Brett Wallace reports on a recent labor rally in New York city against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s planned austerity measures and layoffs.
It was a hot and sunny morning when I biked over the Brooklyn Bridge to Foley Square in Lower Manhattan to join the rally for jobs and vital city services on Thursday, September 3. This public assembly included labor unions such as Local 983 representing New York civil service workers, DC 37 (the largest public sector union in the city), SSEU Local 371 which covers municipal workers, elected officials, and rank and file workers. The message directed to the city’s Mayor Bill de Blasio was clear: essential workers who risked their lives during the pandemic are not expendable, do not balance the budget on their backs, and stop the layoffs.
The mayor has proposed laying off 22,000 city workers to counter the $9 billion deficit in the city’s budget from the ongoing healthcare and economic crisis.
Here’s a short video I made about this ongoing fight against layoffs in solidarity with city workers.
The mayor calls these layoffs a last resort. But, at the same time, the mayor and city chooses to cut essential workers that keep the city running instead of increasing taxes on the rich, Wall Street, and large corporations. Also, the city continues to fund the NYPD so heavily instead of putting those dollars towards vital public services, such as affordable housing, child care, crumbling subways, and the workers who provide such services.
If that was not enough to contend with, some city workers have found unemployment insurance provides more weekly income for workers staying at home than the workers who are deemed essential, some barely making $15 per hour, and who must come to work in a pandemic.
District Council 37 is the largest public union in New York City representing 150,000 workers from architects to zookeepers, responsible for a wide array of vital services. In their words, DC 37 describes their work: “We maintain bridges, parks, roads, and subways. We staff the hospitals, schools, libraries, social service centers, and city colleges. We do the clerical work, the maintenance work, the technical work that keeps this city running. Our state members uphold rent regulations and serve as interpreters and reporters in the courts. Some of us wear uniforms, some of us wear hard hats, some of us use computers or calculators.”
City workers in DC 37 have a long history of struggle over work with wins and setbacks. Their fight for collective bargaining began in the 1950s when public sector unions were not recognized. In another example, the 2018 case Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) was a major setback for public sector unions. In this case, the US Supreme Court decided that requiring public employees to pay union fees for collective bargaining violates their First Amendment right.
Foley Square is also no stranger to protests and is filled with historical context. It was one of the sites of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and a site of protest to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the police murder of Eric Garner, and the inauguration of Donald Trump. The Square is a block from City Hall, where the US’s first Labor Day parade began on September 5, 1882. This march, organized as a one-day strike for workers to be off the job, was to unify the city’s workers and demand less work time.
It was a moving experience to hear from the registered nurses, teachers, social service workers, and others who spoke about the fight for improving the lives of city’s workers on the job, and in the community — especially given the healthcare and economic crisis in a city with such high living costs and a lack of affordable housing.