Top New York Labor Leader Will Step Down

| November 2, 2011 10:46 AM

Denis Hughes, the powerful president of the New York AFL-CIO that serves as the state’s umbrella group for 2.5 million union members, has told multiple associates he is not planning to run for re-election, according to three sources with knowledge of Hughes’ plans. Sources said he would likely step aside by the end of the year.

Hughes, whose well-liked 12-year tenure will be honored at a labor gala on in Staten Island on Thursday, did not respond to requests for comment made through his chief of staff.

Ed Ott, the former executive director of the Central Labor Council, said Hughes would be missed.

Denis Hughes has told associated that he may step down from his position as president of the AFL-CIO later this year. His 12-year term has been praised by other labor leaders in the state. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Dept. of State, This image is in the public domain.

“Denis Hughes is the most highly regarded union leader in the state,” said Ott. “He’s a unifier and a go-to person on a lot of stuff. He runs a world-class union and has played a leading role in passing a lot of good legislation.”

Hughes was seen as a key figure in keeping the labor movement unified after the 2008 financial collapse battered both private-sector, and to a lesser extent, public-sector unions. Labor sources with knowledge of Hughes’ departure were uncertain of his post-AFL-CIO plans.

If Hughes steps down before the end of his term next August, as expected, the state AFL-CIO executive committee would likely select a replacement for the remainder of the term, sources said. The replacement would then have to run for election to a full term at the state AFL-CIO convention next summer.

In discussions among labor insiders, Mario Cilento, Hughes’ chief of staff, has come up frequently as a possible replacement. As Hughes’ right-hand man, Cilento has built a strong reputation for with many in the labor world — and a strong relationship with Hughes.

Cilento has never himself run a union, which some labor insiders cite as a potential drawback. Then again, Hughes was elected as New York AFL-CIO president in 1999 after working as executive assistant to the New York AFL-CIO president.

Another name that has come up among labor insiders is that of Terrence Melvin, the state AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer and No. 2 official. If elected, Melvin would be the first African-American to lead the organization. He has also run a union: in 1981, at the age of 21, he became the youngest CSEA local president when he became head of CSEA Local 427, representing over 2,000 members. On the other hand, he is also seen as having a less-close relationship with the AFL-CIO executive committee.

Ott said he is sure there would be others jockeying for the coveted post.

“These are big shoes to fill, there’s going to be long conversations, and where things initially seem headed don’t always end up heading that way,” Ott said. “And the big unions are also certainly going to want to weigh in.”

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