June 25, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
In front of a packed hall at the District Council of Carpenters headquarters, LaborPress honored six New York union leaders for "outstanding achievement" on June 13, 2013. The six were James Claffey, president of International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 1; Robert Croghan and Sheila Gorsky, chairperson and executive director of the Organization of Staff Analysts; New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi; Terrence Moore, business manager of the Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46; and Richard Whalen, a regional director and vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, praised IATSE's 3,000 workers for their "solidarity, unity, and preparation" in the Broadway strike of 2007. Claffey, he said, told him that the members' work staging live performances made them "experts in production." Croghan and Gorsky, said Michael Goodwin of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, cofounded the Staff Analysts and built it into "a well-respected union," overcoming the city government's claim that the analysts were management personnel not allowed to join a union. Croghan reminisced about how their access to office machines at work helped them produce union literature.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, called Whalen "a passionate defender of working people," describing how he gets red-faced and agitated when his sense of justice is outraged. Ed Walsh of the New York State Ironworkers lauded Moore for keeping the work of bending reinforcing rods here, preventing the contractors building the new Tappan Zee Bridge from using pre-bent rebar.
As many at the gathering expressed discontent with the mainstream media's coverage of labor, there was continual praise for LaborPress. Bill Hohlfeld of Local 46 called mainstream media coverage of unions horrendous, slanted and biased. "Unions get a bad rap," said John Merlino, a lawyer at Dinkes & Schwitzer. "They're not prima donnas. They're qualified workers who've worked hard and deserve those salaries."
"People are not aware of the fights that labor is waging," Appelbaum told LaborPress. "It's imperative for labor that our story gets circulated as broadly as possible. We need to be as clear as possible about how people are being hurt by the greed of employers. Basic notions of fairness are being ignored."
"We don't get any good press and we have to stick together," Terrence Moore told the audience, after joking about the rivalry between carpenters and ironworkers. "We're in the fight of our lives."Local 46's membership has declined from 6,000 to 1,600 since 1968, he said, as building interior walls are now constructed with sheetrock instead of with lath and plaster. Remembering Local 46's first black member, who desegregated the union in 1968 and died recently at 85, he said, "These changes didn't just happen. We can't talk about everything in the rear-view mirror. We need a new
generation to promote the working men and women of New York City. And you're not going to see it in the News. You're not going to see it in the Post. You're not going to see it in the Times."
"There's no better time to deliver the message that labor isn't going away," Iannuzzi told the crowd. With "bureaucrats and billionaires" taking over public education, unions have to build support both internally and in the community-and "the mainstream media aren't going to do that for us," he said. The major corporate media largely ignored the week's union protests in Albany and at City Hall, he noted.
"Without groups like LaborPress and a handful of radio shows, our story would never get out," Iannuzzi said.