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    New York

May 13, 2014

New York UFCW Members Lobby Their State Legislators

UFCW locals representing workers across New York traveled to the State Capitol in Albany today to lobby on issues important to working families. Members and staff from UFCW Locals 1, 1500, and 2013, along with RWDSU Locals 338 and 1102 were in attendance.

NY Lobby Day 1

A major focus of the lobby day was to push back against efforts to gut the Wage Theft Prevention Act, which took effect in April of 2011. The law requires that employers give workers written notice of wage rates once a year, a provision some Senate Republicans are targeting for repeal. UFCW members made it clear that wage theft is a serious problem and all workers have the right to know if they are being cheated out of money. They called for the Wage Theft Prevention Act to be strengthened, not weakened by repealing the written notice requirement.

Members also discussed the need to raise the minimum wage and pass paid sick leave legislation. For decades, workers’ wages have stagnated while corporate profits and CEO pay have risen to record heights. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it would be over $10 an hour today, but instead it sits at only $8.00 in New York. Members demanded that the minimum wage be raised so it is a living wage.

Members lobbied for statewide paid sick leave, building on the momentum of legislation passed in New York City.  They stressed that no worker should be forced to risk their job and their livelihood just because they get sick. Workers without paid sick leave are 1.5 times more likely to go to work sick and contagious than those who have paid sick days. Members said providing paid sick leave would make every workplace more healthy and productive.

Finally, members told their legislators it was long past time to pass the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, which would include farmworkers under state labor law. This would guarantee that New York’s farmworkers have the right to organize and bargain collectively for the wages and benefits that they deserve. UFCW members understand that all workers must be afforded their fundamental rights.

The lobby day was a great success and members who took part spoke about the importance of meeting directly with their legislators.

“Lobbying is an important way to remind these elected officials who they work for,” said UFCW Local 1500 member John Kubinski, who works at ShopRite in Staten Island. “If we don’t tell them what we want then they cannot properly represent us.”

Local 1500 member Jeff Guardado, who works at Stop & Shop in West Islip, talked about power in numbers. “We’re all fighting for the same cause,” he said. “We stand up for the little people. The little people are many. The powerful are few.”

Local 1500 member Georgette Wilson, who works at Stop & Shop in Hempstead, agreed. “We are here to speak out for those who don’t have the opportunity to have their voice heard.”

Local 1500 member Keith Jefferson, who works at Pathmark in Coney Island, summed up the day. “Too often these elected officials look at papers and they don’t see faces. They need to see faces. I like when my union does this. We fill up the whole bus and all of us come here.”

Members said they will be boarding the bus again next year for the 2015 New York Lobby Day.

April 23, 2013

UFCW Members Lobby New York Legislators

UFCW members from local unions all across New York descended upon the Capitol in Albany today to lobby their elected officials about important bills pending in the Assembly and the Senate.

UFCW members lobbied in support of the New York DREAM Act, the Fair Elections Act, the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, medical marijuana, and conveyed their strong opposition to the Walmart tax credit that was structured into the recently passed minimum wage deal.

For Isha Matko, a UFCW Local 1500 member who works at Gristedes in New York City, this was her first lobbying experience.

“We’re here to help bring a voice to more workers. This helps to ensure that Assemblymembers and Senators are seeing and hearing from real people. It’s a powerful experience being able to talk with people who have the ability to make a difference in all our lives.”

The real impact in lobbying comes from elected officials being able to attach a personal face to the bills that they vote on. Having a lobby day sends a strong reminder that they work for real people–not just the wealthy or big corporations. Juan Guardado, a UFCW Local 1500 member who works at Stop & Shop in West Islip, had a very personal reason for lobbying.

“I’m happy to be here because I really support the DREAM Act. I have a family member who is undocumented and despite getting straight A’s wasn’t eligible for any financial aid. He had to stop going to school because he couldn’t afford it. It’s important for working people to talk to their elected officials because they need to see firsthand that we care, we’re informed and we’re struggling.”

As the lobby day came to a close, UFCW Local One union representative Mark Manna of Buffalo hit on the true importance of the day.

“We’re working people. We don’t have $1,000 suits or a big checkbook, but we have a right to let our elected officials know what we’re concerned about. At the end of the day we keep score with votes, not with how much money is raised.”

Too often, when the word “lobby” is tossed around people immediately think “wealthy” and “special interest.” Yesterday in New York, UFCW members made sure their elected officials associated “lobby” with “workers.”


October 6, 2011

NYT: Confronting the Malefactors

There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people.

When the Occupy Wall Street protests began three weeks ago, most news organizations were derisive if they deigned to mention the events at all. For example, nine days into the protests, National Public Radio had provided no coverage whatsoever.

It is, therefore, a testament to the passion of those involved that the protests not only continued but grew, eventually becoming too big to ignore. With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point.

What can we say about the protests? First things first: The protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.

A weary cynicism, a belief that justice will never get served, has taken over much of our political debate — and, yes, I myself have sometimes succumbed. In the process, it has been easy to forget just how outrageous the story of our economic woes really is. So, in case you’ve forgotten, it was a play in three acts.

In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending. In the second act, the bubbles burst — but bankers were bailed out by taxpayers, with remarkably few strings attached, even as ordinary workers continued to suffer the consequences of the bankers’ sins. And, in the third act, bankers showed their gratitude by turning on the people who had saved them, throwing their support — and the wealth they still possessed thanks to the bailouts — behind politicians who promised to keep their taxes low and dismantle the mild regulations erected in the aftermath of the crisis.

Given this history, how can you not applaud the protesters for finally taking a stand?

Now, it’s true that some of the protesters are oddly dressed or have silly-sounding slogans, which is inevitable given the open character of the events. But so what? I, at least, am a lot more offended by the sight of exquisitely tailored plutocrats, who owe their continued wealth to government guarantees, whining that President Obama has said mean things about them than I am by the sight of ragtag young people denouncing consumerism.

Bear in mind, too, that experience has made it painfully clear that men in suits not only don’t have any monopoly on wisdom, they have very little wisdom to offer. When talking heads on, say, CNBC mock the protesters as unserious, remember how many serious people assured us that there was no housing bubble, that Alan Greenspan was an oracle and that budget deficits would send interest rates soaring.

A better critique of the protests is the absence of specific policy demands. It would probably be helpful if protesters could agree on at least a few main policy changes they would like to see enacted. But we shouldn’t make too much of the lack of specifics. It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details.

Rich Yeselson, a veteran organizer and historian of social movements, has suggested that debt relief for working Americans become a central plank of the protests. I’ll second that, because such relief, in addition to serving economic justice, could do a lot to help the economy recover. I’d suggest that protesters also demand infrastructure investment — not more tax cuts — to help create jobs. Neither proposal is going to become law in the current political climate, but the whole point of the protests is to change that political climate.

And there are real political opportunities here. Not, of course, for today’s Republicans, who instinctively side with those Theodore Roosevelt-dubbed “malefactors of great wealth.” Mitt Romney, for example — who, by the way, probably pays less of his income in taxes than many middle-class Americans — was quick to condemn the protests as “class warfare.”

But Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama’s party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.