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One of New York state’s most powerful unions is being accused of hypocrisy by refusing to invest in diverse businesses and of selling out underpaid workers — while aiming a gusher of cash at progressive causes.
Service Employees Local Union 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers — best known as 1199 SEIU — helped propel then Public Advocate Bill de Blasio into two terms as New York City mayor, endorsed ultra-liberal Maya Wiley in her bid to succeed him and backs US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
It has given powerful endorsements to State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), backed with cash for him and his “Friends of Mike Gianaris” PAC. Gianaris is one of Albany’s most radical progressive Democrats, leading the push to end cash bail and ignoring warnings of rising crime in the wake of its abolition.
1199 SEIU’s president, George Gresham, bluntly told Gov. Kathy Hochul: “We don’t work for you — you work for us.”
The local, the largest in New York City, controls more than $450 million in assets held by the union itself and in eight separate funds run on behalf of hundreds of thousands of members, public records show.
The funds finance health care, job training, pensions and child care.
But The Post has learned that the union has ignored attempts to lobby it to invest some of that fortune in minority- and female-owned investment funds.
At the same time, the union preaches for “equality, justice and democracy,” saying it campaigns for causes including mobilizing “against injustice — racial, economic and environmental,” according to 1199’s website.
Its vast political spending, totaling $17 million last year alone, has included direct contributions to ultra-progressives like Wiley and a flood of cash to both the New York State Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee.
The union, led since 2008 by Gresham, boasts that a majority of its 304,982 members are women, while it has focused efforts on recruiting among minority communities.
But public records inspected by The Post show that one of those eight funds alone, the National Benefit Fund, has more than $17 million invested with major Wall Street firms including Blackstone and Apollo Global Management, Beverly Hills-based Platinum Equity, and a series of other hedge funds and private equity funds.
“They are really not supporting their diverse base in terms of their investment strategy,” said an investment executive who did not want to be identified. “They have very little invested with minority-run investment funds.”
Attempts by minority-run groups to meet the union have not been successful, the executive told The Post.
A spokesman for 1199 SEIU told The Post that each of the eight funds are separate legal entities that “continue to meet the stringent minimum funding requirements.” He also said that “1199 SEIU values socially responsible investing.”
But its public disclosures show that each fund, while legally separate, is controlled by a board of trustees that has a majority of union members appointed by 1199 SEIU — giving union bosses effective control.
Pressure on the union to stand by its commitments to equality with its huge investment power comes as it faces accusations of selling out its members from another direction.
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, is taking aim at 1199 SEIU over its failure to fight against a controversial practice where home care workers are made to work 24-hour shifts but only paid for 13 of those hours.
1199 SEIU represents 125,000 careworkers in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, and Florida.
The home health care workers say that the 24-hour shifts should include five hours of uninterrupted sleep and three hours of other breaks for meals — but that does not happen because of a lack of enforcement and patients’ need for round-the-clock care.
Last year, the union fought against a New York City Council bill that would eliminate the 24-hour workday, saying the proposed law, Intro 175, was flawed and would prevent workers from putting in for overtime pay.
Vicky Niu, an activist with Ain’t I A Woman, said: “They are doing the opposite of what a union should do. Basically 1199 has gotten into bed with the bosses.
“The union has deeper political ties with insurance companies and health care agencies and is completely uninterested in representing workers whose wages have been stolen from them.”
The union said it won a $30 million class-action arbitration for the workers last year, and set up a special fund.
“This is by far the largest recoupment of lost wages to date, far surpassing the minimal amounts that non-union workers have been able to achieve through class-action lawsuits against employers,” a union spokesman said.
But Niu said the fund provided a pittance to the tens of thousands of home health aides represented by the union.
“It amounted to a minute of back pay for every 11 hours of stolen wages,” she said. “Some workers who were owed up to $200,000 were given $500 settlement checks.”
Tensions with members may partly explain 1199 SEIU’s declining membership numbers. Its current enrollment of 304,982 is down from a high in 1999 of 373,911 — an 18% decline.
The union said it had lost members because of COVID leading to 20% of health care workers nationally quitting.