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Union workers make their voices heard at Labor Day Parade

Organized labor is once again on the march. ¶ The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which labor strongly opposed, is on life support, with help from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who made opposition to the TPP a central part of his stump speeches during his quest for the presidency. ¶ Meanwhile, labor’s push for a $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage – also with the strong backing of Sanders – gained national momentum. In April, legislation signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 public-sector minimum wage, and also included a 12-week paid family leave policy. ¶ “There’s no question that things are looking better for organized labor locally and nationally,” said Richard Lipsitz, president of the WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. “We’ve maintained our density in Western New York, and gotten contracts around here that have been better than in a lot of years.” ¶ “There were also organizing victories,” Lipsitz said. “The Teamsters have had some, the steelworkers, and there were the Catholic Health and Kaleida contracts.” ¶ But Lipsitz said there is a long way to go, with income inequality at the top of the list. ¶ “Income inequality is a key question for all working-class people, especially those in organized labor,” Lipsitz said. “Unlike trickle-down economics, when our wages go up it really benefits everybody. When the wages of the wealthy go up, it does not benefit anyone but them.” ¶ The News spoke with 10 people about their jobs and the upcoming election as Monday’s annual Labor Day Parade wound through South Buffalo. Here’s what they had to say:

James Cornelius, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1342:

Job:

NFTA bus driver.

How has your job changed?

Oh man, with the cutbacks on routes the job is more strenuous. There aren’t enough buses out there and the service has been cut so much that they are asking us to do more with less.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

No, they haven’t, and that’s why we’re up in arms right now. The cost of living over the last eight years has risen while our pay scale stayed the same. We’ve been working without a contract since 2008.

Important election year?

Very important. It depends on who we put in there, and if they are transit-friendly or not.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

I got to go with Hillary. Trump’s not union friendly, and that’s what we need.

George Thomas, Iron Workers Local 6:

Job:

Iron worker at various sites.

How has your job changed?

Other than safety, it’s remained the same.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

Absolutely. Our union and our leadership take great care of us.

Important election year?

Yes. They advise us what politicians will stand by us, and that’s who we vote for.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

None of the above if you ask me, but Hillary. Whatever’s best for the union.

Susan Lewis, National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 3

Job:

Letter carrier

How has your job changed?

It’s become much more difficult because of the amount of parcels we deliver now. We carry three bundles instead of two.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

Yes, basically because of our union. The NALC has negotiated cost-of-living increases that take effect every year, along with our contractual increases.

How important is the election?

This election is very important. We need to get labor-friendly candidates elected across the board, local elections included.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

Hillary.

Cliff Parks Jr., CWA Local 1122

Job: Installs and repairs copper phone lines for Verizon.

How has your job changed?

There’s always pressure from the corporate elite to try to squeeze more and more out of us, and to try to cut into our contract and take back some of the power we’ve accumulated. This year, however, we pushed back and won our strike.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living? Ours have. That’s one of the advantages of being in a union.

Important election year? I think the soul of the country is at stake. There is a lot really riding on this election, and the direction this country is going to take.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Hillary. We can’t let Trump win.

...

Julio Garcia, Public Employees Federation Council 286

Job:

Administrative law judge for the New York State Workers Compensation Board.

How has your job changed? We’re doing more with less, and having less people-to-people contact.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

No. But we’re in the middle of contract negotiations, and our union is doing its best to make sure we get adequate compensation for the work we do.

Important election year?

Oh my god. It’s super important. It will control what happens for years to come. Issues regarding immigration are obvious, but they’re going to be appointing people to the Supreme Court who will interpret rules and laws that will affect us for the next 30 years.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

Hillary.

...

Sophia Howard Johnson, Buffalo Teachers Federation

Job:

Prekindergarten teacher at Early Childhood Center School 61.

How has your job changed?

We’ve got more children and families in crisis, more families in poverty. We also have a lot of refugees who have come into the Western New York area.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

No. We are in our 13th year without a wage increase. Many of us have to work extra jobs and have taken out loans from our retirement system to take care of our families.

How important is the election?

It’s very important. We need someone in leadership who will understand what we need in education.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Hillary.

...

Heather Adsit, United University Professions

Job:

Staff assistant for the University at Buffalo’s office of vice president of provost affairs.

How has your job changed?

My office handles promotion and tenure of faculty, and we see all the changes from the top down. But my job hasn’t changed, and I’m taken care of in my union. We have great benefits that are family friendly.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

Not really. UB hasn’t had a contract for around four years, so it’s not kept up the way it has in the past.

How important is this election?

I think the entire election sucks, and all of the candidates do. It’s a lose-lose situation right now.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

I’m a Bernie supporter so I might go Green Party this year.

...

Kevin Donovan, New York State Nursing Association

Job:

Registered nurse at Erie County Medical Center.

How has your job changed?

We’re not just nurses now. We’re taking on more roles every year, and we’re not able to pay attention to patients as we should.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

I can’t complain about our wages.

How important is this election?

It’s giant.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

I’m not going to say.

...

Ray Parker IV, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17

Job:

Operates heavy machinery.

How has your job changed?

It’s changed dramatically, because I think that in this day and age union labor is under fire. We have to be justifiable to the contractor, and the contractor wants more and more for less and less. That’s the struggle.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living?

I don’t think so. I think we’re way behind the times. We make a good living, but if you’re talking inflation over the course of 30, 40, 50 years, there’s no way.

How important is this election?

Huge, the biggest. You have two candidates, with one candidate considerably more evil than the other.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

I’m a registered Democrat but I may write in Bernie Sanders.

...

Mike Bollenbacher, United Steelworkers Union Local 135L

Job:

Tire inspector at Sumitomo Rubber Industries.

How has your job changed?

We got bought up by Sumitomo Rubber, and everything’s stayed the same. They’re going to increase production and dump over $80 million into our plant. It’s a good thing.

Have your wages kept pace with the cost of living? Yes, we make a good wage for this area.

How important is this election? I think it’s very important. The direction we’re in is not the direction we need to be.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? I’m going to vote for Trump.

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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