On Monday, the Band of Brothers joined in support of the Woodlawn Cemetery workers for a march around Woodlawn Cemetery. After the march, the demonstrators had a peaceful protest at the main entrance located at East 233rd Street and Webster Avenue. The Band of Brothers consisted of representatives from local unions DC37 and Teamsters Locals 808 and 805. Family, friends, teachers and students were also on hand, bringing the tally to well over 50 people. The protest also commemorated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I stand up with my brothers, especially on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” stated protester and Woodlawn Cemetery worker Rick Cess. “He was a man who stood up and gave his life for the same thing we are standing for today.”
The workers charge that Woodlawn is proposing to save money by outsourcing work to outside contractors, which would displace 23 union workers and their families. The workers say they are currently in negotiations to match the bid given to the outside contractors but that there are other factors at play. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to fight for my job,” says Alex Cross.
“I’ve been here for eight years and have been going through a lot for five years. We have a management that is very biased and since I’ve complained, it seems like things are getting worse. There is a lot racism here,” Todd Brown, one of Cross’ coworkers, agreed. Brown is working with Local 808 to address this issue.
Fellow union workers feel that there is a bigger picture to this scenario–if Woodlawn is allowed to displace union workers, it will lead to a trend of other companies trying to save money by outsourcing. “I think that outsourcing is a bad move,” says Teamster Local 805 Chair Sandy Pope. “I think they are just doing this to drive the workers’ conditions down and scare other workers into lower wages and benefits than the union workers deserve.”
Others felt that there should have been moral support at the rally because it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “The Church should be here, just like Dr. King would have been here,” said Charles Chesnavage who represented the Catholic high school teachers of LIUNA Local 255. “The Catholic Church has basically written the rules for the existence of unions. Social justice teachings in the Church give unions the right to exist, to organize, to fight for justice, salaries, pensions, and benefits. That is being completely reversed here with the cemetery workers,” he added.
Our future workforce was also represented at the protest by high school students Shanice Morris and two of her friends from Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. “I’m here to stand up for the Band of Brothers and to stand up for the workers at Woodlawn Cemetery. What happens here affects everyone. It can even have an effect on me in the future.”
Howard Cannon, spokesperson for Woodlawn Cemetery, issued the following statement: “Over the last 25 years, the number of cremations have increased by 500 percent. Fewer people are being buried. The need for lawnmowers and landscapers has been reduced. Woodlawn asked the Union to find a way to reduce expenses. The Union has not responded to that request. A contract with outside providers can save Woodlawn $730,000 per year.”