The Amsterdam News and Bill Lynch Associates honored several members of the labor community this Tuesday at its seventh annual “Tying Communities Together” Labor Awards Breakfast at the new 1199 SEIU offices, located at 498 7th Ave. in midtown Manhattan.

At every table, swag bags with new thermos cups, lunch containers, face masks, and other goodies that bore the newspaper’s signature red with black logo were placed for guests as they arrived.

New York Amsterdam News Publisher Elinor Tatum, former Assemblymember Michael Blake, and recently confirmed New York State Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin spoke at this year’s awards ceremony.

Benjamin said that his father was a 32BJ member, and it was because of unions that he and other families were afforded the opportunity to break into the middle class. “When you talk about the American dream, you can’t do that without talking about labor,” said Benjamin.

After an arduous and socially distanced year in 2020, many said that the breakfast felt like a mini family reunion and delighted in seeing old friends in person. People caught up with one another, or enjoyed the featured chicken and waffles breakfast, as light instrumental jazz played in the background.

This year’s honorees were musician Harry Belafonte, 32BJ President Kyle Bragg, Council on School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and unofficially Billy Lynch, whom many spoke of highly throughout the morning.

“The teachers, the principals, the cleaners, are so important every day of the week. My daughter is in those schools, and if it wasn’t for all the people you represent my daughter would not be safe,” said Tatum. “She is my world and she represents the world of every other mother and father, aunt and uncle out there.”

In Weingarten’s remarks, she said it was important to have a moment of gratitude for all the essential workers on the ground that the union leaders in the room represented. “[Essential workers] during the height of COVID, during the surges, the ups and downs, all of whom showed up for others,” said Weingarten.

She said above all it was about the members and communities’ voices, agency, and safety.

Bragg, who was elected after the untimely passing of former 32BJ President Héctor J. Figueroa in 2019, said he worried for employees and union members facing down the barrel of unemployment or losing their livelihoods because of the pandemic’s vaccine mandates.

“They exposed themselves to a deadly virus to do hard and necessary work,” said Bragg of the city’s essential workers as he accepted his award. “The job that they were not able to sit at home at a computer while the rest of the country was remote. They were and continue to be the backbone of our economic survival and the lynchpin of our continued recovery.”

Cannizzaro said that with the great leadership and talent present at the breakfast, he thought that a solid sit down together could solve most of the school system’s COVID problems as the city is currently grappling with lawsuits over the vaccine mandates in the new school semester.

“That’s probably what needs to happen. And I think Randi said it quite well, we have a responsibility and we’re going to take that seriously and make sure things happen for kids,” said Cannizzaro.

Belafonte couldn’t join in person, but his daughter, Gina, sent an acceptance video on his behalf.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w