The Teamster Who Would be Governor
“Fifteen dollars an hour is just simple justice,” Hawkins said. “And in New York City, it should even be higher. The governor has the power to form a minimum wage board. In fact, he’s been instructed by legislation to deal with the tipped workers who were left out of probably the world’s worst minimum wage law. That law creates a ceiling as well as floor because it subsidizes teenage workers. It’s ridiculous.” Governor Cuomo was supposed to convene the minimum wage board to address the plight of tip workers in the food industry as part of the legislation that ever-so-slightly nudged the minimum wage in New York Sate to $8 an hour last year. But that has not happened.
Howie Hawkins is a Teamster with Local 317, and for about the past 15 years he’s loaded packages for UPS on the night shift in Syracuse. He’s also the Green Party candidate for governor who believes that big money has captured both major political parties, and that working men and women need to start “running their own people” in elections.
“We know better than anyone else what’s in our best interest,” Hawkins said this week.
On Saturday, LaborPress caught up with Hawkins and his Green Party supporters at a “$15 Now” rally held outside a Starbucks on Fulton Street in Downtown, Brooklyn, where the gubernatorial hopeful talked about the need for legislation guaranteeing a living wage - as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio's apparent surrender in the fight against charter school expansion.
“Fifteen dollars an hour is just simple justice,” Hawkins said. “And in New York City, it should even be higher. The governor has the power to form a minimum wage board. In fact, he’s been instructed by legislation to deal with the tipped workers who were left out of probably the world’s worst minimum wage law. That law creates a ceiling as well as floor because it subsidizes teenage workers. It’s ridiculous.”
Governor Cuomo was supposed to convene the minimum wage board to address the plight of tip workers in the food industry as part of the legislation that ever-so-slightly nudged the minimum wage in New York Sate to $8 an hour last year. But that has not happened.
$15 Now, meanwhile, has its roots in Seattle, Washington - a city that has made tremendous strides towards making a $15 an hour minimum wage a reality sometime this year.
Last year, poorly paid fast food workers throughout New York City also fighting for a $15 an minimum wage staged one-day walkouts on several occasions - and even attracted the outspoken support of then mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio in the process. But Hawkins is dubious about the effectiveness of those efforts.
“I wonder what the endgame is there,” Hawkins said. “This group [$15 Now] is saying we need a federal law. A standard. The groups that have been doing those walkouts - are they trying to get a collective bargaining agreement? What union is doing that? It seems like they’re publicity stunts without an endgame.”
This is the second time that the Green Party has tapped Hawkins to run for governor of New York State. In 2010, the party was intent on garnering at least 50,000 votes and getting a ballot line. They ended up with almost 60,000 votes.
This time out, Hawkins says that the Green Party can quadruple that figure and become the strongest independent left party in the state - partly because Governor Cuomo’s policies on charter school expansion and his handling of SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s financial crisis have turned off so many Democratic voters.
“There’s a difference from being independent and being a wing of the Democratic Party like the Working Families Party,” Hawkins said. “The Working Families Party says, vote for us, we’ll send a progressive message to Democrats. We think the message sent to Democrats is, well, they’re going to vote for us no matter what we do.”
Hawkins insists that the Green Party is earnestly competing for votes with an ultimate goal of amassing so much support that Democrats will either for forced to adopt their issues, or they eventually get enough backing to win an election.
“That’s been the historic role of third parties in this county,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins blasted Cuomo’s big money contributors, saying that less than 1 percent of the governor’s multimillion dollar campaign war chest actually comes from donations of less than $1,000.
“And 45 percent came from donations of over $40,000,” Hawkins added. “This should not be the way we elect our officials - with a money primary where the rich pick who the candidates are. They give us a Democrat and a Republican and say, 'Choose between them.'”
According to Hawkins, money is also at the root of Mayor de Blasio’s seemingly capitulation in the fight against further charter school incursions into public school space. In the face of multimillion dollar negative ad campaigns from Success Academy Charter Schools and its CEO Eva Moskowitz, Hawkins maintains that the mayor could have pointed out that public school children - some disabled - face being displaced - but chose not to.
“Instead, he called up the hedge fund guys that were on [Moskowitz’] board and said, “Can we have a truce?” And then he kind of backed off,” Hawkins said.
The Green Party candidate is strongly against Common Core standards and high stakes testing, as well as distribution of school aid policies that rank New York among those states with the poorest records.
“I am against this whole corporate privatization agenda,” Hawkins said. “We need less testing and more teaching. We have the most segregated schools in the country. We’re worse than Mississippi in New York State right now."