12 Unions Endorse Full Universal Rent Control Package

The leaders of 12 of New York State’s largest labor unions have urged the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to enact a full slate of laws that would both strengthen the state’s rent-stabilization laws and extend tenant protections to almost all its renter households.

“In their homes, just like in their workplaces, our members—tenants— need protection from unfair and unreasonable rent increases, from unsafe conditions, and from retaliation,” said a letter sent May 13 by state AFL-CIO head Mario Cilento and 11 others to the governor, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “We support a platform that will strengthen the rent-regulation laws in New York City and its surrounding suburbs while also expanding tenant protections for nearly 5 million unregulated tenants across the state.”

The 11 other union leaders who signed it were the heads or top officials of 1199SEIU (which represents healthcare workers); DC37 AFSCME (New York City employees), the New York State Nurses Association, United Auto Workers Region 9A, Communications Workers of America District 1, the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, the United Federation of Teachers, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the Professional Staff Congress (City University of New York faculty and staff), International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 1, and American Federation of Musicians Local 802.

“I am thrilled that some of the most powerful unions in New York State are on our side,” Cea Weaver, head organizer for the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance, told LaborPress. DC 37, 1199SEIU, and UAW Local 2320 (the Legal Services Staff Association) are members of the alliance, which includes more than 75 organizations from around the state.

The 12 union leaders endorsed all nine bills in the alliance’s “Housing Justice for All” platform, including those that would repeal vacancy decontrol, eliminate rent increases for building-wide “major capital improvements” and renovating individual apartments, and prohibit eviction except for “good cause,” which would effectively give almost all tenants in the state.

That blanket endorsement goes significantly further than Gov. Cuomo, who has backed only the five measures that would close loopholes in rent stabilization, or Speaker Heastie, who has endorsed all except the good cause eviction bill. Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins has not yet released a proposal.

Expanding rent regulations like this is not “radical,” but “necessary,” says UAW Local 2325 President Jared Trujillo, because the loss of rent-regulated apartments caused by the 1997 loopholes and weak state enforcement against illegal rent increases has “made the housing crisis into a housing epidemic.” The union, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, represents legal support staff and other public-service lawyers who often work with tenants facing eviction.

“It’s great that labor is behind this,” Trujillo says. “It will make a huge difference for both our members and our clients.”

“It’s just reached a very critical point in the state,” says UAW Local 2320 political representative Landry Haarmann. The UAW has lobbied for all nine bills, but focused on good-cause eviction because “that’s the bill that’s going to affect two million people statewide.”

Reining in skyrocketing housing costs is “a form of economic justice,” she adds. “The tenant and union movements both flourished at a time when they worked together.”

“These are simple fixes,” the 12 union leaders wrote. New Jersey has a statewide just-cause eviction law, they noted, and Oregon enacted a statewide rent-control law in February.

“There is no reason that New York, for so long the head of the progressive movement, can’t follow suit,” they concluded. “In the past, labor and our progressive leaders have collaborated for groundbreaking legislation to protect workers; this year, we look forward to doing the same to protect tenants.”

A version of this article previously appeared in LaborPress.