February 15, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY - Charter school zealot Betsy Devos may have been confirmed as U.S. labor secretary — but on this week’s episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airing Sunday night at 9 p.m. on AM970, Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers head, says pubic school advocates are ready to block any attempt to defund schools -- the same way Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban was blocked in federal court. Hector Figueroa, 32BJ SEIU president, talks solidarity and organized labor’s response to the Trump administration; and John Skinner, Ironworkers Local 46 political & legislative director, defends the rights of hard-pressed New York City construction workers. We’ll also learn how labor unions working with General Vision Services (GVS) are helping to change lives one pair of eyeglasses at a time.
Thanks to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, the U.S. now has a multi-billionaire who staunchly opposes public education, serving as the education secretary. What could go wrong? Weingarten isn’t waiting to find out, and says educators will be “watchdogs” to safeguard our kids.
“If she [DeVos] tries to violate the new federal law that requires monies go to the schools that have concentrated poverty, and she tries to change that to vouchers, we’ll sue her — just like people sued on the Muslim ban,” Weingarten says.
The AFT president says that while concerned citizens must be “hyper-vigilant” about what DeVos does as the new education secretary, elections also matter, a lot.
“If we don’t want our schools to be privatized and kids to be commodities, then this is the important thing to vote on,” Weingarten says.
The heads of several major buildings trades unions may have been smiling after a White House meeting with Donald Trump immediately after the new president’s inauguration, but Figueroa says that pressure from “the ground up” will soon convince everyone about the fight organized labor must now fight.
“We may see images of laborers being happy with construction of the pipelines — but we also see the death and the worsening of conditions of construction workers here in New York City,” Figueroa says. “We are collaborating with them to make sure that the city passes measures that will protect workers in construction. And we believe that as the assault against workers becomes more and more clear, from this administration, labor unions, community groups, will have no choice, but all of us, to be in the same fight.”
With a staggering 30 New York City construction workers killed on the job over the past 24 months, Skinner says it’s also high time for crooked developers and contractors to be held to account.
“We need to raise the fines,” Skinner says. “And we need to raise the standards. It shouldn’t be $10,000 for a worker’s life. That is not acceptable. It should be over a million dollars. Ten-thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket for greedy developers and contractors who don’t want to follow the law.”
This year, GVS started partnering with RestoringVision.org to help bring sight to millions of people who, until now, could not afford proper eyeglasses.
“In the New York market we service over three million union members,” Lewis says. “And every time one of the union members utilizes their vision benefit at one of the GVS preferred providers, we donate a pair of glasses on their behalf. There are stories in the U.S. and other places in the word where people put on a pair of these glasses...and it’s life changing.”
LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airs every Sunday night on AM970 The Answer from 9 to 10 p.m. This week’s episode, as well as every other episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” is also available on demand at www.am970theanswer.com.