City workers rally for justice

NEW YORK – This city’s workers have not had a raise in over two years and need one now to pay the rent and put food on the table, declared Lillian Roberts, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 37, which represents 125,000 workers in 56 locals. Roberts spoke to over 20,000 union members, community activists and state and city officials who rallied at City Hall Oct. 29 demanding a contract for city workers who have not had a raise or a contract since 2001, and to save important public services.

Talks between the district council and the city have made little progress. Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists that there is not enough money to provide raises without union productivity givebacks and cuts in benefit packages, especially health care. The mayor advocates lengthening the workweek for city workers without increasing pay, creating a new pension tier with a lower benefit level, and reducing health care benefits.

The Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization of New York City public workers unions, has rejected the mayor’s position.

Leaders of DC 37 emphasize that labor and the community must work together because the mayor’s budget cuts harm both equally. Bloomberg is pushing cuts in hospitals and other essential services, which are already under-funded. DC 37 has detailed ways in which the city could identify waste and save hundreds of millions of dollars without destroying city services or cutting municipal workers.

“If the city would end the use of overpriced private contractors and consultants and let our workers do the job,” said Roberts, “there would be more than enough to fund the raise we deserve.” She said her union’s members make an average of $29,000 a year, and 85 percent of them live in the city.

The presence of most of the city’s major unions was notable at the rally, with the list of speakers including leaders of the teachers union; Raglan George Jr., executive director of DC 1707, which represents day care, Head Start and home care workers; and Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 Transit Workers Union.

Toussaint said, “Transit workers will stand with DC 37 just like they stood with us back in our December contract fight,” and led the crowd in a chant of “union power!”

George, a teacher at the rally, told the World, “It’s time for the city to show them the money.”

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org