NEW YORK, NY – Thousands of workers, labor leaders, and their supporters, along with Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others, rallied in Foley
Square in downtown Manhattan on Saturday, February 24th, for the Working People’s Day of Action — part of a nationwide call for social and economic justice organized by The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Jobs with Justice. Major cities across the country held their own protests, including San Diego, Washington, D.C., Miami, Detroit, St. Paul, Columbus, Philadelphia, Memphis and Chicago. This comes just days ahead of the Supreme Court hearing of the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case, which asks the court to jettison a decades-old ruling that requires non-union employees to pay “fair share fees” to public sector labor unions. These mandatory fees help cover the costs of union activities such as collective bargaining and grievance procedures, which benefit all workers in their organizations. The outcome will have a tremendous impact on the unions’ ability to raise money and be able to operate.
Governor Cuomo addressed the crowd, saying, “You are the heart and soul of America. You see labor going backwards across the country – not in New York!” Calling himself “100% union born and bred,” the Governor called out the current administration, saying, “We have a federal administration that has declared itself the enemy of working men and women.” He scoffed at the proffered logic of “trickle-down economics,” offered as a defense of the recent huge tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, saying “I hope there’s a Santa Claus too.” In response he promised New Yorkers, “a tax cut for working families down to the lowest level since 1947.” “Greed, selfishness, and power helping power,” is what is driving the attempt to stop the labor movement, he said, and promised, “If the Supreme Court tries to end organized labor this State will do everything in its power to prevent it.”
New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said of the Governor, “[He] led the fight for the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and the Buy American legislation…[they are now] the law of the land…In Washington they do a lot of talking, here in New York we do things.” Cilento also spoke of labor being “under attack like never before,” and said, “To those who want to silence our voice, we say, ‘Not now, not ever’”. “Collectively, we have the power to deliver…that is what they are trying to take away from us,” he added.
New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO President Vincent Alvarez said, “It’s clear that Janus v. AFSCME is a continuation of attacks meant to diminish
workers’ ability to have a collective voice on the job.” He said this was a “ critical time” for working people, who have been under attack for several decades. Estela Vazquez, Executive Vice President of 1199 SEIU, drew hoots of laughter when she said she had a message for the “bad hombre in the White House, #45 Agent Orange – we are fighting back!”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was proud that New York City was the “biggest union town in America,” and added, “We will not let our city or country be taken over by the 1%.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s joining with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, in 1968, was one of the inspirations for the Day of Action, and Baxter Leach, a longtime AFSCME member and sanitation worker who participated in the strike was at the rally. He told the crowd that to achieve their goals, they must “stand up – [you] can’t sit down!”