This month marks just over a year since the bottom officially dropped out of the economy. One year ago, the nation’s top banks collapsed and nearly dragged the rest of the country down with them.
Since then, many New Yorkers and even more Americans have suffered greatly. Companies large and small, blue collar and white, have laid off millions of workers. Even as the economy shows signs of recovery, the fact remains that more New York residents are unemployed now than ever. The most recent studies show that 10.3 percent of New Yorkers are looking for work — 415,000 people!— a higher rate than in the rest of the state and around the country. For many workers, it was the hardest year in generations.
I can say with pride, however, that it was a year of prosperity for our union. By sticking together and fighting for our rights, our union has thrived despite the tough economic environment. We have added hundreds of members to our ranks. Facing intense pressure from city and state governments to cut costs, we prevented almost all layoffs. We received 4 percent yearly raises for most of our members and avoided givebacks.
That is the power of belonging to a strong union. In good times or bad, you know you've got the power of 24,000 members of 237 behind you. No matter what happens in Albany,Washington or onWall St., you deserve to be paid for your hard work. As the leader of this union, I have fought and will continue to fight to make sure that happens, no matter what the circumstances.
Our union has also done an excellent job protecting our members’ health benefits at a time when many workers are facing cutbacks in their coverage. Our country’s attention has become increasingly focused on the health care debate, the outcome of which will shape the lives of many American workers for years to come. Although health care affects everyone, it is really a working- class issue. Middle class New Yorkers are in danger of losing their coverage or being bled dry by huge insurance premiums. That is why Local 237 will take an active role along with other unions in shaping our country’s policy on such an important issue.
Everyone in the debate agrees that our current system is badly broken, but at times it seems nobody agrees on how to fix it. The ultimate goal remains to provide more health coverage to more Americans at a lower price. I feel this goal sometimes gets lost among all the political infighting over health care. President Obama genuinely wants to bring reform that will help millions of Americans, but many of his opponents are only interested in scoring political points. The subject is already complicated, and it has become almost impossible to understand when political lies and hype are added to the equation.
I believe a well-run government health care program, a public option, is our best chance for meaningful health care reform. The federal government already runs several very successful health care programs— namely Medicare and Medicaid — and I believe they can develop a more general plan that most Americans could afford. This public plan should be financially responsible, paid for by charging fair premiums and by cutting government waste. We oppose any proposal that would add more taxes on the middle class, which would only shift the financial burden from one place to another. Of course, the best health care is to be careful and live a healthy life, so I encourage members to take preventive steps, such as regular medical checkups and screenings.
In this turbulent year, we have also made history — first with the swearing in of Barack Obama as the country’s first black President, and now Sonia Sotomayor sworn in as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it is a great time to celebrate the achievements of all our hard-working Hispanic New Yorkers and their contributions to this country and this city. It is fitting that Sotomayor was raised in the Bronx, one of the oldest and strongest Hispanic communities in the country. New York is also the home of the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who now heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. As the Hispanic community continues to grow in size and influence, they will continue to play an even greater role in America.
These achievements were all made possible by the power of our democracy. Therefore, I’d like to close my message this month by thanking all our members who voted last month in both the primary and the union election. Part of our success over the past year has come from our ability to make our voices heard at the polls. Some of our endorsements worked out better than others, but I am confident we had a significant impact on the election. If we continue to stay united and use our power together, we can look forward to another great year ahead.