December 5, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – LaborPress held its annual Labor Leadership Awards on Tuesday, November 29th, where it honored six leaders in the field of labor at the NYC District Council of Carpenters headquarters in downtown Manhattan. Matthew Aracich, Thomas Gesualdi, Jake Lemonda, Victoria Mitchell, Anthony Speelman, and Wayne Spence were the honorees.
Representatives of dozens of labor unions as well as local politicians turned out to hear them speak and watch as they received their engraved glass plaques. Neal Tepel, the Founder and Publisher of LaborPress, began the evening by welcoming the crowd, describing LaborPress, and thanking the unions for their support. Gary LaBarbera, President, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, and the Master of Ceremonies for the night, followed, leading those assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance. He then introduced Public Advocate Tish James, who thanked LaborPress, and called out different groups of workers in the audience for recognition. She also spoke about some of the fights she had joined labor in, in 2016, and said that, especially since the election, “the struggle continues.” “We will continue to be there to fight on the right side of justice,” she said.
Following James, Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, presented the first award of the night to Wayne Spence, President, New York State Public Employees Federation, AFT & SEIU. Weingarten began by praising LaborPress. She, like James, referenced the recent election, and said that workers, a free press, and an independent judiciary are crucial to our democracy. Of LaborPress, she said, “In New York, we have a press that holds people accountable, and that’s what Neal [Tepel] does.” “The labor people in this room are so vital, as they let the press know what’s going on,” she added. Of honoree Spence, Weingarten said he “walks the walk for working people.” “What he has done since his election is remarkable. His union got retro pay, found a way to negotiate without concessions, and win agreements with Governor Cuomo. Wayne is a fighter.” Noting that Spence is the first African-American to lead PEF, Weingarten said, “I am honored I can present this award.” Spence then accepted his award, thanking Weingarten and the Co-Chair of the evening, Vincent Pitta, who Spence said he “can’t thank enough” for his help with negotiations with the Governor.
Next, LaBarbera introduced Larry Cary, Partner, Cary Kane LLP, who was to present the award to Victoria Mitchell, Executive Director, District Council 1707 AFSCME, as “a tireless advocate, representing many unions across the state, who understands and knows the law, and believes in what we believe.” Cary said of Mitchell, “Victoria Mitchell is a hero to the labor movement. She was elected three years ago, and that organization was deeply befuddled when she walked in the door. [She] saved 700 jobs at FEGS, and obtained severance pay for the rest. [She] negotiated raises and medical insurance costs with the day care industry, where there had been no raises in nine years. She does it all cheerfully and with enthusiasm despite frustrations. Her membership sees her as someone who fights for them and does it well.” Mitchell accepted the award and said, “I am proud to be honored with these outstanding representatives of the labor movement.” She thanked LaborPress, with “a special thank you to Neal Tepel,” as well as Gary LaBarbera. She also referenced the presidential election, saying, “It is a temporary setback. We will resist…DC 1707 is preparing for a long fight, on the national, city and state levels…we will expand our membership, and protect members and the nation as a whole.”
Patrick Dunn, Vice President, Local 854, IAFF, was next on the stage to present the award to Jake Lemonda, President, Local 854, IAFF. Of Lemonda, Dunn said, “He took the bull by the horns,” as far as some financial issues went. Specifically, Dunn cited Lemonda’s raising of money for children who had lost parents in the line of duty. “Nothing is more important to us than the widows and orphans,” said Dunn. He praised Lemonda for building coalitions with the uniformed fire fighters and police officers, and called him “an old-school labor leader,” who is “poised and patient, thoughtful, and thorough.” Addressing Lemonda, Dunn said, “You are the most deserving.” Lemonda said, “I am honored and so humbled.” He thanked “the vendors who support LaborPress, Neal Tepel, and each and all of the unions,” and said, “LaborPress should receive an award for being a leader and important source for labor issues, not just in the city, but nationally,” and asked for a round of applause, which Tepel stood to receive. Said Lemonda,”I am no more than a voice for many,” and added, “Today labor is under attack. We must remain vigilant and fight the fight. We’ve paid the price in the past, and we will continue to pay the price.” He then shared three quotes that he said were important to him. One, “The most important resource for any union is its rank and file,” two, “The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor,” and three, “Silence never won rights.”
Marc Perrone, International President, United Food and Commercial Workers, then presented the award to Anthony G. Speelman, President, Local 1500, UFCW. Perrone lauded Speelman for his accomplishments, among them, when he was Secretary-Treasurer, his work on behalf of workers during the A & P bankruptcy. “Tony wouldn’t give up,” said Perrone. “I couldn’t be prouder to have a person head of our biggest New York local. Tony Speelman is a person that believes that no one, no one, should have to struggle alone.” Speelman accepted his award, and, also referencing the election, said, “We just went through hell. What do we do? Do we put our tail between our legs? No, we fight.” He also said, “LaborPress is vital,” and, to Neal Tepel, said, “You have to tell our story. Who spreads our message, other than Neal Tepel?” “We’re in it for the long haul,” he added, “We have to organize, organize, organize. Let’s fight together!”
Dennis Ippolito, Former Business Manager, Local 12, IAHFIAW, next presented the award to Matthew Aracich, Business Manager, Local 12, IAHFIAW. Ippolito called Aracich a “great guy,” with whom he has had a long friendship, as well as having known Aracich’s father (Aracich is a third generation member of Local 12). “He’s always had my back,” said Ippolito. “When I retired, I knew I was turning my local over to the right person.” Aracich said, “I am truly humbled to receive this labor award, especially among my peers.” He thanked Tepel, and Vincent Pitta, and asked for a round of applause for Tepel, and offered congratulations to the other honorees. He thanked his business agents, and organizers, and said, “Local 12 goes back to 1884, and is the original green energy expert.” He also said “We provide not just a job, but a career for the middle class.” He said the Local’s membership had grown by 20%, but “there is still so much more we can do.” Finally, he thanked his wife and son for their support.
George Miranda, President, Teamsters Joint Council 16, IBT, was the presenter for the final award, to Thomas Gesualdi, President, Local 282, IBT. Miranda spoke of the complications and difficulties of running unions, and said, “I have to make sure things are done the right way. Thomas Gesualdi is a Teamster’s Teamster…[who has] protected strong wages and strong benefits, with an out-of-the-box approach, not the same old tactics, for these challenging times.” Gesualdi began by “thanking Neal and his team, and all on the dais, my Executive Board and all the Teamsters.” He said “LaborPress today serves an even bigger function than ever before. Labor can’t get its voice out – all the good things it does. You never read that in the paper. That’s why it’s vital to get our voice out.” Gesualdi also cited the aging of his member population, and noted that the young people grew up reading negative things about unions. “I asked Neal,” said Gesualdi, “and he’ll help – to get new members involved – they will be the leaders of the future.”
At the close of the ceremony, LaBarbera brought Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, up to the podium. “LaborPress is incredibly essential,” she said, and offered her congratulations to all those who had received awards.