Friday, March 4, 2011

Two Notable Valley Actions

Two demonstrations took place in the Hudson Valley in the past few days in Rock Tavern (Orange County) and Albany. They follow:
Mid-Hudson's workers rally for labor rights
By Michael Randall

ROCK TAVERN (Times Herald-Record, 3-4-11)  — An estimated 850 Hudson Valley union members vowed March 3 to stand beside their fellow workers in Wisconsin and anywhere else the right to collective bargaining is challenged.

"An injury to one is an injury to all," proclaimed Lucille Sollazzo of the New York State Nurses Association, one of more than a dozen speakers at the rally outside Teamsters Local 445's union hall.

Multiple speakers said the right to negotiate a contract is a basic right of all workers.

Adrian Huff, head of Local 445, said renegotiating a contract when an employer experiences a genuine financial crisis is one thing, but, "When it comes to the right to negotiate, we draw the line."

Paul Ellis-Graham, president of Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation, said the rally showed union workers in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states where collective bargaining is coming under fire that, "New York's Hudson Valley is standing with you."

"The workers of America did not cause this (financial) crisis," said Ellis-Graham. "It was caused by greedy Wall Street bankers and investors."

Political figures who added their support at the rally included state Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-C-Forestburgh, who noted she's both the daughter and mother of union workers.

"I know where you're coming from," she said.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, was stuck in Washington, but Chris White from his staff told the crowd the congressman is behind them.

"Wisconsin is just the first battle," White predicted. "We have to thank Wisconsin for sending us a wake-up call."

Support also came in musical form.

Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, with Local 445 organizer Jerry Ebert, led the crowd in a rousing rendition of "Solidarity Forever," with some new lyrics reflecting the current struggle in Wisconsin.

Noting Seeger had to leave for another engagement after the performance, Ebert told the crowd, "He's 91 years old and still standing strong for the labor movement."
Capitol protest ends in 17 arrests
By Rick Karlin

ALBANY (Albany Times Union, 3-3-11) -- The battle over New York's budget went into high gear March 2 as a protest against cuts and the end of a "millionaires' tax" blockaded an entrance to the Capitol for almost an hour. Seventeen demonstrators were arrested and hauled off in a State Police van.

Bearing signs saying "Don't balance the budget on the backs of the poor" and shouting "Hey hey, ho ho, the funding cuts have got to go," the roughly 150 demonstrators, largely from New York City, represented progressive activist groups pushing for rent reductions for people with HIV, homeless services, low-income housing, health care and other issues.

Among the organizers were Community Voices Heard, Picture the Homeless, Queers for Economic Justice and VOCAL-NY.

"We're here to demand that the millionaires pay their fair share," said Wanda Hernandez, of the Bronx, who explained the main objective was to slow down social service funding cuts in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed $132.9 billion 2011-12 budget. To avert cuts, the critics want an extension of the so-called "millionaires tax," which is actually an income tax surcharge on those earning more than $200,000, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

Some of the protesters said they voted for Cuomo but were disappointed by what they view as his catering to New York's wealthiest residents with his insistence on no new taxes. In addition to extending the income tax surcharge, the group is also calling for an unspecified "bankers' bonus tax."

"I voted for him, and I expect to get a return on my vote just like the committees that donated to him," said Robert Tolbert of the Bronx, referring to the Committee to Save NY, a group of wealthy business and civic leaders that supports the governor's agenda.

The protest might be viewed as a wake-up call for the governor regarding how some of the cuts in his budget proposal might go over with the general public.

And it illustrated the deep support among some voter segments -- shared by many Assembly Democrats -- for a continuation of the millionaires' tax.

The demonstration came a day after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his Democratic conference would push for renewal of the tax.

On Wednesday, 21 Senate Democrats sent a letter to Cuomo calling for extension of the millionaires' tax as well. Keeping the surcharge would generate $1 billion in the coming fiscal year and up to $5 billion in 2012-13, they said.

Wednesday's demonstration, which observers said marked the first time since the Pataki era that there had been numerous arrests, appeared to be well-planned and was kept under wraps until around noon when reporters got word of it.

Scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., it was delayed about 20 minutes as the marchers found themselves in the lengthy line for the metal-detector/security screening that Capitol visitors must pass. The group had gotten stuck behind a class of school children there for a tour.

Protesters and police alike recorded the events on video cameras and those who were arrested went peacefully.

Demonstrators were charged with disorderly conduct and were arraigned in city court before their release, authorities said. They must return later this month.

While public employee unions such as SEIU and teachers unions were not involved in the protest, some of those present repeatedly said they opposed cuts to the schools and teacher layoffs as well as health care cuts in the governor's budget.

"A lot of my friends are teachers," said Larry Gadsen, an audio engineer from the Bronx. He said he comes to the Capitol about three times a year to demonstrate for human service funding.