Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Unions Gather In Defense Of Workers' Rights Newburgh Rally Draws 1,000

Music and signs were part of a pro-union rally at the intersection of Routes 17K and 300 in the Town of Newburgh on Monday. Union members and backers protested efforts in other states to limit union rights.

The strains of "Power to the People" and "I Won't Back Down" blared from loudspeakers on a hill above the intersection of Routes 17K and 300 Monday afternoon.

In between tunes, IBEW union members, unions and their supporters put those sentiments into practice as they rallied in support of their brothers and sisters whose very right to bargain is being challenged elsewhere in the United States.

Organizers estimated there were 1,000 or more union members and their supporters lining all four corners of the busy intersection — teachers, iron workers, civil service employees, sheet metal workers, electricians and more. Horns honked almost continuously throughout the rally. This rally was bigger and more informal than one held about a month ago a few miles to the west, but its message was just as clear.

"We're here because the American worker is under attack," said Sam Fratto, senior assistant business manager for Local 363 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "The middle class is under attack. Somebody needs to stand up for the workers. The unions are going to stand up for the workers."

The rally came on a symbolic day — April 4, the day in 1968 when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while in Memphis to support a sanitation workers' strike. Those workers, too, were fighting for collective bargaining rights.

"The (same) issues are still here, unfortunately," said Paul Ellis-Graham, president of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation.

The recent labor rallies have come in response to efforts by Republicans to strip union workers of their right to collective bargaining in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. Adrian Huff, president of Teamsters Local 445, believes New York workers are safe for now, but need to stand up for those elsewhere whose benefits are in danger.

"That's what politicians want to go after — the contract and the protection it gives you," said Huff.