April 10, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Bernie Sanders supporters flooding frigid WNYC Transmitter Park in Greenpoint on Friday afternoon, cheered their candidate as the only person in the presidential race who will fight for and win a nationwide $15 an hour minimum wage for all workers.
“I really think Bernie has workers’ rights at heart more than any of the other candidates,” Washington Heights resident Cyan Walker told LaborPress. “And he’s more accountable to the people rather than the corporations.”
Earlier in the week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation slowly phasing in a $15 an hour minimum wage in New York City. The move is expected to benefit well over 2 million low-wage workers. Upstate counties, however, will only see the minimum wage rise to $12.50 an hour by 2020, after which time the ultimate path to $15 gets murkier.
That’s a figure more in line with the one Hillary Clinton has been advocating. Bernie Sanders, in contrast, has made raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour a central plank in his presidential campaign platform.
Nevertheless, the Service Employees International Union — the union at the heart of the momentous nationwide “Fight for $15” movement — is backing Hillary Clinton in New York State’s Democratic Primary on April 19.
Sanders supporters at Friday’s Greenpoint rally, dismissed the significance of the official SEIU endorsement.
“In general, unions where the decision to endorse was made by the leadership, and the members didn’t vote — those people supported Hillary,” said Ron Suarez, a 65-year-old former psychology professor and Democratic delegate from the 14th Congressional district. “The unions where the membership voted — those unions generally supported Bernie. It’s very typical of the people behind Hillary and the people behind Bernie. Bernie’s movement is a bottom up movement. Hillary’s movement is a top-down hierarchical organized movement.”
The official SEIU endorsement also did not sit well with 60-year-old Brooklynite Kim Fraser.
“I think it’s because they’ve drunk the Clinton Kool-Aid,” Fraser said. “That if you want to get anything through it’s got to be the long established — overly long established — Clinton team to make things happen. I don’t believe it.”
Not all SEIU locals are supporting Clinton’s candidacy. In November, SEIU Local 1984 — the largest public labor union in New Hampshire, for instance, announced its support for Bernie Sanders.
President Richard Gulla lauded Sanders’ “long history of fighting for working people” and the Vermont senator’s unequivocal support of all workers earning a livable wage that enables them to "care for and support their families.”
Sanders specifically paid tribute to the trade union movement during his speech in Greenpoint on Friday, and credited it with pushing Governor Cuomo into signing $15 an hour legislation in New York.
“Trust me, it wasn’t the governor of New York who had that idea — it was the people telling him what he had to do,” Sanders said.
The Vermont senator’s long history of fighting for workers’ rights and opposing corporate greed also resonated with Florida transplant Warren Cockerham.
‘Bernie is not beholden to people in power,” Cockerham said. “Look at the way he’s run his campaign — it’s all financed through individual contributions.”
The Sanders campaign has raised over $139 million this campaign cycle — 99-percent of that from small individual donations.
Dylan Negri, a 24-year-old from Clinton Hill, took a day off from his contracting job on Friday to hear Bernie Sanders in person.
“I just get the impression from a social perspective that Berine is the only candidate willing to do the right thing,” Negri said. “I think Hillary has a lot of similar views — but I don’t really know what I’m getting with her. I suppose it’s because she could be different in two years, like she was two years ago.”
Bernie Sanders will campaign in Coney Island this Sunday, April 10.
Editor’s Note: Catch representatives from the Communications Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union each discuss their presidential picks on LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz airing Sunday evening at 9 p.m. on AM970.