May 01, 2015

At presidents' breakfast, pointed questions on behalf of labor

Source: NYSUT Communications
  AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre addresses local presidents. Photo by Steve DeMeo.
Caption: AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre addresses NYSUT local presidents. Photo by Steve DeMeo.

This year the AFL-CIO is posing a pointed question to each and every candidate: "We are asking people: What are you going to do to raise our wages?" said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre. "We're up and running and we're in our campaign mode."

Gebre spoke to local presidents, fittingly enough, on International Workers Day, during a program that also featured NYSUT General Counsel Richard Casagrande. Vice President Catalina Fortino framed the presentations as "a continuation of our dialogue over the last two days."

Increasingly, Gebre said, union members believe that every election cycle, no matter what party wins," there's no movement on the "hope and change" promised to working people.

"We find ourselves with declining wages and ever expanding income inequality," Gebre said. "We're not sitting back and watching."

CEO income is skyrocketing, Gebre noted, even as — for the first time in a generation — 90 percent of us saw our incomes go down.

"That's the opposite of the American Dream," he said, underscoring why the AFL-CIO is pushing candidates on the issue of wages.

Casagrande sounded a similar theme from a New York state perspective.

"Anyone who is a union leader should be proud," he said. "You're spending part of your life fighting so working people can earn an honest living and support their families. There is nothing more noble than that."

He said the 1 percent who controls more than 40 percent of the nation's wealth targets unions for three reasons: Money, power and cowardice.

He spoke of NYSUT's legal fights against the tax cap and gag orders on teachers, and in defense of tenure and fair funding.

"Realize this is a war. There will be no compromise," Casagrande said. And this is a war for the 99 percent of this country. So when workers at Walmart fight for the right to organize, that is our fight.

There is great cause for hope, he said.

"We have the power of people. The way forward must include continuing to organize our members which will double and triple NYSUT's strength."