April 24, 2014
By Beth Borzone
Hauppauge, NY- Over 800 union leaders crowded the union hall of IBEW 25 for Long Island Federation of Labor’s 16th Annual Congressional Night. A diverse coalition of unions, representing electrical workers, ironworkers, steamfitters, letter carriers, teachers, and food and commercial workers, attended the event, in order to voice their concerns to their elected officials.
The purpose of the evening, John Durso, President of the Long Island Federation of Labor, explained was to “ask questions and get answers from your representatives.”
Reps. Carolyn McCarthy, Tim Bishop, and Gregory Meeks sat on the panel and listened to workers’ issues, which included improving infrastructure on Long Island, raising the minimum wage, reforming immigration laws, extending unemployment insurance, saving the Highway Trust Fund, ensuring mail delivery six days a week, keeping call centers on Long Island, and guaranteeing fair trade deals.
All three Congressional representatives expressed the difficulty of getting legislation through the current bi-partisan Congress and the need to work to elect labor friendly representatives in the upcoming elections.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who has decided not to run for re-election, said she will not miss Congress. “They don’t want to do anything, McCarthy explained, “They keep saying, ‘No’ and those ‘No’s’ hurt too many Americans.”
Yet, McCarthy tried to be encouraging, “You have to keep your union strong, because there are too many groups out there trying to break you up.”
Anthony Speelman, Secretary-Treasurer, UFCW, Local 1500, expressed concerns about the increasing number of Americans in poverty. “It’s time to raise the minimum wage,” Speelman said, asking, “Why haven’t the Republicans signed on?”
Rep. Meeks responded, “ At $10.10, it’s not a lot of money, especially if you live in New York. We need to be talking about a living wage, as well as a minimum wage. Republicans, as well as Democrats, are suffering. Republicans just want to say no to anything the President says.”
Meeks also suggested that the minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.
When Patrick Dolan, President of Enterprise Association, Steamfitter Local No. 638, expressed concern about the Highway Trust Fund going broke if the Ryan budget passes, Rep. Bishop stated that this was one issue on which he was “fairly optimistic.”
The Republican leadership is not prepared to continue the $55 billion subsidy to the Highway Trust Fund, which would be out of money in July, Bishop said, adding, that without subsidies, highway projects will stop. Nevertheless, Bishop has hope because there are two bills in the Congress that propose funding. “Something has to happen,” he said, “We need a bi-partisan solution.”
Senator Schumer, who arrived late, flying in from Buffalo to make the event, addressed the concerns of letter carriers. Walter Barton, President of the Long Island Merged Branch 6000, advocated for his members, stating that 100,000 good union jobs will be eliminated if postal delivery is changed from six days to five days a week.
“We will not let a postal bill go through that effects you poorly,” Schumer reassured the postal workers. “I have fought for six day delivery,” he said.
Schumer and Bishop also reassured the FAA that if plans to build a Radio Center go through, it would be built on Long Island.
Schumer reminded the audience, “It was the unions that created the middle class,” adding, “the number one way to bring that back is to build our unions.”
John Skinner, President of Local #46 Metallic Lathers Union and Reinforcing Ironworkers, reflected on the importance of unionism after the event, “People are being exploited, so they can’t make a decent living. I’ve seen many unions make many sacrifices. What sacrifices have the richest people made?”
“Labor on Long Island is alive and well and we are willing to work with elected officials to get back to work,” John Durso said at the end of the night.