Between the Hollywood strikes, the Teamsters’ successful UPS contract negotiation and the UAW negotiations, labor organizers are calling this season the “hot labor summer.” New York City’s Central Labor Council is organizing a labor day parade to fit the mood.
“People have been out on picket lines all summer. They’ve been supporting one another all summer, and this is an extension of that. But every year I think it gets bigger,” said Brendan Griffith, the parade coordinator and chief of staff for the CLC, a central coordinating body for about hundreds of AFL–CIO unions in the city.
Part of Griffith’s job every summer is to plan what he says is the largest labor parade in the country. With the wave of militant labor organizing over the past few months, and the historically high level of union approval, this year’s theme is “we organize, we rise.”
“What we try to find through the central labor council and conversation with our affiliates, is something that lots of different unions can get behind,” he said. “More and more people want to organize. What people are really excited about is that possibility, bringing more people into unions, building more worker power, raising up the middle class and doing it together.”
The parade represents an opportunity to send an extremely large-scale public message to both those in the labor movement and the increasing number of people around country who are interested in getting involved.
Logistics for the event are immense. Last the parade brought together 80,000 union members, in addition to the tens of thousands of onlookers.
“It’s a tremendous undertaking,” Griffith said.
Planning with union affiliates and the city starts at the end of May. The route, which starts at 44th street and marches north on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan involves orchestrating around 200 unions, with almost 300 different vehicles — “anything from floats to classic cars, another 300 or 350 motorcycles.” The process involves monthly meetings with the council’s affiliated unions to coordinate who is going to be marching and where they’re going to be.
This year the parade’s grand marshall will be Nancy Hagans, president of the New York State Nursing Association, which celebrated several historic contract wins over the past year. Most recently the union reached a contract agreement with New York City Health + Hospitals that includes a significant pay increase effective for its 8,000 public nurses in the city.
Griffith said though it’s always a tough call to find just one union to honor, the labor council wanted to honor the nurses for their sacrifices to keep the city going throughout the pandemic.
What will remain constant this year is the parade’s overarching expression of solidarity, he said.
“We may be in different industries. We may be parts of different unions, but we’re all working people trying to support ourselves and our families. Trying to earn a decent living, get a decent wage. We have a lot more in common than what divides us. And the parade is a way to show that,” he said.