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Going forward with strength amid setbacks

Gregory Floyd | 4/12/2011, 5:26 p.m.

Republicans stormed back into power in Congress and the national stage on November 2. Voters around the country, upset about the economy and political infighting, took their fear and frustration out on incumbents. Americans are clearly anxious about their jobs and mortgages, their futures and their children's. We must now demand that these critical concerns be addressed--not merely exploited for votes. That means getting the resources needed to strengthen and preserve our communities and public services.

The surge of corporate-backed candidates was a major blow to both the Obama administration and the labor movement. The Teamsters were one of the many unions that campaigned strongly for pro-worker candidates. Unions all over the country spent heavily. The national climate and unregulated campaign contributions were too strong for us to stop the political tide, but we did have a few successes.

Here in New York State, the election news was better. Numerous labor-endorsed candidates were elected. Union support was crucial to victories in two key statewide elections--attorney general and comptroller--proving that in New York, when organized labor is unified, we have significant power. New York unions are currently looking at ways to use our own resources, such as pension fund investments, to fund critical public infrastructure projects that will create good jobs within our communities and strengthen our economy in the present and long-term.

On a more troubling note, Governor-elect Cuomo has signaled his intention to lay off public employees and drastically alter pay and benefits. He says he wants to bring back government to the people, but he must realize that workers are a majority of the "the people." I encourage our new leaders to pursue their reform plans while maintaining a sense of balance and fairness.

We are reasonable, but we are not afraid to fight for what is right.

Union workers should not shoulder the blame for the situation that America finds itself in today. Hardworking Americans are the backbone that keeps this country strong, and we deserve to be treated fairly by our employers and our government officials. We are the ones that this economic collapse affects most, not the people responsible for it.

Across the country and here in New York, business interests continue to blame financial shortfalls on the influence of unions on the government. Unions have justly fought for the basic rights given to workers under the state constitution. It is the loss of tax revenue that has caused our current budget deficits. These temporary shortfalls should not be used as an excuse to dismantle the rights, protections and benefits that it has taken generations of struggle to accomplish. Unions shouldn't take sole responsibility for the sacrifices needed to fix our state and city. We are willing to participate in discussions with elected officials and the public to find a solution that will work for all New Yorkers, but we will fight against any proposals that single out public employees.

The new leadership of the House has already vowed to destroy the labor movement in order to protect their own political interests in the next election cycle. We've got our work cut out for us, but we are prepared to stand up and defend the rights of workers to unionize, to fight for policies that favor working families, and to have access to good health care and education.

The voters may have spoken, but we will not be silenced. Together, we can bring New York and all of America to a better and brighter future.