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Advocating fairness, justice for all in Reg. 1

By SHERRY HALBROOK

Joe McCann at a George Floyd vigil June 7, 2020 in Buffalo. Organized by area labor and religious leaders.

As the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd spotlighted issues of racism and sparked protests throughout the country, PEF Region 1 leaders have stepped up in a variety of ways to speak out for equality and justice for all people.

PEF Region 1 Coordinator Michele Silsby said she is grateful to PEF Division leaders Stephanie McLean-Beathley, Vincent Cicatello and Joe McCann among others for their efforts to stimulate discussion and concern for those who experience racial bias.

“It’s important to have these conversations and to stand up against discrimination,” Silsby said.

The need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has made bringing members safely together for meetings and other events more challenging, Silsby said.

McLean-Beathley, who chairs the Region 1 Women’s Committee and leads PEF Division 167, asked Cicatello to speak on the race issue during a June meeting of the group.

Cicatello, a PEF Executive Board member and leader of PEF Division 180 at Buffalo Psychiatric Center, said he was surprised by the request, but was glad to speak to the group.

“I was honored to be asked, and it felt natural and easy to talk about it,” he said, even though the issue has been a sensitive one.  Regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, Cicatello told the members that “while all lives matter, right now the focus is on black lives.  I think it is time to raise awareness of this on a bigger scale.  Silence on the issue is complacency.  It is important to speak up.”  The more people who do speak up to protest injustice, the better the chances of stopping it, he added.

“We need to help any oppressed people.  We have to speak up individually.  As unionists we must come together to support social justice,” Cicatello said.

McCann, who leads PEF Division 332 at the state Gaming Commission, expressed similar feelings and said he was glad to participate in a George Floyd-related vigil in June that was organized by the local AFL-CIO in collaboration with religious leaders in the area, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.  He described the vigil as very “peaceful, solemn and moving.”

“I’m an active member of our Area Labor Federation, which has great support here and I see great diversity at their events,” McCann said.  “I see the human struggle as interconnected through all of these activities.”