Maya Wiley Gets A Boost From Coveted Union Endorsement

February 19, 2021

by Brigid Bergin, WNYC, The Gothamist

Maya Wiley’s week may not have started well, just missing the threshold to qualify for public funds, but it’s ending with a bang: the largest union representing the city’s healthcare workers, 1199SEIU, announced Friday that they are giving their endorsement — and their mighty political muscle — to her mayoral campaign.

The union, which is comprised of a majority of women of color, is planning a comprehensive campaign including digital outreach, civic education, and a major get-out-the-vote push in the spring to its 250,000 active members in the New York City region, as well as to retirees and their families.

“Maya’s priorities are our priorities—from investing in and fairly compensating our caregivers to rebuilding our economy through job creation and training,” said George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, in a statement.

This marks the largest union endorsement of the mayoral race so far and could play a crucial role in buoying Wiley’s campaign as she tries to break out of the crowded field of candidates, build a base of support ahead of the June 22nd primary, and deploy new ways to reach voters in a campaign season constrained by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think this year is going to be even more important that we have a really 360-program, if you will,” Gabby Seay, political director of 1199SEIU told Gothamist/WNYC. “That our members will hear from us online talking about our endorsed candidate, talking about ranked-choice [voting], providing them with the political education and the political facts that they need to be able to make these choices.”

Seay said her members are energized after running digital campaigns in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Texas in the 2020 presidential race, and that she saw all that work as a “test run” to their 2021 campaign here in New York, where they plan to invest in a seven-figure dollar campaign.

“Phone calls, text messages, knocking on doors, these are all things that our members could do in their sleep,” said Seay, particularly knocking on doors, she said, even though they had to curtail that strategy because of the pandemic. “We used 2020 to learn a lot of the new tools and technology to still be effective, and have a real impact on elections.”

The union considered eight candidates, asking them a series of questions and pairing them with a healthcare worker to “walk a day in their shoes,” before ultimately endorsing Wiley.

She has made the “care economy” a central focus of her campaign, calling for more investment to support people who provide child and elder care, along with the expansion of care centers across the five boroughs that could provide it.

“As mayor, in my City Hall, the voices of frontline workers and unions will be as loud and as powerful as the pots and pans celebrating these essential workers at 7 p.m. every night this past spring,” Wiley said in a statement.

The union, known for its purple and gold logo, played a prominent role in the open 2013 mayoral primary. They were the only union to back then Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Candidates are competing for endorsements from a handful of powerful unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, the Local 32BJ of S.E.I.U. which represent office cleaners and airport workers, the hotel workers union, and DC-37 which represents city employees. In 2013, those endorsements were split among the Democratic candidates.