June 15, 2011
By Kismet Barksdale
In a well-executed rally despite cloudy skies and occasional rain, District Council 37 brought thousands of green-shirted unionists to the borders of City Hall Park, with curtain calls by half the City Council and the full array of major municipal union leaders.
Keynoted by AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders, the rally was an orchestrated attack on Mayor Mike Bloomberg, rejecting the “CEO Mayor,” and the “Education Mayor” in favor of the billionaire Mayor out to do favors for his well-connected friends.
DC 37’s speakers, including Associate Director Oliver Gray, Treasurer Maf Misbah Uddin, and Executive Director Lillian Roberts, slammed the Mayor for hiring “contractors making two and three times what you are making,” and for “not collecting $800 million in taxes and revenues.”
The rally’s highest-ranking politician, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, who will likely run for Mayor in 2013, stoked the still-smoldering anger on term limits when he said, “We knew this was going to happen when we let Mayor Bloomberg come back for a third term. He is delivering the biggest threats to education, the libraries, and child care since the 1970’s. I say to the Mayor: You came back. Now protect our children, libraries, and childcare so this City can have a future.”
Another likely Mayoral contender, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, gave a nod to Union contributions that helped stave off a City bankruptcy in the fiscal crisis of the 70’s. “I find it insulting for the men and women who work here to be disrespected,” he said, “and for essential services to be cut. You deserve a fair deal from City Hall and you are going to get it.”
Lee Sanders, who was joined on stage by his one-time rival for the second highest spot in AFSCME, Danny Donohue, brought a national perspective to his remarks, saying that “the American dream is at stake,” and that “We’ve got to clean up the mess these politicians have made. No one has done that better than DC 37. You’ve exposed the Mayor’s scam. The CityTime scam takes the cake for waste, fraud, and outright theft,” he said, referring to the mushrooming high-tech timekeeping software fraud first attacked in 2007 by the Council’s Local 375 that has already cost the City over $80 million in false billings. “They have the wrong priorities,” Saunders said about City government. “The only people making sacrifices are you. But they’re coming to you instead of going where the money is – right down the street, on Wall Street.”
“The millionaires don’t pay their fare share of taxes,” he continued. They are destroying working families, they are destroying the middle class, and we have to fight back.” Speaking to unionists, he added, “They don’t just want to hurt us. They want to take us out of the ballgame completely, because we are the last defense of the middle and working class.”
An activist from Wisconsin, Latanya Johnson of AFSCME Local 502, brought in by the national Union, is a licensed family childcare provider making $3.78 per hour per child, working from home. “I am one of one million public sector workers who go to work every day and make our country a better place to live,” she said. “But last November 2, too many of us stayed home and didn’t go to the polls. In Wisconsin, we stayed home and now our schools are facing multi-million dollar cuts and parents are having to choose between leaving kids at home and going to work. And unions are being stripped of their bargaining rights.”
“These millionaires have crashed our economy,” thundered CWA Local 1180 President Arthur Cheliotes. “They want to take control of our society. They want to do away with democracy. They’re rich because they’re thieves. The millionaires, the bankers, and Bloomberg wrecked our economy. They must share in the sacrifice.”
Giving short speeches that drew strong responses, Municipal Labor Committee and Uniformed Santationmen’s President Harry Nespoli demanded that Mayor Bloomberg “take all of the layoffs off the table,” while UFT President Mike Mulgrew pushed for the continuation of the “millionaire’s tax” in Albany. DC 1707’s Raglan George said Mayor Bloomberg “doesn’t understand working people. He doesn’t understand what it means to take from the people who need it most. He needs to be recalled.”
Local 1199’s George Gresham said, “we have to support the dignity of work and make sure we get what we deserve as working people. We don’t hate this City – we love this City. That’s why we’re going to make the rich pay their fare share.”
Striking the most activist notes were COBA’s Norman Seabrook and Councilman Charles Barron, with Seabrook saying it’s time for sit-ins at Wall Street and City Hall, and Barron urging his fellow Councilmembers not to pass the Mayor’s budget when it comes up for a vote. “We are not your bail-out package,” Seabrook said. “You are not going to take from us so the rich get richer. That’s bullshit.”
Among the unions showing strength in the crowd was TWU Local 100, whose President, John Samuelsen, was with DC 37’s Lillian Roberts as she stayed to shake hands with Union members who like the pluck and determination she has shown as through six decades of activism. Roberts was the last labor leader off the stage.