More than a dozen federal, state and city elected officials representing communities throughout the City of New York gathered today on the steps of City Hall to stand in solidarity with the workers, labor unions and their colleagues in government Wisconsin as they continue their arduous fight against crippling budget cuts and union busting. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in an unprecedented attack on our nation’s middle class public sector workforce, has proposed to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights. Attendees of the press conference, which also included representatives from SEIU 32BJ, hailed their Democratic colleagues in government, who have courageously stood up to the governor by keeping the Legislature from acting on a bill that would eliminate hard-won protections for teachers and other state workers. The struggle in Wisconsin is one that may set the stage for other efforts to undermine labor unions and workers’ rights in other states, including the state of New York.
“We have gathered here today to thank our Democratic colleagues in government for their courage in standing up to Governor Walker’s attempts to dismantle Wisconsin workers’ collective bargaining rights,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “As we heard in the prank call made to Governor Walker, his actions are part of a clear, concerted and coordinated national attack against the working class and labor unions. What we are seeing in Wisconsin will have reverberating effects throughout the United States, and that is why we stand in solidarity with all of the workers, unions and elected officials in this struggle for justice.”
“I stand strong with the unions and elected officials of Wisconsin in saying no to this attack on working families through a blatant act of union-busting,” said Council Member Letitia James. “The City of New York stands in solidarity with Wisconsin worker’s collective bargaining rights.”
“Collective bargaining is not the cause of deficits in Wisconsin nor any other state in our country. This attack on unions is just an attempt to use the public’s economic insecurity and fears to eliminate a fundamental American principal that belongs to all working people. If we didn’t have the unions we wouldn’t have the middle class as we do today,” said Congressman Charles Rangel. “Thanks to their struggles, common sense ideas once unacceptable — the 40-hour work week, the eight-hour day, the minimum wage — are now considered basic. Instead of trying to scapegoat unions and pit workers against each other, leaders should be bringing people together so that they can address the serious challenges that we face as nation.”
The proposal by Governor Walker would not only have most state workers cover more of their health care premiums and pension contributions, but would also limit collective bargaining to wages only, and even then, if a negotiated wage increase is beyond the inflation rate, it would leave that increase up to the voters. This proposed change to collective bargaining sets a new standard in a state government’s efforts to engage in union busting. The unions have proposed a compromise whereby workers would contribute more to health care and pensions, but the Governor has refused to negotiate further.
“We must fight back against the special interests that are trying to destroy the fundamental rights of working Americans. The times we are in call for shared sacrifice, but Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is cynically using a budget deficit to eradicate the right of workers to bargain collectively. For him and other ideologues, this is about grinding a political axe, not about closing a budget gap. Here in New York, we stand with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin and for the belief that we must work with stakeholders to responsibly solve our fiscal challenges,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
“When politicians demagogue about public servants, their pensions, collective bargaining or other hard earned benefits, it is our democracy that is being attacked,” said Senator Bill Perkins. “This must stop! Tax the rich!!”
The Wisconsin Assembly has already passed the budget proposed by Governor Walker, including the removal of collective bargaining rights. However, the proposal still requires Senate approval. To prevent the Senate from reaching the quorum necessary to hold a vote on the budget, the 14 Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Senate fled to neighboring Illinois over a week ago, and have yet to return. Even under immense pressure, these senators have remained steadfast in opposing efforts to take away collective bargaining rights from public sector unions.
“The collective gains of workers in the last half century were the reward of hard fought negotiations with agreement on both sides that our country’s workers should be able to support and better themselves and their families. What we are seeing in Wisconsin is an assault on that idea, and an attempt to roll back the clock on worker’s rights,” said Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez. “I stand in solidarity with our Democratic colleagues in government because I know this is not a budget issue. It is a wake up call that even the social contract between government and its citizens is in peril. It’s up to us to demonstrate what true family values are.”
“I stand here today with my fellow NY Legislative Colleagues and Union Leader Representatives to unite and support our fellow Wisconsin public union workers in protesting a move to severely curtail their collective bargaining rights”, said Assemblyman David Weprin. “The recent Wisconsin Assembly’s passage of Governor Walker’s proposal to “strip” public workers of their collective bargaining rights is unconscionable.”
State legislatures across the country, including Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, California, Michigan, Alaska and Iowa are considering proposals that would also limit or significantly alter the collective bargaining rights state employees and public sector unions. Right here in New York City, the Mayor has proposed changes to our pension system for public employees and tenure system for teachers. The growing anti-union tenor among some elected officials throughout the U.S. makes the struggle in Wisconsin all the more important.
“I applaud our fellow Democrats in Wisconsin for their unwavering stand against massive budget cuts and the unfair targeting of union workers,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. Governor Walker’s proposal is a strike to the core of what it means to be a unionized worker in this country. Labor unions fought long and hard for the right to collectively bargain with their employers. I know it hasn’t been easy for Wisconsin Democrats to leave their jobs — and their homes – but it is worth the sacrifice to protect dignity and democracy in the workplace. Budget cuts that take aim at teachers, the public sector, and the working middle class are unacceptable. I stand behind our Democratic colleagues in government and thank them for their courage while under attack.”
“Using our current economic situation to take away the benefits middle class workers have fought so hard for is unjust and potentially devastating to our communities,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “That is why we must stand in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin and support the efforts of the elected officials that have stood up for their rights. The governor of Wisconsin needs to understand that unions have a right to organize and protect the very futures they have worked so hard to secure. He must realize that balancing the books on the backs of Wisconsin’s hardest working people will only serve to destabilize the very bedrock of the economy.”
Today’s press conference is the latest in a series of rallies held in New York City and in cities and states throughout the United States to show support for the workers, unions and Democratic elected officials of Wisconsin.
“Educating our kids, keeping our neighborhoods safe, assisting seniors and the most vulnerable among us are noble jobs – so important that we’ve organized ourselves into a democracy and agreed to pay collectively for these public services. Demonizing the people who provide them – as though they are to blame for what ails us – is not only an attack on workers, but an attempt to demonize the idea of government, and undermine the social contract,” said Council Member Brad Lander.
“This legislator in New York City salutes her brothers and sisters in Wisconsin who are taking a stand for the principal of collective bargaining and the rights of public employees,” said Council Member Rosie Mendez.
“We all understand that the country is going through tough economic times and we all have to share the burden, but Governor Scott Walker’s effort to slip in the destruction of collective bargaining rights is an actual assault against working people. Healthy labor relations lead to better working conditions, wages, and quality of life. To turn on 100 years of strong union organizing under the guise of economic hard times is unconscionable. I stand with Wisconsin’s public workers, unions, and other elected officials as we fight to save the rights of working people. Our leaders have now found the fortitude to show their dislike for the working class and poor people of this country. If we lose in Wisconsin, it’s the beginning of the end of collective bargaining everywhere,” said Council Member Williams.
The attendees of the press conference were also joined by Hector Figueroa, Secretary Treasurer of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. With more than 120,000 members along the East Coast, including 70,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property services local union in the country.
“The attacks on public workers in Wisconsin and around the country are not motivated by fiscal concerns alone. They are part of an unprecedented campaign against all middle class families and working people. Union busting masquerading as balancing the budget is still union busting,” said SEIU 32BJ Secretary Treasurer Hector Figueroa. “Rebuilding our economy should be about strengthening our middle class and not attacking the institutions that protect standards for working families.”