WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Public Workers and Unions Rally in New York
Friday, February 25, 2011 - 09:41 AM
The tone was militant and unapologetic. Nearly a thousand public workers and their unions massed at lunch time in front of City Hall on Thursday in solidarity with public employees in Wisconsin and other states that face the prospects of layoffs and pension and benefit rollbacks.
The potential cuts come as states across the country grapple with stagnant revenues, the loss of federal aid and a jobless recovery.
Outside City Hall, both elected officials and trade unionists warned that if public unions lost ground, the trend of national income disparity would only accelerate. They said that the gap between the middle class and the wealthiest households was undermining the national economy and short circuiting the recovery.
Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron told the boisterous crowd that in New York that both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo were resorting to cutbacks and layoffs rather than pushing to tax the wealthy and Wall Street.
"If you did a...[tax] surcharge on people making $500,000 dollars or more, if you progressively increased it, you can get nearly $10 billion dollars," Barron said. "If you could have a stock transfer tax, you could get another $12 to $16 billion dollars."
Outside of City Hall Park, Sarah Polmar, a member of the Hotel Trades Council, held a poster that blamed the Bush-era tax cuts, extended during the Obama administration, for current deficits. She said that our current tax structure “caused a hole in government receipts”.
Polmar believes that public sector unions have become the “scapegoats” of this budget crisis. “They are vilifying teachers and sanitation workers, it’s a shame… I’m very deeply concerned with what kind of democracy we actually live in," she said.
John Samuelson, who leads Transport Workers Union 100, said it was time that President Obama weigh in more forcefully on the side of public workers who now find themselves on the defensive across the nation.
"Obama needs to step up and take care of the working folks that got him elected. It is decision time for President Obama. Is he with the corporate interests that are trying to crush working people, or is he going to align himself with the working people that elected him?"
On Friday in Trenton, union and anti-union groups will hold dueling rallies in the debate over public unions in Wisconsin and across the country.
with additional reporting by Sam Lewis