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UNIONS UNDER ATTACK!

UNITED TEACHERS OF NORTHPORT
U P D A T E

OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE UNITED TEACHERS OF NORTHPORT
E-MAIL: utnorthport@optimum.net

SPECIAL EDITION: MARCH 2011

UNIONS UNDER ATTACK!

From Northport to New York City, to towns and cities across the country, unions are under attack! Of course, this cannot be evidenced more clearly than by the actions occurring in Wisconsin. We must remember that WE are the UNION. Each and every union member, regardless of his/her job title or role within a union, is the Union. As members of public sector unions, we must recognize that many have fought long and difficult battles, both locally and nationally, for the establishment, continuation and improvement of collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Even more fundamentally, we must remember the men and women who built America’s unions and made workplace safety one of their first major fights, along with opposing child labor and the 60-hour work week. None of these “benefits”—healthy and safe workplaces, child labor laws, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, etc.—would have been realized if it were not for unions! What may, and perhaps should, be considered a basic human right—the right to earn a living in a safe and healthy environment—was only made a reality through the perseverance of unions.

As union members, we must stand together and support not only our colleagues within the United Teachers of Northport, and our state and national affiliates, NYSUT and AFT, but all our brothers and sisters in all unions, within our District and throughout the nation. Our strength is in our numbers. We are all strengthened by solidarity!

WHY WISCONSIN MATTERS IN NEW YORK AND THROUGHOUT ORGANIZED LABOR

Unionists from across the nation have come out in force to support our colleagues in Wisconsin, as well as those in Idaho, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee. Other states are facing unprecedented threats as well. And New York state is not exempt.

Make no mistake about it: Unions in the Empire State are facing many of the same challenges that we’re seeing elsewhere. They may not be as blatant. Yet. Nor as public. But the assault on workers’ rights in New York is a reality.

After all, there are some in Albany who want to abolish the Triborough Amendment, end seniority rights and dramatically change the pension law. Meanwhile, tenure is always the right’s favorite whipping boy. These are direct attacks on collective bargaining and on the dignity of all workers. So, yes, what happens in Wisconsin does matter in New York. It matters to all working men and women.

Meanwhile, back in Madison, Gov. Walker and his supporters have tried to convince the public this is about a budget deficit. But it’s not. What’s happening in Wisconsin is about public-sector employees retaining a voice in their profession and Wisconsin’s future. The proposed legislation strips away worker rights and destroys the collaborative partnerships that have been established between labor and management in Wisconsin. It’s not about pay and benefits, pensions and health care.

What is happening right now in Wisconsin is historic. Tens of thousands of citizens – unprecedented numbers – are gathering and speaking out to show their support for the state’s public servants. They want to voice support for the third grade teacher who stays late to help a student with math; for the nurses who work every day to care for patients; for the firefighters who keep citizens safe; and for the snow plow drivers who plow streets through the night so their neighbors can get to work in the morning. These public workers are on the front-lines everyday and they should have a say in their profession.

The people of Wisconsin are asking the governor and legislature to hear them out and to work with them to find bipartisan solutions that will address Wisconsin’s challenges. Silencing the voices of public-sector employees by busting up their unions is not going to help Wisconsin move forward and it will only divide the people of that state.

Here are some key points to remember:

  • Union workers did not cause Wisconsin’s fiscal problems. Ezra Klein, Washington Post, 2/18/11: “Whatever fiscal problems Wisconsin is — or is not — facing at the moment, they’re not caused by labor unions. That’s also true for New Jersey, for Ohio and for the other states… Blame the banks. Blame global capital flows. Blame lax regulation of Wall Street. Blame home buyers, or home sellers. But don’t blame the unions. Not for this recession.”
  • Unions didn’t bankrupt the state. The recession brought on by Wall Street recklessness and CEO greed caused our financial problems. Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker and the politicians in Wisconsin are playing the same old game, attacking firefighters, nurses, teachers and other public employees.
  • Public workers compensation in Wisconsin is actually less than the private sector. In EPI’s study, “Wisconsin public versus private employee costs -Why compare apples to oranges?”: In an apples-to-apples comparison, public-sector workers in Wisconsin actually make 4.8 percent less in total compensation. The facts actually show that public workers actually make less in total compensation than their private-sector counterparts. But isn’t the real question here why our elected leaders are playing partisan politics and scapegoating teachers, the guys who plow our roads in snowstorms, nurses and first responders instead of working together to create jobs.
  • Teachers and the Democratic senators in Wisconsin are speaking up for basic rights — the right to be in a union — that give voice to working people. We are standing up and speaking out for what we believe. That is the cornerstone of democracy, and we should not shy away from speaking about our values.

Attacking firefighters, nurses, teachers and other public employees is divisive and unfair. But people all over the country are standing up and speaking out against these attacks, and Madison has been flooded with tens of thousands of people who care about the work they do and the people they serve. In Wisconsin and in a lot of other states, it’s time for bipartisanship and for the politicians to start working together to create jobs.

TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE—FROM TRAGEDY TO REFORM

One hundred years ago this month, March 25th to be exact, our state and our nation witnessed a horrific tragedy as 146 workers, mostly immigrant women and girls, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan perished in the blaze. Many workers were trapped within the building as a result of deplorable working conditions. Locked factory doors and flimsy fire escapes compounded the disaster. Scores of workers plunged to their death as they attempted to flee the inferno.

Subsequent to this tragedy, politicians, clergy, social reformers and union leaders joined forces and lobbied for new workplace and building safety laws. Additionally, through this collaboration, the New York State Department of Labor was strengthened.

Social activist Frances Perkins, then state Senate Majority Leader Robert Wagner, as well as then Assembly Speaker Alfred E. Smith, were instrumental in initiating these reforms. Perkins became Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor. Wagner and Smith helped pass legislation that made workplaces safer. Wagner later went on to push bills through the US Senate to create Social Security, to guarantee unemployment and workers’ compensation and protect trade unions.

As we commemorate the anniversary of this tragedy and remember those whose lives were lost, we must also celebrate the reforms which were born from the losses. NYSUT, the Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS, American Labor Studies Center and a coalition of groups are participating in two commemorations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, one in Albany and the other in New York City.

“The commemoration of the centennial of the Triangle Fire provides an opportunity to pause and remember the victims of that tragic event and others that followed but also redouble our efforts to fight to improve laws and regulations that protect the safety and health of all workers,” said Paul F. Cole, executive director of the American Labor Studies Center.

New York City: Noon, March 25 at the New York University Brown Building (original Triangle site) at Greene and Washington Place in lower Manhattan.

WHAT HAS THE LABOR MOVEMENT DONE FOR AMERICA?

  • The Weekend
  • Overtime Pay
  • 8-Hour Workday
  • Minimum Wage
  • Paid Vacation
  • Sick Days
  • Safety Standards
  • Child Labor Laws
  • Health Benefits
  • Retirement Security
  • Unemployment Compensation
  • Workers’ Compensation

SUPPORT UNIONS—SUPPORT AMERICA!

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