altThere has been plenty of bad news lately. Newspapers read like lists of layoffs from private companies and municipal agencies. Fear and apprehension have gripped the nation’s work force, both white collar and blue collar. No one knows when things will get better, or how much worse they will become. 

I don’t know all the answers, but I know we must act quickly and decisively to address these problems.

When times get tough, some leaders — in labor and government — would rather hide their heads in the sand than stand up to the challenges they face. But hard times demand bold action.

Our union has already taken steps to protect our members from the economic turmoil afflicting the country. As your president, I will continue to be proactive in helping to fortify our future. Our efforts can be seen in the federal government’s $790 billion economic stimulus plan, which will deliver hundreds of millions of dollars directly to the public housing system in New York. Although the current package was negotiated over the last several weeks, the final product grew out of seeds that Local 237 worked hard to plant nearly a year ago. In May of last year, we hosted a rally for public housing that drew 10,000 people from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and everywhere in between. In July, we bought radio ads during the All-Star game calling for federal aid to public housing, reaching over 2 million listeners. Later that year, we drafted a letter and created a video detailing the desperate need for repairs in public housing, sending them to every city, state and federal elected official in the region.

These efforts succeeded in convincing our political leaders to include financial support for our public housing system in the stimulus package initiated by President Obama and passed by Congress. With New York State’s share of the package, our public housing system stands to receive up to $300 million to upgrade and repair its facilities.

This money will ultimately create more jobs for our members and improve their working conditions. Tens of millions of dollars alone will go towards fixing the broken elevators that have caused so many problems for our engineers and inspectors. This stimulus package, however, will not solve all our problems. Even with its allocated funding, state and city budgets are going to be tight, and elected officials are proposing drastic cutbacks and layoffs. Mayor Bloomberg says he will cut 23,000 existing city jobs from the payroll, eliminate the entire 2010 police academy class, and significantly reduce benefits across the board. As I said in The Daily News recently, we will be negotiating with the mayor over the next several months to reach a reasonable plan on a budget that balances fiscal responsibility and workers’ needs.

In the past, our union leadership has built bridges with many elected officials, and now we will benefit from those relationships as we move to negotiate an acceptable compromise on the budget. In these difficult times, we realize a need for shared sacrifice, but we will not allow the city to use the workforce as a piggy bank to pay off all its financial problems.

We plan to continue building bridges at a Candidates Forum on April 18 at the New York Hilton, where we will invite all citywide candidates to share their views about the future for New York. We encourage members to attend the event, where we will hear from our elected officials and also express our own views regarding the crisis we all face. By creating this dialogue, we will continue to inform our leaders about the issues that matter to our members, thereby playing a role in shaping the future of our city.

Black History Month

With all the bad news, however, we must not forget the good. During this Black History Month, we are just not celebrating it, but also living it. Our country has an African American president, proof that we can truly become a society founded on merit, not race. President Obama has taken leadership during a time of crisis, but in that crisis lies the opportunity to repair a broken foundation and rebuild an enlightened America with our core ideals of fairness and hope. If Obama succeeds in restoring our country to health, as I believe he will, who could challenge the power of equality? To this day, I still swell with the same pride I did in Washington on inauguration day, knowing that our children’s children will mark this as a pivotal moment in America.