NYS leaders voice strong support for unions at Manhattan rally
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Thousands of union members including nearly 200 from PEF rallied February 24 in New York City to protest widespread attacks on labor and working families.
The “Unrig the System” rally was one of several held in major cities throughout the country in advance of the February 26 session of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in the case of Janus v. AFSCME, which challenges the right of unions to charge fees to employees they represent, but who do not join the union and pay dues. The unions are bound by law to represent every employee in their bargaining units and argue that it would be blatantly unfair to force members to pay the way for both themselves and for non-member “free riders.”
The case is seen as just the most recent attempt in a long series, to destroy organized labor as a powerful progressive force both socially and politically, and the champion of the country’s beleaguered middle class.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman all joined union leaders who spoke at the mid-day rally in lower Manhattan’s Foley Square. Several state legislators and city officials also came to show their support for organized labor and the needs and rights of working people and their families.
Everyone there knew who was leading and funding the nationwide attacks on the middle class, unions, immigrants, public schools and public education, the environment, free and fair elections, health care for all, Social Security and every other issue that mattered to them. And neither the union protestors nor the speakers minced words, invoking the name of President Trump and the Koch brothers many times.
Cuomo said it loud and said it plain: “They’ve declared war on labor and when you attack labor, you attack the heart and soul of this country. Trump told voters, ‘I’m on the side of working people,’ but after he was elected, he showed his true colors.’
“If the Supreme Court carries Donald Trump’s political water, and if the Supreme Court tries to end organized labor, this state will do everything in its power to protect it. When you attack labor, you attack the state of New York, the state that is proud to have the highest union membership in the United States of America.
“We will never let them silence the voice of labor in this country,” Cuomo said. “We need more unions today, not less.
“I am a Queens boy, and the rules of the old neighborhood were simple: If you are with me I am with you and we will never back down from a fight. I would not be governor of the state of New York if it were not because of the support of organized labor. And my father, Mario Cuomo would not have been governor without labor’s support. You have always been with me and I will always be with you. They want a fight, they don’t know a fight. If they want a fight, we are ready to rumble.”
As NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento put it, “They don’t understand. We all have a common bond. We all want to be part of the country’s economic engine. The governor understands that unions raise the standard of living for all families. Together we have the power to get the American dream for us and for our children.”
“You are the heart and soul of America,” Cuomo told the workers. “Across this country, you see labor going backward. In New York you see labor going forward. I am 100 percent union born and bred. As long as I am governor of the state of New York, I will have the back of organized labor.”
Just about every public leader who spoke told how his parents’ union membership enabled their family to prosper and educate their children to become the leaders of today.
DiBlasio said, “New York City is a union town for everybody. We are part of the fight all over this country and we tell the 1 percent (of wealthiest Americans and corporations), the people are taking back this country.”
“No one looks after all our rights better than organized labor,” DiNapoli said. “Unions are the most important protection for working people.”
The state AG observed, “Union values are American values. Your voice is essential to any progressive effort. Solidarity is in our blood. We will not go backward.”
Schneiderman added that he is leading a group of 22 state attorneys general that have filed a (friend of the court) brief supporting organized labor’s position in the Janus case.
“When we fight together,” Schneiderman said, “we win!”