April 05, 2014

Cilento: Let's change discourse about unions

Author: Maia Davis
Source: RA Reporter
Mario Cilento
Caption: State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. Photo by Michael Campbell.
The president of the New York State AFL-CIO told delegates that elected officials could learn something from the state's youngest residents. They could learn to appreciate teachers.

When Cilento's own daughters talk each night at the family dinner table about how their day went, they each begin by talking about their teacher.

"Well, today Mrs. Collins read us a story," his youngest, a 3-year-old preschooler, said. "Today, Mrs. Collins took us outside."

"I wish you could see the sheer reverence in their eyes … the sheer love" with which they speak of their teachers, Cilento told delegates.

The state AFL-CIO will work "to make sure that every single elected official in the state sees you" in the same way, he said.

NYSUT is the largest affiliate in the state AFL-CIO, which represents 2.5 million union members in 3,000 locals, Cilento said.

Statewide, 26 percent of all New York workers are in unions, the highest union density in the country.

Although the state AFL-CIO is large, size alone isn't enough, Cilento said.

"Our priority has to be to make the most of those two-and-a-half million members," he said. "We must change the public discourse" about unions and working people.

"We should not have to defend our very basic wages and benefits and working conditions," Cilento said.