December 19, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – The Fiscal Policy Institute awarded the Frances Perkins Working People’s Award to three recipients at its Annual Breakfast, held on Wednesday, December 14th in lower Manhattan.
The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), founded in 1991, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization committed to improving public policies and private practices to better the economic and social conditions of all New Yorkers. The award recognizes those who, like Perkins, advocate for the rights and well-being of working families. Perkins was the U.S. Secretary of Labor appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was instrumental in the establishment of Social Security, and pioneered federal legislation on unemployment insurance, public assistance, and minimum wage.
Michael Mulgrew, President, UFT, welcomed the attendees, saying, “Since the election, we actually have people trying to find the truth. It’s so important. It’s hard to get [that] interjected into the conversation.” Ron Deutsch, Executive Director, FPI, said, “We’ve now got a world that’s different from the world we’ve been working in for a long time. At FPI, we challenge those who are ‘fact challenged.’ In 2017 our work will become even more challenging, due to looming cuts, and regressive and conservative politics of the new administration.”
The first award was given to Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project. She has worked with groups throughout New York City to combat lending discrimination, build and sustain financial cooperatives and community loan funds, and promote community land trusts and non-speculative housing in neighborhoods of color. She currently chairs the boards of directors of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, and the NYC Community Land Initiative. She has focused on promoting financial justice and economic inclusion in immigrant communities, and advocating for cooperative and community-controlled finance for almost 20 years. David Kallick, Senior Fellow at FPI, introduced Del Rio, saying, “Her attention to the challenges facing immigrants and communities of color can help them realize their dreams. She takes on injustices where she finds them. A lot of people talk about financial education; more rare is financial empowerment.” Del Rio, accepting her award, said, “There is an incredible need for solid facts and data. We’re so grateful we can rely on FPI and others…and the openness and eagerness they have to work with other groups. At the New Economy Project, our model is to work with community-based groups around the city, to fight and challenge corporations that harm neighborhoods, and work with groups to envision better communities and a better world, and to put economic control and self-determination in their hands.”
The next award recipient was Henry Garrido, Executive Director of DC 37, the largest municipal employees union in New York City, as well as International Vice President of AFSCME. FPI has called Garrido “a tireless advocate for not only his members, but for all workers.” Ron Deutsch introduced him, telling the audience that Garrido’s first exposure to the struggles of workers came from Garrido’s mother, a garment worker, who told him about abuses on the factory floor. “His mother gave him a progressive voice, and the idea that working people should be taken care of.” Addressing Garrido, he said, “Your work has exemplified this…You are one of the architects in rebuilding the middle class.” Garrido said, “I am somewhat of an anomaly. I was born in the Dominican Republic. You’ve heard about my mother, but my father also influenced me. [In the Dominican Republic] he went to a strike and disappeared for 28 days, came back beaten and badly hurt. For years I was afraid of protests, until I went to one in the United States and nothing bad happened…I took Trump’s comments about immigrants personally. In the aftermath of the election we had a meeting of labor leaders to ask what to do next. In my experience labor has been at its best when it argues beyond the scope of those they represent…we can’t just look out for ourselves. We have to hold on to bigger values. When we abandon our values we will have an even worse result than what we have today. I am ready to organize in ways we haven’t before. The fight continues.”
Next, Nancy Rankin, Vice President for Policy, Research and Advocacy at the Community Service Society, presented the award to Steven Greenhouse. Greenhouse was a reporter at The New York Times for 31 years, for the last 19 as the labor and workplace reporter. At The Times, he covered topics including labor unions, wage theft, poverty among the nation’s farm workers, the Fight for 15, locked in workers at Walmart, the New York City transit strike, factory disasters in Bangladesh, and the push to roll back public employees’ bargaining rights. Said Rankin, “We relied on his powerful, careful, and illuminating reporting.” Greenhouse said, “I have greatly respected the Fiscal Policy Institute over the years, and turned to them for research. These are challenging times for the problems facing labor and unions. Let’s hope Donald Trump doesn’t dig us deeper in to the hole. There is a decline in the American Dream…and rollbacks of protections ahead. What can we do? As Henry Garrido was saying, it’s important to organize and educate. We need to help people see there’s truth beyond Fox News.