Despite backing progressive pols and causes, powerful labor union SEIU 1199 refuses to honor its own ideals when it comes to investing the cash it controls, or even in standing up for its own workers.
Repping 125,000 health-care workers mainly in the New York area, the union backs a Who’s Who of uber-left Democratic pols such as Rep. Alexandria “Tax the Rich” Ocasio-Cortez and state Sen. Michael Gianaris.
It was central to Bill de Blasio’s rise to the mayoralty, and backed far-left Maya Wiley in 2021; it’s pretty much guaranteed to side with the leftmost electable candidate in any race.
Rejecting calls for more diverse asset management, 1199 ruthlessly chases solid returns on its multibillion-dollar pension funds via big-name Wall Street firms, hedge funds and private-equity groups.
“They have very little invested with minority-run investment funds,” said Robert Greene, CEO of the National Association of Investment Companies.
That is: 1199 sets ideology aside when its own interests are at stake; it just wants everyone else to pay for “social justice.”
That cold calculation may also explain why it’s been stonewalling the The Ain’t I A Woman Campaign, a grassroots group which fights for the rights of home care workers, most of them women of color and new immigrants.
Notably, 1199 this year opposed a City Council bill to eliminate the 24-hour workday for home care workers, which leaves them only paid for 13 of those hours.
The union has complex relations with health insurers, the hospital industry and other care providers, allying with management to lobby for ever-greater state subsidies for the sector and striking deals such as a $30 million arbitration settlement of a class-action suit over lost wages that saw the average home care worker get a modest $500 check.
During this year’s state budget negotiations, the Empire Center reported that 1199 backed a plan to effectively negate a promised minimum-wage hike by redirecting that money into a fund subsidizing employer-sponsored health coverage — a move that would have provided a cash infusion to offset millions in losses by the union’s home-care-worker benefit fund.
Make no mistake: SEIU 1199 is a huge force in state and local politics.
Its chief, George Gresham, has even lectured Gov. Kathy Hochul: “We don’t work for you — you work for us.”
But it’s striking how often “us” turns out to mean Gresham and union leaders’ interests, not the membership’s needs or 1199’s own ideals.