March 15, 2011
By Vanessa Elena DeSantis
About 200 guests dined and danced to pulsing Latin beats at Terrace on the Park, a capacious banquet hall overlooking Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, N.Y.
The Latino Heritage Dance was held on Friday March 4th. The evening event celebrated Latino heritage as well as honored Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. The event also raised funds for the Latino Laborer Cultural Association. The Mason Tenders District Council and its affiliated local unions created the non profit organization in 2007, to provide activities and events for Latino union members.
Before LaBarbera spoke, John Delgado and Edison Severino, business managers of Locals 79 and 78 respectively, spoke about the importance of union diversity.
“I am proud of who I am,” said Delgado. “I am proud that we are all here together.”
Severino shared an unsettling anecdote about a recent meeting he had in Florida with labor leaders. A member there complained about undocumented Latino workers; he believed they could not be organized. “I tried the best I could to be nice to the guy,” said Severino. “I don’t think I achieved that.”
Severino went on to say that regardless of an immigrant’s background, whether Irish, Italian, Chinese or Latino, they all come to this country for a better life. “And they know that a better life comes with a union card,” Severino said. He called on union leaders to take their energy and apply it to help organize new immigrants. “They are ready to go if we are ready to organize them… Si, se puede!”
New York State Assemblyman Francisco Moya from Corona, Queens also spoke at the event, along with Robert Bonanza, Business Manager for LIUNA’s Mason Tenders District Council, who also introduced the event’s honoree, Gary LaBarbera.
“Organizations such as the Latino Cultural Association are so important,” said LaBarbera after thanking everyone for a warm reception. “Our building trades are changing and new immigrants are coming in. They deserve the same opportunities as the immigrants that came to the building trades before them.”
LaBarbera also believes helping undocumented immigrants helps the unions. Local 79 has maintained a similar view: that if non union contractors could no longer hire undocumented immigrants and intimidate them into accepting rock bottom wages and unsafe working conditions, that would remove a powerful cost incentive to hire non union workers.
Immigration is an important issue for unions, many of which now actively recruit new members in communities of recent immigrants. “Diversity is the future of the building trades,” LaBarbera told the crowd. “You have my complete and utter support to encourage diversity, strengthen the labor movement, and grow future leaders of the labor movement.”