WNYLaborToday.com Labor Column: Remembering Our Veterans And An Interesting Social Network Conversation Between Joan Bender & Mark Poloncarz
Also: Elected Representatives Turn Out Big In Support Of Buffalo’s Firefighters, The IAFF’s International President On Political PACs And Donations & The Coalition For Economic Justice Names A New Director
News, Notes & A Bunch Of Observations Made While Covering The Western New York Labor Community Over The Past Several Weeks:
First off, let’s all remember the dedication and ultimate sacrifice our Veterans have made and are continuing to make for the United States on this Veterans Day Weekend. Without such dedication and sacrifice, we would not enjoy the many hard-fought Freedoms that we now have in our Country. From the two World Wars to the Korean War to Vietnam and the Middle East and Afghanistan, many Americans have served proudly – some re-enlisting time and time again for additional Tours of Duty. In Memory of Those Who Have Served and Those Who Continue To Serve, we must honor their commitment and dedicate ourselves to making sure all who return home are provided the Economic Ability to not only provide for themselves and their Families, but receive the Necessary Treatment to help heal their wounds – both physically and emotionally. And Thank You for your service. It is more than appreciated.
Last week, Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 held a Major Rally outside City Hall to focus a public spotlight on the fact the City’s 700 First Responders have been working without a Contract for 11 years now (See WNYLaborToday.com’s Labor News Report, headlined: Working Without A New Contract For 11 Years Now, Buffalo Firefighters Turn Up The Heat On Mayor Byron Brown). A day later, Your Regional Labor Newspaper noticed a number of photos of the Rally being posted on the Social Network Facebook,including one that showed Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz addressing the crowd. That brought an interesting round of comments from CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) Local 815 President Joan Bender, who had a different take on Poloncarz standing in support of Union-Represented Firefighters when more than 3,000 of her Local’s Unionized County Workers are still working without a New Contract: Bender: Don’t tell me that Mark (Poloncarz) is defending the Firefighters. Mark has 3,500 CSEA Members he should be worrying about. Watch out Firefighters, he’s probably telling the City to make sure you pay for your own Health Insurance and you probably won’t get any when you retire. I really don’t know what he had to say. I’ll try to look it up tomorrow. Maybe somebody could e-mail or text me and let me know. Thanks. Then Poloncarz, who must have been monitoring comments on the photo, answered: Hi Joan. Glad to see you are in a nice mood as usual! Which brought the following response from Bender: Back at you. Poloncarz then finished by posting a small, yellow smiley face logo followed by an exclamation point.
Speaking of the Firefighters Rally, it also attracted Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF) President Richard Lipsitz and Buffalo AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President Michael Hoffert, who both spoke to those assembled. A number of other local Labor Union Representatives were there, including some from Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1122, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 41 and the State Public Employees Federation (PEF). On another front, Representatives of the New York State Firefighters’ Union and Officials from other Firefighters’ Locals in Albany, Batavia, Binghamton, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Rochester and Syracuse also traveled to Buffalo to attend the Rally. In addition, there was an extremely large turnout of City, County, State and Federally-Elected Representatives who stood in support of Buffalo’s Firefighters at the City Hall Rally. Two Elected Representatives spoke to the crowd: Erie County Executive Poloncarz and Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder, who delivered an emotional speech that was met with loud applause. Also in attendance was new Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, who more than likely played a major role in bringing about such a large turnout of Labor-Supported Elected Officials. No doubt that Labor’s recent and extremely positive role in the Elections underscore the importance of what Unions and their Members bring to the table to those seeking Public Office with the goals of supporting those Issues most important to Working People. It should be very interesting how the relationship between new County Democratic Chairman Zellner, who is a young guy, develops with the Western New York Labor Community in the months and years to come. However, if this is any indication of respect, Zellner certainly got off on the right foot.
WNYLaborToday.com also had the opportunity to personally speak with International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger, who traveled from IAFF’s Headquarters in Washington to take part in the Rally. To say the least, it was impressive to have an International Union President such as Schaitberger come to Buffalo in support of the Unionized Firefighters. A powerful speaker, Schaitberger advised Buffalo Firefighters to “push hard and stick together to bring about change” while seeking a New Contract. While admitting to Your Regional, On-Line Labor Newspaper in a side interview that he’s “never seen” any other Fire Union go this long with a Contract, Schaitberger also told Firefighters in attendance at the Rally that should the City “not do the right thing,” the IAFF and Local 282 were resolved “to do what it takes” to bring about agreeance on a new deal. After the Rally, several sources who asked that they not be publicly identified told Your Regional, On-Line Labor Newspaper that negotiations might be taking a turn for the better and that the City is finally looking “to get something done.” “While we know there will be changes (leading up to a final and offered Contract), Firefighters have put on the table what they need and the City has not as yet said ‘no’ to it,” the source told WNYLaborToday.com. Several days of talks on a New Contract have been recently held, they said. In addition, it was also revealed that City Officials had asked Local 282 Representatives to back off and not hold the Rally that was held on the steps of City Hall, sources also told WNYLaborToday.com. On another front, when asked what his Union was doing to hold Elected Officials accountable when it comes to standing up for Workers’ Rights, IAFF President Schaitberger told WNYLaborToday.com his Union - which operates the 10th Largest Federal Political Action Committee in the Nation – “had given nothing” to Candidates seeking Political Donations for a period of 10 months. “Until they stand up” for Workers’ Rights, said Schaitberger, who in order to put it all in “the right context,” the IAFF Fire PAC ranks right up there in the Top 10 with the National Bar Association’s Federal PAC.
WNYLaborToday.com would like to extend a round of Congratulations to Jennifer Diagostino, who was recently named as the new Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Justice. Diagostino succeeds long-time CEJ Director Allison Duwe, who has left to raise her soon-to-be three children with her husband, Seth. Allison was extremely well-known in the Western New York Labor Community as an Ally with a fierce commitment to Workers’ Rights and Social Justice. Her Sharp Intellect and Organizational Skills enabled the CEJ to become an Extremely Effective and Respected Agent for Social Change in our Region and WNYLaborToday.com believes Organized Labor is grateful for her tremendous efforts over the years. According to a CEJ Press Release, Diagostino previously worked for the Erie County Democratic Committee, Americans for a Democratic Society and in the District Office of former New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Master’s Degree in Political Science. A Western New York Native who hails from a Proud Union Family and who grew up around a nightly dinner table full of conversation about Unions, Activism and Politics, Diagostino has served on the Adjunct Faculty of Canisius College and Erie Community College. She’s been working with the CEJ since the Fall 2011 and had helped coordinate the Organization’s Local Anti-Verizon Efforts. In addition, CEJ also announced it promoted Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby as its new Organizing Director. Shapiro-Shellaby has been on Staff with CEJ since 2006 - first in a part-time Fundraising and Solidarity Organizing Role and then in a full-time Organizer Position. She’ll be taking the lead driving CEJ’s Campaign Work and helping to achieve more victories for CEJ and its Coalition Members, including Organized Labor.
And finally, kudos to the Executive Board of the Western New York Construction Career Days Organization, which pulled off yet another amazing event back in October. The Eighth Annual Construction Career Days attracted more than 1,000 Western New York High Schools Students to International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17’s sprawling, 400-acre Training Facility in Suburban Lakeview, where those Students were given the opportunity to learn about a number of tremendous careers in the Unionized Building Trades and Construction Industry, but gain some hands-on experience running a host of real machinery and taking advantage of a number of Virtual Training Opportunities. Congratulations to Western New York Construction Career Days CEO Gary Bernardo, who also serves as New York State Laborers/LECET (Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust) Field Representative, Western New York Construction Career Days Partner Jim Logan, who serves as executive vice president of the Construction Industry Employers Association, Incorporated, Committee Chair John Magney and IUOE Local 17’s Jim Smolinski, a Member of the Construction Career Days’ Board, to name just a few.