NEW YORK, N.Y.—LaborPress honored two women at its annual Leadership Awards March 21: garment-worker union leader Julie Bracero Kelly and Denise M. Richardson, head of a trade association for union construction contractors.
Richardson has been executive director of the General Contractors Association, which represents union employers in heavy civil construction, since 2009. Its more than 125 members have worked on the Second Avenue subway, New York City’s third water tunnel, and the new Kosciuszko and Tappan Zee bridges. City Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who noted that virtually all publicly subsidized “affordable housing” in the city is built nonunion, praised her for conducting negotiations that involved “thousands of moving parts.” Terry Moore, former business manager of Ironworkers Local 46, presented the award.
Accepting the etched-glass plaque, Richardson said the GCA’s members are “proud to be union contractors” and that the union sector has “the best safety record of any part of the industry.”
Bracero Kelly, formerly an organizer with UNITE and the Office and Professional Employees International Union, moved to Workers United—an SEIU affiliate representing garment, other manufacturing, and retail workers—and was elected its secretary-treasurer in 2008. She has been general manager of its New York/New Jersey Joint Board, which represents more than 7,000 workers in the area, since 2011.
“Julie’s a great labor leader, and she’s also a lot of fun,” said District Council 1707 counsel Thomas Murray, who presented the award, recalling a time when they were in court against a “ratbag, mobbed-up” company union that had been raiding Workers United shops in Newark, and an official of it declined to reveal exactly what type of goods his “import-export business” traded in.
More important, he added, she’s among the type of leaders who “don’t accept that there are workers who can’t be organized.” He cited the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition, a campaign to organize the metropolitan area’s 35,000 nail-salon workers, led by a coalition of Workers United, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, and Adhikaar, an immigrant and workers-rights group based in Queens’ Nepali community.
Its work, he said, is “proving they in fact can be organized.”
Bracero Kelly used her acceptance remarks to talk about the need for media to show workers’ side of the story. LaborPress, she said, “fills a void in our lives,” because with so much praise for profit-makers in the media, there is “so very little talk about workers.”