September 13, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – With the sun beating 90-degree heat down on Fifth Avenue, New York City’s labor unions marched northward for the annual Labor Day parade.
The Carpenters Union’s kilt-clad bagpipe-and-drum band stepped off first from 44th Street, followed by a contingent of political and union leaders that included Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, International Union of Operating Engineers President James Callahan, and AFSCME District Council 37 head Henry Garrido.
“I owe everything in my life to the labor movement,” Gary LaBarbera, head of the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council,” said as the parade passed the reviewing stand at East 62nd Street. “This is a great day for us. We’re showing our pride, and we have an opportunity to really show New York City who we are and what we’re about. The labor movement built the middle class, and we have to keep a strong labor movement. We’re very fortunate here in New York that we do have a very strong labor movement.”
The contingents reflected the panorama of New York’s organized workers: teachers and traffic enforcement agents, laborers and letter carriers, social workers and stagehands, the Operating Engineers driving backhoes and cranes and the multitudinous International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees locals rolling in classic cars and motorcycles (along with a couple of men pushing strollers).
“It is such an honor to walk with the Central Labor Council and to walk with my union, the UFT, every Labor Day parade,” said CLC secretary-treasurer Janella Hinds, who is also the United Federation of Teachers’ vice-president for high schools. “A labor union is where I got the protection, is where I got the information, is where I got the guidance that I needed to excel in my profession.”
“Being in a union gives us strength and collective power,” said Jessica Rosenberg, president of the Long Island University Faculty Federation—which represents professors at the Brooklyn school who were locked out the week before in what she called “an unprecedented attack,” the first such lockout in the history of higher education. “This is why we’re here today. It’s an attack on the faculty, the students, and all of organized labor. It’s an attack on all of us.”
“Being in a labor union means so much to me,” said Sarah Hughes, a Professional Staff Congress member who teaches at the Murphy Institute. “It means I can treat my work as both a way to make a living, but also a place where I can work to make the world a better place. I feel like I can talk about important social issues at work.” She said it also gives the freedom to take risks “because I know I have a union to back me up.”
To Howard Styles, IUOE Local 94’s director of training, unions mean “a steady employment avenue for the middle class. Without unions, we lose the middle class. “It means safety, skilled workers, good wages and benefits,” said Lenny Legotte, president of International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 1, which has been campaigning for stronger elevator-safety legislation. “It doesn’t benefit me personally, but I have 2,700 members that it does benefit.”
“You always have brothers near you,” said Carpenters Local 1556 member Sandy Lopez. “Somebody always taking care of you, no matter what happens.”
The crowd clearly favored Hillary Clinton for President. Many people wore the arrowed-H logo of her campaign, while a contingent from Laborers Locals 78 and 79 switched their chant from “We Are the Union” to “Trump Sucks” as they passed the gilded-egomaniac logo of the Trump Tower.
“This is our moment in society now,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union. “People are understanding that the economy is out of whack, that too much is going to those at the top and not enough is going to the rest of us. It’s that consciousness, it is that understanding, that is going to change what this country is, and the labor movement is going to be in the lead in making that happen.”