June 11, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
With all the chairs full and more than 50 people standing, LaborPress honored what lawyer Vincent Pitta called “an all-star team of labor leaders” June 5.
The five recipients of Labor Leadership awards were James Callahan, president of the 400,000-member International Union of Operating Engineers; Maria Castaneda, secretary-treasurer of Local 1199 SEIU; Harry Nespoli, president of Teamsters Local 831, the city’s Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association; John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100; and Raglan George Jr., international vice president of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, who got the lifetime-achievement award. The event, held at the New York City District Council of Carpenters’ Manhattan headquarters, drew about 300 people.
George, the former head of AFSCME District Council 1707, was praised by DC 37 president Lillian Roberts as “one of the city’s hardest-working and dedicated labor leaders” and for trying to save child-care workers’ jobs during the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration. He told the crowd it felt good to see that “the public sector and the trades are here together,” and with that kind of unity, “maybe we can turn the city back into a union town.”
After lifting the award, a heavy glass pyramid, he quipped, “once you carry it, you’ll never have children again.”
Callahan, who formerly headed IUOE Local 15 here, said he was very fortunate to come back to New York and escape the Beltway “bubble”—but that working in Washington had given him a national perspective on labor issues: Governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Snyder of Michigan are “no good,” and he doesn’t want to see the “devastation” they caused spread to New York.
Castaneda, introduced by City Councilmember Andy King and his wife, Local 1199 vice president Neva Shillingford, said that with its contract expiring July 15, the union is busy trying to preserve its benefits, win raises, and protect job security by organizing nonunion health-care workers. “We don’t want to strike,” she said, “but we will if we have to.”
Labor is strong in New York, Harry Nespoli said, but “we are the last of the Mohicans.” For the union movement to stay strong, he added, it has to be “about the members”—the biggest rewards he’s had as a union leader, he said, were being able to save someone’s job.
John Samuelsen marveled at the fact that he was in the others’ company when “five years ago, I was swinging a hammer on the R train tracks in Bay Ridge.” He was introduced by Daniel Cassella, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726, who said that Local 100’s winning a raise, increased benefits and paternity leave in its new contract had set a pattern that will help the Staten Island bus drivers his local represents win the same things.
A special award to went to Joseph Stamm, CEO of MedReview, which reviews medical bills before they’re paid. The company, said LaborPress publisher Neal Tepel, “has saved labor unions and other organizations more than $1 billion” over the last 40 years.