These are tough times for unions. Critics have taken the recent problems in New York as an opportunity to attack and insult the labor movement. They say we prospered too much during the good years. They say we are not helping enough with the financial collapse of our government. They say many things, but they forget the role that makes unions not only important, but necessary.
Labor unions are about providing fairness. We balance the power of the average worker against large and powerful institutions. Unions exist to protect the hard-working people of this city and Long Island against interests that would take advantage of them — whether conniving bureaucrats, greedy businessman, or tyrannical managers. When we fight, we do not fight out of anger or greed, but to preserve our right to fair treatment as human beings.
As the labor movement has grown, that fairness has expanded. We have worked ever harder to ensure that all workers are treated equally, regardless of race, gender, heritage and background. At Local 237, we pride ourselves on having a body of members as diverse as the state in which they work. Each one is as important as the next, and all deserve the same fair pay and benefits.
That is why we recently filed a lawsuit to bring fair pay to our mostly female school safety agents. They deserve to be recognized for the excellent work they do protecting our city’s school children, not punished for their gender. It is a sad fact that female employees all over the country continue to be compensated at a lower rate than men. If unions like ours continue to fight this inequality, one day we will create a more level playing field in America.
Local 237 brought this suit not as a means merely to raise our members’ pay, but as a way to correct unfairness. We only ask for compensation equal to another title — special officers — who are mostly male and receive higher salaries while performing similar work. Our fight is for what’s fair, what’s right.
Our numbers and our unity allow us to protect the powerless many against the powerful few. It is important, therefore, that we have a realistic understanding of our numbers. With that in mind, I urge every member to fill out and return the forms for the 2010 Census. These forms will only take a few moments to fill out, but they will help our cause tremendously. The government uses the census to determine the amount of federal funding it gives to cities and states. New York is a populous place, and we should receive every dollar we deserve. Stand up and be counted, for the good of this union and for every New York resident.
But numbers only signify the potential. Those numbers must be used to build political influence. Local 237’s political voice is loud and growing louder.
The Candidates Forum we held for citywide offices last year was tremendously successful, drawing candidates who ultimately became the city comptroller and public advocate. We listened to each candidate, posed questions, weighed their ideas, and gave several participants successful endorsements. That is the democratic process at work.
We aim to continue that success in our second annual Candidates Forum, Saturday, April 24, at the New York Hilton Grand Ballroom, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This year, several statewide and local races will be held and the results will shape our future for years to come. The forum is still taking shape, but we hope to have most major contenders on hand to explain their vision for a better New York.
Our involvement in the political process has won us many victories in recent years. Our continued involvement will only yield more positive results.
We recently saw the results of those efforts in our successful campaign to secure hundreds of millions of dollars for the city’s public housing developments. We were able to help move legislation in Albany to allow federal funds to subsidize NYCHA on a continuing basis for the first time in history. The money will create better facilities for NYCHA residents, better working conditions for our members, and protect, as well as create, jobs.
Political action like that doesn’t yield results overnight; it requires a focused effort over long periods. Our leadership could not have done it without your support and hard work. I thank everyone involved in this victory.
Our work continues to improve the lives of thousands of people. Local 237, and all unions, continue to fight for their members, and to make a difference not only for them, but for all residents of New York.
When the story of this era is written, I’m confident we can be proud of our role in it.