Bronx town hall promotes wage, health bill

BRONX, NY – The community room at the Amalgamated Houses, a cooperative housing project in the Bronx, was the scene of an important gathering of workers and neighbors Monday night.

A highlight was the remarks of Alba Vasques, a “member political organizer” of SEIU 32BJ. Vasquez raised her children as a single mother, and described the huge change in her life when she finally got a union job, after year of working 18 hours days and still struggling to make ends meet.

“We had health care and sick days, something I’d never had before. And I had vacation time. I could get to know my children.”

The “town hall meeting” was called by 32BJ, which represents 70,000 building service workers in New York City, to promote a newly introduced City Council bill (Intro 18-2010) that would “guarantee good wages, health care and other benefits to building service workers at new, city-subsidized developments and newly leased city work sites.”

The bill reflects a growing movement in New York City that rejects the idea that people have to accept whatever crumbs are left on the table, and is fueled by anger at Wall Street and the pro-developer Bloomberg administration. Union Vice President Kyle Bragg said, “we shouldn’t be subsidizing developments that leave working families in the cold.”

Just a few weeks ago a Bronx coalition of churches, community groups and unions defeated a Bloomberg-endorsed development plan, saying the plan would not have created the kinds of jobs and services the neighborhood needs.

On the stage last night with the union leaders were City Council members Oliver Koppell, Fernando Cabrera, and Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who each forcefully declared their support for the bill, which was introduced by East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and South Bronx Councilwoman Anabel Palma.

“We must take concrete steps to eliminate the government’s role in promoting poverty,” said Cabrera.

Councilman Koppell, in whose district the meeting took place, mentioned that the Amalgamated Houses was a project of the labor movement, based on the same ideas as the bill — that workers and their families deserve decent wages and living conditions.

Councilwoman Arroyo praised the union for its activism, including its leadership on promoting bilingualism in political life, and said that the bill is “a no-brainer. It is common sense.”

Photo: Dave Sanders