LaborPress

New York, NY – Thomas Carey is president of the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body, AFL-CIO, as well as business representative for United Association Local 21 Plumbers and Steamfitters HVACR. LaborPress had a chance to sit down with Carey to learn more about what he does and the working people he represents.

LP: Can you tell us about some of the many unions you represent?

TC: Some of our more predominant local unions are NYSUT, which is New York State Union of Teachers, Yonkers firefighters, 32 BJ, CSEA , CWA, United Association of Plumbers & Steamfitters, Stage Hand theatrical Local 1, and NYSNA, which is the New York State Nurses Association.

LP: What is your role?

Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body President Thomas Carey.

TC: I was elected president in 2016. Our executive board consists of 18 vice presidents, our recording secretary treasurer, and our labor Council Director. We are chartered directly by the national AFL-CIO under the direction of newly elected president Liz Schuler in conjunction with the New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. We are the voice of labor for working men and women throughout our region. As president, my role is to understand the needs of our workforce, to be an advocate for our membership. To promote legislation that protects our workforce. I am very proud to say that our organization has interviewed over 100 candidates for various elected positions from local town boards to our supreme court justices. This is a long process beginning with our Labor Council Director Jennifer Puja who also serves as our common councilwoman for the city of White Plains.  Scheduling timeslots for candidates and our executive board which is a very time consuming yet important role. We also have an important role with our community partners as well — food, clothing, and toy drives for a local children’s hospital, homeless shelters and food pantries. We are very active with our social justice initiatives such as our migrant workers, faith based groups, the Buy American initiative — but most importantly, being the voice for the rights and protections of all working families.

LP: What has been the impact of Covid on your organization?

TC: Covid’s impact on our organization will have a lifelong impact on much of our workforce. We took immediate action to keep our frontline heroes safe, many of us were dispatched to a warehouse in Yonkers at the beginning of the pandemic along with our nurses to distribute thousands of boxes of medical supplies to be shipped to hospitals in need. Our workforce was critical in building temporary hospitals throughout the region. Communication was critical, we began the new Zoom meeting process to continue to bring necessary information to protect our workers and their families. Unfortunately, we lost many members to the pandemic. Predominately our frontline heroes, police, firefighters, nurses, building and construction trades, food service workers — the list goes on and on. We will never forget those lives lost and we will always strive to protect the health and safety of our entire workforce and their families.

[Covid] has certainly affected our frontline workforce foremost but it’s not limited to them. There are many workers in various fields that are not comfortable returning to the workforce which in turn creates this domino effect which has become apparent in a nationwide shortage of manpower. Our biggest concerns is the continuation to protect our workers as this new Omicron variant poses a new threat and in the new surge of the current pandemic proves to be a major concern . We all need to continue to follow all CDC guidelines and urge everyone to get vaccinated to help with this cause.

LP: What are some challenges the union faces now?

TC: We will continue to help all those who wish to organize and to join a union. Our nurses at many of the local hospitals are facing unresolved contract issues and safe staffing guidelines to adequately ensure our nurses a working environment that is not a danger to them or the patients being cared for.

LP: Tell us more about your dual role as a leader in unions.

TC: I am also a member of the Westchester-Putnam Building and Construction Trades, due to my role as a business representative for the United Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters HVACR service Local 21 in Peekskill New York. I am a proud 40-plus year, third-generation steamfitter from the former Yonkers local 543, prior to a few mergers in the last 25 years. It is not uncommon for members to have a dual role in our central labor body and the building trades we represent upwards of 150,000 members and their families serving both public and private sector unions. Two of my vice presidents, Rich McSpedon and Lou Picani, also serve as a dual role with both organizations.

LP: What are some recent victories?

TC: Thankfully, organized labor has been gaining serious momentum, most recently the Starbucks employees in Buffalo New York, a small win for sure but it has a profound ripple effect. In New Hampshire a more profound win to defeat the right to work in June speaks volumes, we will always fight to collectively bargain for good wages and benefits and worker protections. With our current administration we are poised to continue growth in the union movement. We will continue to push for legislation to protect our workforce and we will hold our elected officials accountable to ensure these protections.

In closing, I would like to say that serving as president of the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body is one of my proudest moments. Our success is due to the fact that every member of our organization is an activist and an advocate for every worker from the newly organized to the retiree. Labor and unionism is in our blood and every day brings forth a new challenge and I have the faith and belief in our organization to continue to be the voice for the work force that we so proudly serve.

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