New York, NY – Organized labor gathered at Washington Square Park on May Day 2018, keenly concerned with a growing list of anti-worker attacks rivaling those that predicated the rise of International Workers’ Day in the USA over a century ago.
“The labor movement is under attack as we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, and the number of ‘right to work’ states is increasing,” Public Advocate Letitia James told the crowd of union workers and grassroots activists assembled inside the famed Greenwich Village space on Tuesday morning. “It’s really ‘right to work for less.’… If you want a strong middle class, you need to support the Labor Movement and all workers.”
Leaders and rank & file members from the Teamsters, LiUNA Local 78, RWDSU, 32BJ, NYSNA and other unions, spoke out against Koch brother-backed assaults on working men and women from coast-to-coast. The aforementioned “right to work” laws, the Trump administration’s rabid deportation campaign against people of color, and the so-called “open shop” model of development, which spells doom for good middle class construction jobs, prominently among them.
“I would not be here except for the union,” LiUNA Local 78 Assistant Business Manager and Ecuadorian immigrant Byron Silva said.
Since gaining the White House, the Trump administration and its minions have ruthlessly pursued a multi-pronged effort to deport as many immigrant workers from the county as possible, while also undermining vital humanitarian actions including TPS (Temporary Protective Status) and DACA (Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals).
“I’m really scared right now…I’ve lived in this country for a long time,” said Perla Canales, a Honduran emigre from Staten Island and card-carrying member of 32BJ, who now faces the very real possibility of being deported in the next two months.
The construction industry alone, stands to lose more than 350,000 workers if efforts to gut TSP and DACA policies are successful.
According to Local 78, virtually its entire membership is now comprised of immigrant workers from 58 different countries, speaking 13 separate languages.
That said, Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant purge has virtually given unscrupulous bosses across the nation a free pass to exploit workers fearful about their immigration status.
In New Jersey, crooked companies operating in the especially perilous asbestos abatement industry have become notorious for exploiting undocumented workers, withholding wages and benefits, and subjecting employees to potentially deadly environments.
Silva also took direct aim at Hudson Yards developers and their push for so-called “open shop” development as the massive 18-million-square-foot project on Manhattan’s West Side lurches into its second phase of construction.
“It’s a shame we have developers like Related that are trying to build buildings with non-union labor,” Silva added. “They’re selling one penthouse for $30 million, and they don’t want to pay workers the right money? ‘Open shop’ pits worker against worker, but has also created solidarity in fighting back.”
After emigrating to the U.S. back in 1993, Silva initially worked in the non-union construction industry for a few years where he was “mistreated and exploited.”
“I was really in bad shape,” Silva told LaborPress.
That all changed in 1999, however, when he joined the union.
“I was treated with respect, got benefits and moved up to organizer,” he concluded.
“It’s a shame we have developers like Related that are trying to build buildings with non-union labor,” he said. “They’re selling one penthouse for $30 million and they don’t want to pay workers the right money? Open shop” pits worker against worker, but has also created solidarity in fighting back.”
Queens Congress Member Grace Meng [D-6th District], meanwhile, dolefully observed that if Trump policies where around during the 1970s when her parents immigrated to the US, they would never have been able to keep the Meng family together.
Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul said she is “sick and tired of my sisters being put down and harassed and degraded.”
“Governor Cuomo and I will have your back,” Hochul declared. “You are a part of our American family.
LiUNA Local 79 member William Uyaguari extolled the May Day Crowd with “Siempre luchando por la clase trabajadora!” — “Always struggling for the working class!”
Assuming Donald Trump could never be elected president, Public Advocate James lamented that too many voters “fell asleep” in 2016.
“On this day, let us be reminded of who we are and our values and principles,” she said.
On scene reporting by Silver Kreiger and Steve Wishnia.