The New York Amsterdam News and Bill Lynch Associates hosted the first of what promises to be a yearly event The ‘Tying Communities Together’ breakfast paid tribute to New York’s labor movement, its leaders and the relationship that the Black press has traditionally had with unions and the working class. Elected officials and union members from across the city were in attendance. The event also honored three important contributors to the success of the labor movement.
Basil Patersonis a well-known political figure in the city, one who has used his litigation expertise on behalf of labor. His firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C., located in Garden City, Long Island, has more than 40 labor union clients. Paterson is the firm’s co-chair of labor practice and personally represents Local 1199SETU and the United Federation of Teachers.
Paterson served as New York’s secretary of state and New York City deputy mayor for labor relations and personnel. He has also served as a New York State senator, vice chairperson of the Democratic National Committee and as a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He has chaired the New York City mayor’s Judiciary Committee and the New York State governor’s Judicial Screening Panel for the Second Department. He recently ended his tenure at the Commission on Judicial Nominations after serving for 12 years.
Paterson also served for 10 years as a member of the Board of Editors of the New York Law Journal. In 2003, he was appointed to the newly formed Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections. He is chairman of the National Grid Foundation Board of Directors and has served as co-chairman of the New York State Governor’s Commission on Determinate Sentencing and the New York State Commission on Powers of Local Government He has the distinction of having served as the chair of the first Arbitration Panel mandated by New York State legislation. He has spent a lifetime working on behalf of labor unions and the working people they represent.
‘The labor movement in New York City and in the rest of the country is under the most severe attack it has experienced since the 1920s. Even its allies have fallen for that old bromide that the working class needs to sacrifice.. .without those who have prospered most making substantial contributions to the wellness of this nation,’ Paterson told the AmNews.
‘Cutting pension benefits, increasing workers’ share of health premiums and imposing furloughs are reducing compensation at a time of higher cost of living. And yet, Congress and state legislatures continue to find ways to cut taxes for the rich, refuse to close tax loopholes and continue to threaten Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare!
‘At this perilous point, we in the Black and Brown communities must recognize that continued threats to the labor movement come at a time when the vast majority of our brothers and sisters are in the labor movement. We are the working class! And we are an essential component of the trade union movement, particularly in New York City,’ he concluded.
Teamsters Union Local 237 President Greg Floyd has had a long and storied history with the union, the largest local in the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He joined the Teamsters 20 years ago and began moving up the ranks, holding the titles of deputy director for peace officer, secretary to the New York State AFL-CIO’s Committee of Peace and Law Enforcement Officers, director of Local 237’s Citywide Division, trustee on the executive board, secretary- treasurer and chief negotiator. On March 30, 2007, Floyd was elected as the union’s president, the fifth in its 55-year history.
Floyd spoke with the AmNews on the importance of the labor union movement and the significance of the Tying Communities Together event.
‘I think that people have forgotten or were never told about the achievements that labor has made over the last 100 years. For example, the 40-hour workweek, union or not, is the standard; weekends off so you can spend time with your family; the eight-hour workday; and decent wages and benefits. You benefited and your parents benefited from the achievements of labor, and these achievements were won by the blood, sweat and tears of men and women who had the guts to stand up for what they wanted, needed and deserved,’ he said.
‘Now we have a climate that has forgotten what it means to be in the labor movement, union or not. We have people voting against their own self-interest Thirty years ago, 1 percent of the population had 10 percent of the income. Thirty years later, we have 1 percent of the population with 25 percent of the income. That has come from the middle class. The last economic crisis started in 2008. Blacks and Hispanics have been affected more and have lost more income than whites. We don’t see that trend getting any better any time soon.
‘I don’t see an end to this until 2016 and possibly a depression. The policies coming from our elected officials are not helping this crisis. Corporations are not paying enough in taxes. You’re going to do away with services and eliminating jobs. This will have a domino effect.
‘We’re almost at the point where you’ll see what happened in Renaissance France. We won’t go to that extreme, but somehow there’s going to be some sort of revolution. In the Arab countries where revolution is happening, in Israel people are sleeping in tents to protest their economic situation – we cannot think that this will not reach these shores,’ he said.
‘People only see this happening to unions but don’t realize that the unions set the standard for their way of life. They will realize the great con job that has been played on them.
‘This event is encouraging to working men and women – that there are still some elected officials who stand shoulder to shoulder with labor. It is truly inspiring that one of our oldest and most respected newspapers for our community is spearheading this gathering. For me, this is a historical moment, one that we should all relish,’ Floyd concluded.
Michael Mulgrew is the president of the United Federation of Teachers. Elected by a landslide in 2009, Mulgrew has advanced the union’s position in its quest to proactively transform education in New York City, Mulgrew reached a landmark agreement with the Department of Education (DOEJ to dose the infamous Teacher Reassignment Centers. He also joined parents and community advocates in their battle against the DOE for failing to reduce class sizes and for wrongfully closing 19 schools. Mulgrew also led efforts for charier school reform.
‘It is more important than ever to have a strong labor movement,’ Mulgrew told the AmNews. ‘We see an agenda that is trying to destroy the middle class in this county.
‘Income disparity is the greatest problem facing this country, city and state. You cannothave a strong society in terms of social and economic justice when you have income disparity growing at the rate we have throughout this country. In New York State, we are the income disparity capital, and, sadly, New York City is the worst city in terms of financial disparity in the entire country.
‘How do we move forward? The pivotal question is, how do we stop income disparity from growing? In New York City, half of the households live below the poverty line and nobody is talking about it. More than 18,000 kids leave homeless shelters to go to school. That number has never been that high. That’s why it’s important to have a strong labor movement, because we know that when corporations fight for their interests, it’s not good for our society.
‘I’m so proud and humbled to be a leader in the UFT at a time when we’re partnering and standing up for communities within the city,’ Mulgew continued. ‘And not just on any one issue but on a multitude of issues. It could be standing with a food kitchen in Bedford-Stuyvesant that’s being overwhelmed or standing with a group out in Queens that wants to start a garden and the city won’t give them the property to do it. That’s really what I’m proudest of with the UFT. Our contribution now is more about what we do to educate the children, but also what we do to try to help communities so that our children live in good places.
‘Right now, you have a constant debate about education reform. Part of that debate has to be, if we’re educating our children, don’t we have to make sure – this is what teachers worry about all the time – that every child is educated so that they can have opportunities? Those opportunities for them to live a good life are disappearing because more and more people are falling into poverty, because we don’t have the jobs that we need and jobs are being devalued.
‘I think that this is an absolutely beautiful event to be having, it goes to the very essence of anyone who works in schools and anyone who understands the importance of community. You couldn’t have started this at a more appropriate time than right now. This is the marriage between labor and community, standing up against the interests of people who want to continue austerity, who want to continue the programs and policies that have led this country into more and more poverty. We want these things to stop. I can’t thank the Amsterdam News more because it really is the time when we need this,’ Mulgrew concluded.