October 7, 2011
By Marc Bussanich
The Occupy Wall Street Movement got a big lift October 6th from the city’s union. Assembling at Foley Square, different union leaders standing atop a flatbed truck looked out among a crowd of union members numbering anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 and spoke for the need to fight back against corporate greed and to demand the wealthy to pay more taxes.
Charles Jenkins, Local 100’s Director of Organizing, led off the speeches by alerting the assembly that something is wrong with America when “workers are expected to pay for the crimes of Wall Street.” He mentioned the unrelenting attacks against unions, citing the approximately 700 members of Local 372 who are at risk of losing their jobs tomorrow with the Department of Education. But the gathering of so many union members is “the power that will make Wall Street listen to us.”
George Gresham, President of SEIU1199, reminded the throng in an unsubtle slight to Wall Street that “We’re in a no tax district.” He pleaded, “Don’t let the voice of the Tea Party be the voice of working people” and said we need “bailouts for jobs, education and healthcare.”
And Karen Higgins, a Co-President for National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, said that she and her colleagues are witnessing first-hand how healthcare service cuts are negatively impacting the elderly. “Our focus and goal should be to take care of people, not scheming to take away entitlements.”
In addition to coming to New York from Boston for the Foley Square turnout, Higgins said the union has worked with different tax analysis organizations that have produced reports showing that if just a .05 percent tax were applied on high-end investments, “there’d be no need to attack entitlements” because the tax would generate hefty revenues that could go towards stimulating the rest of the economy, according to Higgins.
Among the union members on the square was Franchelle Hart, Communications Director for SEIU199 in Buffalo, who flew to the city with 10 colleagues. She said she attended because she supports the demand for the wealthy to pay more taxes, especially as the closing of five nursing homes over the last four years has led to 700 layoffs for SEIU1199 members.
“Buffalo is a poor city. While New York City gets the highest Medicare reimbursements in the state, Buffalo gets the lowest. If the tax on people earning more than $1 million expires next year, that’ll be less revenue for the state to prevent additional nursing home closures,” said Hart.
Chuck Shalk, Vice President of TWU Local 562, whose members work in the air transport division, said he was at Foley Square with fellow members looking forward to see different unions unify around the demand to equalize wealth. “The attacks against working people, and particularly unions, requires a true grass-roots movement to keep growing in order to resist further attacks.”
And Marilyn, a retired member of CSEA Local 1000, said she was glad to see many different union members out to protest, but believes there’s an urgent need to solidify organization, and consequently, the message of the movement going forward.