New York, NY — On Wednesday, September 7th, LaborPress held a special luncheon honoring five distinguished labor leaders. The honorees were ATU 1181-1061 President Tomas Fret and ATU 1181-1061 former President Michaeal Cordiello, DC 37 Local 983 President Joseph Puleo, CWA Local 1180 President Gloria Middleton, and IBT Local 831 President Harry Nespoli.
Reception Chairs were Neal Tepel, Publisher, Laborpress, and Attorney Vincent Pitta, of Pitta LLP.
The host for the event was CSA President Mark Cannizzaro, and the event took place at CSA headquarters in downtown Manhattan.
Neal Tepel, Publisher of LaborPress, began the event by greeting the crowd, saying, “Thanks to everyone for joining us. LaborPress is and was the largest labor news network in the United States, in the Daily News and WOR, and online.”
He then introduced Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of EmblemHealth, a 10 Year Anniversary Sponsor of LaborPress, who said, “We’re honored to participate today and Mark, thank you for these wonderful facilities and being a host extraordinaire…shout out to Neal, who in the truest sense of the word is a man with a big heart and loyalty to the men and women in this room… I’ve had the pleasure of having a front row seat on the work that Harry, Gloria, Joe and Michael do for all of us who work and live in this great city, and the members that they serve. These honorees have never taken the easy route, their word is their bond and they set a high bar for the rest of us. They deserve this day, this ceremony… and in truth deserve so much more. They embody the grit, the skill, and the heart that makes this the great city we live in. At EmblemHealth my colleagues who are here join me in saluting all of you for this wonderful honor, Neal for this recognition, for all of our colleagues we salute you and we thank you for the work you do every day.”
Tepel added a “Shout out to another executive of a great organization. [Executive VP] Tony Rosario [of General Vision Services, a 10 Year Anniversary Sponsor] has been with us really from the beginning.”
Rosario said, “Thank you, Neal. Really on behalf of GVS we want to first congratulate all the honorees today, [it’s a] definite proud achievement for all of you, and we want to thank Vinnie and most of all, Neal and Mark for hosting this event today. But really to express the need for LaborPress. We’ve been with LP from the beginning, we’ve utilized their services to be a voice in the labor market, to educate promote and market the importance of a benefit like Vision and Optical, and really if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have the same visibility as we do today. And lastly we’re really excited to be here and we’re excited to be part of the family – the labor family, for many years to really provide the quality benefits that GVS has been performing for the last 50 years…thank you, for being partners. We’re a labor company ourselves and have that background as well.”
Cannizzaro, said, “Right around Labor Day it’s so great to see so many great labor leaders [here]… and the honorees: It’s been such an honor working with all of these people and learning from them and getting to know all about labor…we’re in the education field that is considered a little different type of a labor field but once you get to speak to people, and get to know people, and start to talk about the issues, you find out we all have a tremendous amount in common…” He then referenced recent polls showing an increased favorable view of unions nationwide, saying, “in papers unions are on the rise, people have a better view of unions – now they woke a sleeping giant… don’t go back to sleep!”
Pitta was the presenter for Nespoli, who provided critical leadership to sanitation workers during a disastrous pandemic, and said, “I know Harry for more than 50 years…Harry’s been a good teacher to me, [saying] “always be on your toes”, “always be prepared and never go to sleep.” He continued, “Harry is a man who says what he means and means what he says. He’s done an outstanding job as head of the MLC…” which is “one of the hardest jobs in the city. During the pandemic Harry’s members answered the call of duty because their leader told them that’s what they had to do.”
Nespoli congratulated all of the people that were at the event, and spoke about “what we’ve been through in the last two years,” adding, “and we came through on top right now.” In his union, he gave specifics on how split shifts, among other measures, helped to halt the spread of the virus. “We never once, never once, missed a house-to-house collection,” he added. He also told a story about how the Governor called him up and asked if he wanted the National Guard to come to NYC to assist, and Nespoli said, “That’s my work, and my people will do it.” He shared how his union lost eight members due to COVID, and his struggle to get the vaccine for workers. “These are real people that get up and go to work and come home,” he said, “and keep this city going.” He also cited a need for “real leaders”, and advised those in the crowd to keep their eye open for talent, “that’s the person that knows what the labor movement is all about.”
CWA Local 1180 Second Vice-President Teesha Forman was the presenter for Middleton, who took a leadership role in organizing workers. Forman said, “Gloria Middleton took the helm as President of CWA Local 1180 in January of 2018. She is the first African-American and first woman president of the Local…Gloria was instrumental in leading our union to victory against discriminatory pay practices…we reached a $15 million dollar settlement…we are still reaping the benefits of this…our journey for justice took a huge step forward, and with Gloria at the helm we continue to fight for pay equity for all city workers, especially women and minorities.”
Middleton said, “I’m so proud of my Executive Board and the members that I serve. Neal, I just want to thank you for this presentation, this award. I do what I do because I love it. I love helping people. This makes me feel like I’m putting my stamp on the planet…Congratulations to all the other honorees. I’m told I got this award because of my leadership and my organizing of the non-for-profits…the last two and a half years have been the most challenging time of our lives. But people are seeing, particularly young people, that those who kept their jobs during the pandemic had a union. And they are knocking down the unions’ doors asking to be unionized. So we try to answer that challenge. It takes money, it takes time, and without the help of our “parent” unions, the National CWA, we would not be able to achieve what we have achieved…I’m so proud of the work that we do and no one does this work by themselves, and my Executive Board members who are here know that I say this all the time, ‘we are a team, we have to work together.’…I’m going to say this as a black woman in America, what we have all been through in the last two and a half years – it’s in my soul, it’s my passion, to continue to get equal rights for everybody that exists on this planet, if t’s just one person at a time.”
ATU Local 726 President Danny Cassella and ATU Local 1056 President Mark Henry were the presenters for Fret and Cordiello’s award for fighting for job protections for NYC School Bus Drivers. Both Cassella and Henry lauded Cordiello for his long years of service, and said they looked forward to working with Fret, Henry adding, “I can’t think of two individuals that are more deserving of receiving this award.”
Cordiello said, “Thank you all for this great honor…Congratulations to all the labor leaders that are here today…it’s not about me, it’s about our Local and its members…[I did] this to make sure that our members can lead the lives they want with their families. And that’s why we all do it.” He described struggles under Mayor Bloomberg, among other things, that tested the union’s strength, and how they ultimately came out victorious in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. The loss of over 100 workers to COVID was a blow to the union, as well as illnesses in members. “It’s a never-ending battle. We represent people who transport the future of not only NYC, not only the United States, but possibly the world because these kids that we transport, you never know who they’re going to be,” he said. “They could be a mayor, they could be a governor, they could be the president…and that’s an important job, and it’s overlooked at times.”
Fret said, “We will continue this battle, we will keep fighting, and trust in God that this will all work out.”
The presenter for Puleo, who was honored for preventing layoffs of seasonal workers and exploring pathways for permanent employment, was DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, who spoke about the “story of labor” and the importance of remembering it. He referenced members who sacrificed during 9/11, and struggles to get them recognized financially, “21 years later.” Ultimately victorious, Garrido said, “that was done by the labor movement.” “We thrive, we survive, we bounce back,” he added. Among other subjects, he mentioned, young workers’ current striving to join unions.
Puleo, in accepting his award, and referencing the prevention of 200 seasonal workers from losing their jobs, said, “None of this would have been done without all of us…I have my board here, I’d like all of them to stand up…it’s about the team, it’s not about the individual leaders. We’re one voice…without them none of this gets done.” He described the population of the 200 whose jobs were saved, saying they were “mostly single moms, these were people on the welfare rolls, these are people that have kids they have to feed.” But, he said, the members were “the true heroes.”
Neal Tepel closed with leading a round of applause for all the unions.