October 8, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
More than 200 people turned out Oct. 3 as LaborPress presented its annual “Heroes of Labor” awards to union members who demonstrated exemplary personal heroism, community service, or organizing work in the last year. “As a leader, I’m proud to be here,” said Nicholas LaMorte, president of Region 1 of the Civil Service Employees Association on Long Island. “It’s always nice when union and labor people, the common folk, get recognized for something that comes out of their hearts. It should send a message to everyone that bashes labor.” City Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley of Queens said the honorees “show the true spirit of New York.” Watch Video
In the ceremony at EmblemHealth’s offices in Lower Manhattan, Vincent Addeo of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers presented the award to Jesus Bonilla, the union’s lead organizer at the GKN Aerospace plant in Amityville. Bonilla, he said, “never gave up” despite serious health problems, losing two elections, and the company unjustly firing workers.
Kyle Bragg of SEIU Local 32BJ honored member Jorge Chuchuca, who’d pulled a man out of a burning car, saying his character “is an example to us all.” John Kramer of Local 94 of the International Union of Operating Engineers praised Eric Leimeister, who’d risked his life during Hurricane Sandy when he and his crew “stayed around to take care of the building.”
“What other union can say they have such skilled workers that Dr. Oz is their helper?” asked John Murphy of UA Local 1, referring to plumber David Justino saving the life of a woman hit by a cab last summer. Justino said he was simply “in the right place at the right time, and I was going to help her.”
Christopher Leo, a lobbyist for the New York State Professional Employees Federation, got his award from Pat Lavin, the union’s legislative director, who said his 15 years of tireless and dedicated effort had made the world a better place for working people.
Richard Sheehan, president of Teamsters Local 802, said that when he was first asked to name a hero, he thought of people who face life-threatening situations—but then he decided it also applied to John Reilly, the kind of person who “makes sure that every little boy and girl in the town has a warm coat.” Reilly said he didn’t do it alone, mentioning his three daughters, union teachers Jaclyn, Lynette, and Krystle.
LaMorte expressed similar sentiments in honoring CSEA Local 852 member Teresa Morris, saying that she and her husband were “special people” for opening their home to neighbors after Hurricane Sandy.
When Richard Alles, national legislative director of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, began speaking about fire Lieutenant Tommy Woods, who’d rescued 30 people in the Rockaways the night Sandy hit, he was interrupted by alert-sounding noises from the building’s PA system, followed by “please disregard our alarm system.” When the laughter subsided, Alles said Woods had the intuition that “makes the difference between a very good firefighter and an extraordinary one.”