July 26, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
Huntington, Long Island—The Long Island Federation of Labor convened for its 19th Constitutional Convention on Tuesday, July 23 to chart the course of Long Island's labor movement for the next three years. John R. Durso, the federation's president, announced the federation will have to start fighting back against virulent anti-union campaigns, organizing to bring in new members and work towards ousting the Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who tried to use emergency powers to override negotiated union contracts last year. Watch Video
The labor federation on Long Island consists of 160 AFL-CIO unions made up of around 250,000 members working in a variety of sectors such as education, the building trades, health care, auto and utilities.
The federation last convened for their constitutional convention in 2010 when job losses stemming from the Great Recession of 2008 permeated the convention. This year, however, the federation convened in the Hilton Hotel in Huntington, the first hotel organized by a union–Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 1102–in Long Island, according to Mr. Durso, who is also president of RWDSU Local 338.
Before taking up the business of the convention, Mr. Durso took stock of the federation's position since 2010. He mentioned how companies such as Walmart and Target have been strongly resisting unionization drives even as Walmart aggressively campaigns to enter the New York City market. He provided a chilling example, however, of how workers were on the verge of voting for union representation at BJ"s Wholesale Club several years ago only to be defeated by the company's scare tactics.
"There was an organizing drive. The day before the vote, they arrested the leaders of the organizing drive and claimed they stole merchandise. They marched them in handcuffs across the store. The people were scared and intimidated and they lost that vote," said Durso.
In an interview, Mr. Durso said that there are a lot of needs going unfulfilled in Long Island, such as infrastructure spending, which could be generating employment if the Nassau and Suffolk county governments committed to investing.
"Right now there's so much work that needs to be done. There are bridges and overpasses that are in disrepair. We can put thousands of people back to work, but there have been no real investments in the past 10 years. We can put people to work building the second [LIRR] track between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale, repairing the [Bay Park] sewage plant in Nassau and numerous projects in Suffolk County. That's what we need. Our ills go away when people are working," Durso said.
Several guest speakers were invited to speak at the convention including Robert Duffy, the Lieutenant Governor. He told the federation that Governor Andrew Cuomo has already committed hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects via The New New York Works program, which leverages state and federal funds deposited into an infrastructure bank.
In an interview the Lieutenant Governor said that much more money will be coming for infrastructure projects and transit-oriented development with the help of regional economic councils that Governor Cuomo established three years ago. Mr. Duffy pointed to the Wyandanch Rising project in Suffolk Country that broke ground last week as an example of how projects are being built from the ground up.
"The Governor wants suggestions coming from the ground up. For brothers and sisters in labor if there are things they see that need to be fixed, if there are roads, bridges and buildings, things that are part of the state's purview, I would submit them to the regional council because that's what the Governor really looks for– local leadership and local input and he tries to find the funding to support it."
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