Hundreds of people massed in front of the News Corporation building yesterday evening in a show of solidarity with protestors in Wisconsin who have staged a days-long sit-in at the state Capitol there.
The crowd encompassed several unions including the Civil Services Employees Union, the Writers Guild of America and the United Federation of Teachers, many of them wearing foam cheesehead hats. There were there, they said, to fight the perception that unions, rather than corporations or the financial industry, had become scapegoats for the country’s financial woes, and they feared that Wisconsin indicated a broader national trend of waning union clout.
“Right now public workers are under siege everywhere,” assemblyman David Weprin told the crowd. “They’re under siege in New York state.”
In a subsequent interview, Weprin said that Andrew Cuomo has a “strong history of support for unions” that boded well for New York’s public unions, which are facing some combination of layoffs and reduced wages as they wait to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the governor. But he said unequivocally that “there will be layoffs and jobs lost by attrition.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was more specific when he addressed the rally, singling out Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg for divisive rhetoric and reticence in negotiating with unions.
“What you never do as an elected official, you never, ever use a financial crisis a an excuse to bust union,” Stringer shouted to the crowd. “You never ever try to hurt the working people of this country and this city because there’s a fiscal crisis.”
Early in the rally, Rep. Charles Rangel paused on his way into the building, where he said he would be appearing on a Fox program, to question extending tax cuts for the wealthy and to condemn attacks on unions.
“We’re talking about billions of dollars that’s out there, even in the tax code, forgetting the expenses of the war, that’s not being cut,” Rangel said. “So now we’re saying everyone sacrifice, but these are the issues that are not put on the table.”
While people in the crowd acknowledged that the situation in Wisconsin is more severe than in New York, they nonetheless said that Cuomo and Bloomberg have been acting against the interest of public workers. Matt D’Amico, a political coordinator for CSEA, said that pension reform, a favorite cause of both the mayor and the governor, D’Amico noted that the average CSEA pension of about $14,000 a year is “hardly astronomical.”
“Most public employees took a lower salary so that they could have decent benefits,” D’Amico said.
Lev Moscow, who teaches at a Manhattan public school, drew a parallel between governor Walker’s hard line on unions and Bloomberg’s push to eliminate mandates that force schools to lay off their newest teachers first, thereby protecting more experienced teachers.
“It’s a national struggle, and I don’t think what’s happening in Wisconsin is all that different from Bloomberg trying to do away with teacher seniority,” Moscow said. “Somehow the narrative has shifted from a crisis caused by bankers to a crisis caused by the unions. The unions aren’t perfect, but they protect us.”