In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and the Hudson River Valley, thousands rallied March 2 and 3 to protest the coordinated assault on workers' basic rights in Wisconsin. That assault started when Wisconsin's new Republican governor Scott Walker introduced a budget repair bill Feb. 11 that eliminated most public worker's collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times and has continued since. On March 4, Walker vowed to issue layoff notices to 1,500 state workers because his bill had not passed. On Feb. 26, rallies were held at all 50 state capitols to support the 100,000 protesting in Madison. The Albany rally had more than 1,500. New York City, Plattsburgh, Buffalo and Cheektowaga also had rallies that day. Here's a recap of rallies held this week.
Legendary folksinger Pete Seeger joined more than 800 people at a Solidarity rally at the Teamsters Hall on Stone Castle Road March 3.
"This is a moment in our nation's history as important as any struggle before," NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler told the group that assembled outside because attendance exceeded the hall's 400-seat capacity. "This Wisconsin attack on collective bargaining rights is also an attack on democracy and the middle class. We must all stand in solidarity with the public sector union members in Wisconsin as well as the courageous Democratic senators whose heroic actions give us hope."
Paul Ellis-Graham, President, Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation and a member of the Monroe-Woodbury TA, said what's going on across the nation is helping to educate people about the basics of unionism.
"Whether you call it collective bargaining, negotiations, discussions, talks or summits, this is about the fundamental principle of talking to resolve our differences," Ellis-Graham said. "Respectful, dignified communication is the most basic tenet of a successful democracy."
On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire which took the lives of 146 people in just 18 minutes, Ellis-Graham reminded the crowd about what happens when employees are subjected to poor working conditions without a voice on the job to help improve those conditions. "Who knows how many lives may have been saved if these women, many of whom were only teenagers, were allowed to discuss working and safety conditions with management," he said. "Workers everywhere deserve to be safe, and to pursue safety in the workplace through continued communication with management."
Attendees also observed a moment of silence to remember Brett McEnroe, 49, of Dover Plains from Iron Workers Local 417 and Roy Powell, 51, of New Paltz from Iron Workers Local 40 who died Feb. 8. The two were installing steel at a church construction site in Manhattan when they fell five stories to their deaths.
More than 200 workers from a wide variety of professions rallied at the old Syracuse China factory to show support for union rights March 3. NYSUT members filled the crowd and spoke to the media. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that those at the rally said unions helped create the middle class, and hurting the unions would in turn hurt the middle class, and the economy.
High school social studies teacher Donna Oppedisano said the debate is pitting people against each other. "This budget crisis, although very real is being used as a tool to dismantle the rights of people and pit one group against another," said the member of the Jamesville DeWitt Faculty Association.
Oppedisano said what the workers are facing in Wisconsin is having a ripple effect on the whole country, including New York.
Members from a wide number of Central New York unions, including the Canastota TA, Syracuse TA, North Syracuse EA and a dozen students from the Lyncourt Union Free schools joined the rally, carrying signs: "Save Our Teachers" and "Save our Future."
"We are standing up for our rights," said Phil Cleary of the NSEA.
NYSUT Board member Paul Farfaglia was interviewed on local news channels making the point that financial difficulties were created by Wall Street, not by workers on Main Street.
Several hundred braved extremely cold temperatures and winds at Lafayette Square in downtown Buffalo March 2 under the banner of: "We Are One," New York State AFL-CIO Representative Angela Blue said. "The current assault on Public Employees in New York State, the dismantling of public services that address community needs, the overwhelming unemployment rate, college tuition hikes, public school funding cuts… the list goes on and on. We need everyone to take responsibility, including corporations and the very wealthy. We need to build a movement and tell our elected officials, as well as the rest of the country: 'NOT IN NEW YORK!'"
The crowd, populated by a number of NYSUT members, including retired librarian Tom Morrissey and Niagara Falls teacher Andrea Nossavage, chanted along with the crowd, promising "Not in New York."
Lynn Garcia and Barbara Bielecki, Buffalo Teachers Federation, wore heavy scarves against the lake winds.
The Buffalo rally was framed as a Solidarity Rally in Support of Embattled Wisconsin Workers and was sponsored by the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation and the Coalition for Economic Justice. The Western New York Labor Federation's unions combine to represent almost 150,000 working members.
"The attacks on public employees must stop!" Jolene DiBrango told a crowd of 500 in downtown Rochester March 2. "Public employees/union members help keep our communities safe, help create products we use every day, and produce happy, healthy well-educated children."
Among the numerous union members gathered in Rochester were Teamsters Local 118, New York State United Teachers, Communication Workers of America, United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, Service Employees International Union and unions representing Rochester's firefighters and police.
Union and non-union workers alike held signs with statements such as "Stop the attack on public workers" and "Banks ruined America; unions built America." They chanted, "We are one."
Local protesters also targeted New York's proposed budget cuts.
Gov. Cuomo has proposed cuts to public services that "will result in larger class sizes, less access to quality health care, overpopulated prisons and reductions to other vital services necessary to building a better New York," stated a release from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees distributed at the Rochester event.