The rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the public union employees at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon. That’s what happens when you go toe to toe with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
DC37, the largest public employees union in New York City, held a rally in Lower Manhattan to protest Bloomberg’s proposed service cuts and layoffs as a means of balancing the city’s budget. Union leaders from such groups as SEIU 119, TWU Local 100 and CSEA and elected officials alike took to the stage on the Broadway side of City Hall Park to voice their displeasure with the mayor, declaring solidarity with unions everywhere.
“Instead of bringing us together to solve the serious problems confronting New York City and other cities and states throughout the country, politicians are telling working families to make all the sacrifices,” said Lee Saunders, secretary-treasury of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We must fight back and force Mayor Bloomberg and all the rest to join with us to create good jobs, adequately fund vital public services and restore the middle class, the backbone of our nation.”
DC37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts also took to the podium to call out Bloomberg regarding the amount of money the city has available. “The Bloomberg administration claims that there is no money to stop the cuts and layoffs and pool closings in the heat of the summer,” she said. “This is totally false. The mayor and the governor cut taxes on the wealthy by $5 billion a year when they let the state millionaire’s tax expire.”
“The mayor is making no effort to collect the hundreds of millions of dollars in business taxes owed to the city,” Roberts continued. “And the mayor’s budget proposals increase contracting out by half a billion dollars-even with the continuing arrests of his overpaid consultants and overwhelming evidence that too much of this money is wasted or stolen. We’re here to say that the money is there to stop these service cuts and layoffs.”
Latonya Johnson, president of Wisconsin Child Care Providers Together Local 502, came to New York to speak as well. “I make an average of $3.87 per hour per child,” she said. “My center cares for 100 percent low-income children. These are the most impoverished and at-risk children in our city. I will never become a millionaire doing what I do. And I will never receive the respect and recognition that I deserve for doing what I do. No one cares more about their communities than AFSCME; public sector employees.”
Union members donned green and yellow DC37 T-shirts, baseball caps and ponchos to protect themselves from the rain. UFT President Michael Mulgrew kept the crowd going.
“Are we gonna be in the streets next week if we have to be?” asked Mulgrew to a resounding “Yes!” from the crowd. “We say enough is enough. We’ve had it with all of the foolishness going on out there.”
New York City Council Members Leticia James, Jumaane Williams, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Leroy Comrie and Charles Barron, Assembly Members Keith Wright and Robert Jackson and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. were all in attendance despite the inclement weather.
Barron made sure he let his voice be heard and didn’t mince words-and made sure the crowd didn’t either. “I’m gonna start off with trouble right away,” he said. “I want you to repeat after me: ‘Tax the rich, you son of a…’” The crowd finished the rest.
“Brothers and sisters, there is money in this city. There’s a $65.5 billion budget. There’s a $3.1 billion surplus. There’s a $3 billion rainy day budget. Well, mayor, damn it, it’s raining today. Every city council member who comes before you and speaks at this rally, make sure they take their behinds behind the scenes and vote no on that budget.”
As the rally came to a close, several speakers wanted to remind those in attendance of what’s at stake.
“Just like the old song goes, ‘We are on the road to freedom and we shall not be moved!’” screamed Saunders.
Local 1199 President George Gresham wasn’t as diplomatic.
“The one thing we’ve learned from 2008 is that if you’re gonna rob a bank, you better own it,” Gresham said.