchester) State Senate seat, announced the suspension of his campaign in order to allow the anti-Klein vote to coalesce behind Alessandra Biaggi, a former Cuomo and Clinton aide who has enjoyed the most momentum and support.

In-Depth: The State of NYC’s Fossil Fuel Divestment

"Divestment"

December 2017 was a breakthrough moment for the fossil fuel divestment campaign in NYC. Prominent politicians, including Gov. Cuomo, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and a couple of weeks later, Mayor de Blasio, gave their blessings to divesting the NYC and NY State public pension funds of fossil fuel stocks within 5 years. De Blasio also announced a lawsuit against the top five fossil fuel corporations for damages done to NYC, such as flooding and erosion, while those corporations fully understood their outsized role in creating climate chaos.

These announcements were made possible by Divest NY (a coalition of 350.org, DivestInvest Network, NY Communities for Change, PSC-CUNY (AFT 2334), DSA Climate Justice), which had spent five years organizing with demonstrations, pickets, union and public meetings, petitions, union resolutions, lobbying, and hounding public officials to take a public stance on divestment.

Divest NY’s strategy is designed to deny fossil fuel companies access to capital through equity markets, while raising consciousness about climate change in a style similar to the protests over apartheid in the 1980s. Their strategy allows the movement to challenge the future viability of companies whose profits are connected to the carbon bubble under threat from renewable energy and regulation. And it moves people, particularly unionized workers and college students, into climate activism and opens them up to broader politics.

Pensions are a focus in the divestment movement because they represent the largest sector of investments in the stock market. And in theory, pensions gives workers the power to support industries like renewable energy through their decisions about where to invest their money; however, without a public pressure campaign, pensions often invest in industries that are not in line with the workers they represent.

The divestment campaign in NYC had already seen two major breakthroughs earlier in 2017; one occurred when a citywide coalition that organized a mass march to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy included divestment as one of their demands. This diverse coalition represented over 150 community, labor, and climate justice groups across the city. The second major breakthrough happened in November when NYC Public Advocate Letitia (Tish) James, a long-time ally of the climate movement and supporter of divestment, organized well-attended a public hearing on climate change. The diversity of the speakers and their varied proposals, with divestment being a most-repeated one, elevated the climate justice movement and communicated the movement’s divestment demands loud and clear.

Despite the recent increase in attention that the movement has received, divestment still needs the support and action of pension board members for it to actually happen. In NYC that support is coalescing more slowly than anticipated, and the climate justice movement still needs to pressure the pension boards representing teachers, police, firefighters and school administrators to get them to agree on how to formally move the $5 billion currently held in fossil fuel investments to other industries while assuaging fears that retirement benefits will be put at risk. Progress, or the lack thereof, over next year will demonstrate whether December’s landmark announcement will lead to real change.

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