The Working Families Party (WFP) is a left-wing political party based in Brooklyn, New York. Using New York’s electoral fusion voting system that allows multiple parties to nominate candidates and pool votes cast, the WFP uses its endorsement and ballot line to pressure Democratic Party candidates to take union-friendly stands on economic issues. The party is heavily funded by labor unions, and union officials are reported to sit on WFP’s board. The WFP has close ties to various left-wing groups. It shares office space with New York Communities for Change and for a period ran an in-house data firm, Data and Field Services.
The Working Families Party is a key player in pushing politics to the left in both New York City and in New York State. The WFP was an early backer of left-wing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) candidacy and prior political career, and other prominent city Democratic officeholders such as Public Advocate Letitia James (D) and Comptroller Scott Stringer (D) owe their positions to the assistance of the WFP. In 2018, the party endorsed a left-wing primary challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched by actress Cynthia Nixon. As a result of the WFP’s decision, some labor unions which had provided institutional and financial support to the WFP broke off supporting the party.
While the WFP is linked with left-wing economic policies and candidates, progressive groups have expressed hope that WFP’s innocuous-sounding name will assist their efforts to elect Democrats; the Center for Popular Democracy, a left-wing organizing group, and WFO reported in a proposal that the Working Families Party brand was seen as moderate. In truth, the WFP is far-left; it endorsed independent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primaries for President in 2016. For his part, Sanders praised WFP as “the closest thing there is to a political party that believes in my vision of democratic socialism.”
In 2018, the party’s longtime National Director, Dan Cantor, was appointed to chair the WFP National Committee. He was replaced by Maurice Mitchell, a left-wing activist who had previously been involved in the extremist “Movement for Black Lives” group associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
New York State has an uncommon voting system known as electoral fusion, under which multiple parties may nominate the same candidate and pool the votes cast for that candidate on the various “ballot lines.” This allows minor parties (most notably the Working Families Party on the far left and the Conservative Party of New York State on the conservative right) to use their ballot lines to gain influence for assorted interest groups that back them.
In the early 1990s, left-wing activists associated with the later-discredited ACORN labor union organizing network including former Jesse Jackson aide Dan Cantor formed the New Party in an attempt to exploit electoral fusion laws to push Democratic officeholders further to the left. While the New Party had some success (including helping launch the career of future President Barack Obama), the Supreme Court denied its case to force all states to adopt fusion voting. The New Party folded, with Cantor and its New York wing splitting off to form the Working Families Party in 1998.
The WFP was formed from the remains of the New Party by Cantor, the New York City ACORN network, and labor unions including the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the United Federation of Teachers. Unions provide a substantial amount of WFP’s funding: In unions’ 2014 fiscal years, they contributed $633,196 to the WFP and its state affiliates, with a further $308,288 in 2015. Amid disputes over the WFP’s endorsements for Governor of New York in 2014 and 2018, the United Federation of Teachers; the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union; the Hotel Trades Council; SEIU 32BJ and 1199SEIU; the Communications Workers of America; and Transit Workers United withdrew support from the Working Families Party.
The party also receives funds from friendly political committees: FEC records show that Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign provided the WFP with $316,316 in 2016. The party backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries. After the primary campaign, Sanders praised WFP as “the closest thing there is to a political party that believes in my vision of democratic socialism” and spoke at the WFP’s September 2016 fundraising gala. Sanders encouraged New York state voters to cast their general election vote for Democratic-Working Families Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on the Working Families line to endorse a left-wing transformation of the country.
Since the 1998 New York gubernatorial election, the WFP has had official party status and a guaranteed ballot line for elections in the state. The party typically co-endorses the Democratic nominee in general elections, after pushing a left-wing Democrat in the primary election.
New York City
The WFP was extremely successful in the 2013 New York City municipal elections, with the left-wing candidates Bill de Blasio, Letitia James, and Scott Stringer all winning the Democratic nominations and general elections for the city’s three city-wide offices with the WFP’s support. All were re-elected with WFP support in 2017, though WFP influence in New York City is said to be declining amid scandals involving Mayor de Blasio and his left-wing political network.
While the party claims success in driving Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to adopt union-backed policies such as a statewide $15/hr. minimum wage, disputes with Cuomo have roiled the organization. In 2014, the party flirted with endorsing left-wing university professor Zephyr Teachout against Cuomo, while in 2018 the party backed left-wing actress Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge to the incumbent. A number of labor unions which had previously supported the Working Families Party have cut off support for the organization in recent years; the United Federation of Teachers, multiple SEIU local unions, and the Hotel Trades Council, among others, have withdrawn support.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, excoriated the WFP after it endorsed Nixon, saying, “[WFP state director Bill] Lipton is misguided and delusional if he believes the Working Families Party still represents the voices of labor and working people in New York.” One building trades union leader called the WFP “a scam, a cynical ploy to drive a radical agenda” amid the Nixon endorsement fallout.
The Working Families Party and its ballot line was involved in fraudulent voting in upstate New York. A former Troy City clerk pleaded guilty to forging the signatures of WFP-registered voters on absentee ballots in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Other Democratic Party officials were investigated for involvement in forging WFP ballots.
Other State Activities
The party has expanded from its New York base, and the WFP has state affiliates in Washington, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island. The WFP is associated with a 501(c)(4) group, the Working Families Organization (WFO). Left-wing mobilization group MoveOn.org sits on WFP’s board.
The Working Families operation is substantial in Connecticut. The party endorsed and was (until acrimony over the 2016 state budget) a close ally of Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy. Connecticut State Senator Edwin Gomes (D-Bridgeport) was elected in a special election as a Working Families candidate, and the WFP took control of all the non-Democratic reserved seats on the Hartford City Council in 2015, closing out all non-left-wing parties from the city council.
Also see Working Families Organization (Nonprofit)
The Working Families Party runs a 501(c)(4) lobbying and advocacy group, the Working Families Organization (WFO). While he was national director of the WFP, Dan Cantor also served as Executive Director of the WFO.
Like the WFP, WFO is heavily funded by labor unions. In 2015, unions contributed $545,445 to WFO; in 2014, unions provided $1,279,695 of WFO’s funds. The Rockefeller Family Fund and Tides Foundation have also contributed to WFO, as have the Proteus Action League and Citizen Action of New York.
The Working Families Party’s Brooklyn headquarters (1 Metrotech Center, 11th Floor) are shared with a number of union-aligned left-wing groups. New York Communities for Change (NYCC), a labor organizing group that emerged from the collapse of the national ACORN network, has very close ties to the WFP. The office space is also shared with the Mutual Housing Association of New York, a public housing developer that has been identified as another ACORN successor group.
The WFP and New York Communities for Change also shared their former office space (2-4 Nevins St., Brooklyn) with the Fast Food Workers Committee, a labor union almost entirely funded by the national Service Employees International Union that contracted with NYCC for organizing and other services, including campaigning for a national $15 minimum wage in the “Fight for $15” unionization campaign.