One of New York state’s most powerful unions is being accused of hypocrisy for refusing to invest its billions in diverse companies and selling off underpaid workers – while funneling a flood of cash to progressive causes.
The Service Employees Local Union 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers — better known as 1199 SEIU — helped then push prosecutor Bill de Blasio two terms as mayor of New York City, supported ultra-liberal Maya Wiley in her bid to succeed him, and is supporting U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
It has given strong support to state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), backed with money for him and his Friends of Mike Gianaris PAC.
Gianaris is one of Albany’s most radical progressive Democrats. He is leading the push to abolish bail, ignoring warnings of rising crime as abolition occurs.
1199 SEIU President George Gresham bluntly told Gov. Kathy Hochul, “We don’t work for you – you work for us.”
The municipality, the largest in New York City, controls billions of dollars in assets held by the union itself and in eight separate funds managed 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 get it to invest some of those assets in investment funds owned by minorities and women.
At the same time, the union preaches “equality, justice and democracy” and says it is committed to, among other things, mobilizing “against racial, economic and environmental injustice,” according to 1199’s website.
Huge political spending, totaling $17 million last year alone, included direct donations 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 by Gresham since 2008, boasts about it The majority of its 304,982 members are women, while efforts are focused on recruiting members from minority communities.
But records reviewed by the Post show that one of those eight funds alone, the National Benefit Fund, has more than $17 billion invested with major Wall Street firms, including Blackstone and Apollo Global Management, Beverly-based Platinum Equity Hills and a number of other hedge funds and private equity funds.
“They really don’t support their diverse base in terms of their investment strategy,” said Robert Greene, CEO of the National Association of Investment Companies, the trade association for diversely owned private equity firms and hedge funds. “They have invested very little in minority-managed mutual funds.”
Attempts by Greene to meet with the union were unsuccessful, the executive director told The Post.
A spokesperson for 1199 SEIU told The Post that each of the eight funds are separate legal entities that “continue to meet strict minimum funding requirements.”
He also said that “1199 SEIU values socially responsible investing.”
However, public disclosures show that each fund, while legally separate, is controlled by a board of trustees in which the majority of union members are appointed by 1199 SEIU – giving union bosses effective control.
Pressure is mounting on the union, with its huge investment power, to stick to its equality commitments amid accusations it is betraying its members from another direction.
The Ain’t IA Woman Campaign, a grassroots group that fights for the rights of home care workers, most of whom are women of color and new immigrants, is targeting 1199 SEIU for failing to fight against a controversial practice, Home care workers are required to work 24-hour shifts but are only paid for 13 of those hours.
1199 SEIU represents 125,000 caregivers in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, DC and Florida.
Home health workers say 24-hour shifts should include five hours of uninterrupted sleep and three hours of other breaks for meals — but that’s not happening because there’s a lack of enforcement and patients need around-the-clock care.
Last year, the union fought a New York city councilman Bill that would eliminate the 24-hour workdaysaid the proposed law, Intro 175 was incorrect and would prevent workers from receiving overtime pay.
Vicky Niu, an activist with Ain’t IA Woman, said: “They are doing the opposite of what a union should do. Basically, 1199 went to bed with the bosses.
“The union has closer political ties to insurance companies and health authorities and is not at all interested in representing workers whose wages have been stolen from them.”
The union said it won a $30 million class-action lawsuit for workers last year and set up a special fund.
“This is by far the largest recovery for lost wages to date and far exceeds the minimum amounts that non-union workers have been able to obtain 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 workers represented by the union.
“That equated to a back pay of one minute for every 11 hours of stolen wages,” she said. “Some workers who were owed up to $200,000 received severance checks for $500.”
Tensions with members may partly explain 1199 SEIU’s declining membership numbers. Current enrollment of 304,982 is below the peak of 373,911 in 1999 – an 18% decline.
The union said it has lost members due to COVID, which has resulted in 20% of healthcare workers nationwide leaving.