LaborPress held its annual Labor Leaders Award Reception on Tuesday at Lake Success, L.I. honoring six people who have fought tirelessly for their members over the years.
Hosting the ceremony was LaborPress’ publisher, Neal Tepel, and serving as master of ceremonies was attorney Howard Raphaelson of the law firm Raphaelson & Levine Law.
The honorees included John Jovic, the business manager of HFIAW Local 12; James Shillitto, president of UWUA Local 1-2; William Hill; business manager of BAC Local 7; Chris Silvera, secretary-treasurer of IBT Local 804; Michelle Jones, NYSNA director at large; and James R. Sheeran Jr., president of Enterprise Association Steamfitters Local 638.
Presenting Jovic’s award was HFIAW’s General Secretary-Treasurer Bob Reap.
“You didn’t set out to be a labor leader,” said Reap. “He’s a dedicated, hardworking, enthusiastic leader.”
Over the last five years, Jovic has done everything working on the local’s budget and helping the union turn its finances around, according to Reap.
Jovic was touched by Reap’s kind words and was proud to be honored with this year’s crop of recipients.
“It’s an honor sharing this honor with all of you,” said Jovic. “We are all facing challenging times here. Our open shop is not going away. Our members have to work better and faster than our non-union counterparts. All of us are here because we are up for the task.”
UWUA’s president, James Slevin, said that Shillitto never lost focus on the most important aspect of UWUA Local 1-2 — its membership when presenting the 44-year utility worker’s award.
Shillitto thanked Slevin for all the jokes they shared of the years.
“I never wanted to be president,” said Shillitto, but he was happy to step up to meet the role’s demands. “I have a great membership that I lead that provides the gas, electricity and steam to New York City and Westchester County.”
Matthew Guy, BAC Local 7’s secretary-treasurer, presented an award for Hill.
“Today I get the privilege to talk to my friend,” said Guy. “He is a guy that shows up every day, fights for his members, and fights for working people. He is the face and the voice for Local 7.”
Hill, a third-generation BACL Local 7 member said Guy was 100 percent right about everything he mentioned about him.
“I don’t know when union became such a dirty word,” said Hill, who is a part of the last union printer. “I know tonight most people know that union isn’t a dirty word.”
Chris Williamson, vice president of IBT Local 804, presented for honoree Silvera.
“We do need unions,” said Williamson, while alluding to Starbucks and Amazon’s union-busting efforts over the past few years. “We need to bring New York City back. I’ve known New York City to be a union town.”
Williamson went on to say that it was Silvera who taught him the importance of unions and he wants to keep the union effort going forward for the next generation.
“Never in history has the union been more important than today,” said Silvera. “We are the vanguard organization. We pave the way. We bring people up, even the ones who are not in a union. Every time we step up, we pull them up.”
Silvera emphasized that union leaders need to invest in working-class folks and make sure that their organization has a legislative representative.
Aretha Morgan, the board member for NYSNA and a registered nurse, presented Michelle Jones.
“Ms. Jones has been a fierce advocate for safe working conditions,” said Morgan. “She is an active community member.”
Jones, the only woman to receive an award at the reception, was delighted to accept the award on behalf of NYSNA’s 42,000 members.
“NYSNA members are patient advocates,” said Jones. “We work at hospitals, clinics, long-term facilities, schools, homes, and even jails. We are nurses, advanced practice nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and more.”
NYSNA members work to make sure that the healthcare system prioritizes patients over profit, according to Jones.
Ensuring quality care for patient care is of the utmost importance, Jones added as she asked union members from other unions to support her union’s efforts to improve the healthcare system throughout New York and fair contracts for nurses.
Patrick Daly, Financial Secretary-Treasurer of Local 638, Steamfitters, presented an award to Sheeran.
“Jimmy is doing a fantastic job,” said Daly. “If you need something, Jimmy is there.”
Sheeran said he is happy to be a third-generation steamfitter.
“I have a chance to do things as a labor leader,” said Sheeran. “Any chance or time you get to promote the labor movement, you better take it because we don’t have too many opportunities in this world right now in this environment.
“They are not out for unions. They do not want us to have a retirement with dignity, they don’t want us to have healthcare and they do not want us to make money.”