Like many of you, I feel very frustrated these days. Wall Street is back earning record profits, and yet millions of Americans struggle to find work. Young and old alike cannot afford health insurance, and yet the health-care reform bill is at a standstill in Washington. New York is burdened with increasing debt, and Albany has been generating more scandal and confusion than leadership.
It is easy to allow these frustrations to overwhelm us. There is a growing sense that our country, state and city are on the decline, and it seems as though there is nothing we can do about it. I know many of you doubt that the change we all hoped for last year will ever come.
I’m here to tell you to keep your hopes alive. We have the power to bring about change. We will not sit idly by as victims of political dysfunction. As a municipal employees’ union, it is more important than ever that we keeping fighting for what we stand for and what we deserve. Times of great trouble are also times of great opportunity. Now is the time to be active and to position ourselves for the future.
We are in a powerful position. With so much anger in the public, politicians are nervous. They will be looking for support for the fall’s elections from strong unions like ours. We must use our power to our advantage, gaining support on issues that will improve life for our members. That is why we must show the world that our members not only understand the issues, but will come out to vote for their candidates.
We will continue that effort with our second annual political forum on April 24. Last year the forum was a tremendous success, drawing many candidates in city elections that ultimately went on to win political office, including Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. With so many state and federal elections this year, we hope to have many high-profile contenders present to explain their views for the future of our city and state. From their presentations, we can make informed decisions about the candidates that will best represent the interests of Local 237.
Our need to gain the support of legislators now is critical as the purse strings of government grow increasingly tighter. Our members work for New York City and smaller towns, but their jobs depend in large part on funding from the state. Mayor Bloomberg has already said that nearly a thousand jobs will be eliminated under the city’s current budget, but if Gov. Paterson pushes through cuts to local aid, that number could rise by thousands more.
The mayor has also proposed reducing the raises of other unions — raises that were agreed upon during contract negotiations. This would set a dangerous precedent we must guard against. How can we trust management at the bargaining table if, when situations change, so do their promises? I plan to sit down with the Bloomberg administration to discuss ways we can get through this crisis while minimizing the damage done to city workers.
In the coming elections, we must support officials who understand that federal and state funding are essential to keep the unemployment rate from spiraling upward even more, and to keep our jobs, which serve to make this city great.
Black History Month
Black history in this country has mostly been a story of great struggle. The struggle continues as we observe this year’s Black History Month in February. Our own tough times remind us of the courage our brothers and sisters showed when they confronted repeated denials of opportunities granted to others. We have obviously made great progress, but we still have a long way to go. There is still a great imbalance between the incomes of African Americans and other races, and the economic downturn has taken a terrible toll on the black community.
Unions like Local 237 have played a large part in uplifting African Americans into the middle class, and in difficult times labor organizations become even more important.
Black history is also a story of great achievement. We should celebrate our success while staying mindful that the true goal remains always just beyond our reach. We had a wonderful time at our own Black History Event at union headquarters, where many members and local officials came to recognize the accomplishments of African Americans.
New York City is often called a melting pot for all races, but it is far from perfect. Even with a black president and a black governor, racism still hangs over much of the national and local debate. We must confront racism wherever it threatens us and remain strong knowing that, while we are not perfect, the ideal of true equality is. I am proud of our history, and I am excited about our future.