Members of a wide-range of labor unions gathered at the state fairgrounds for an annual rally that celebrated their accomplishments…as well as a different kind of support and leadership. There was a strong showing from teachers at this year’s rally, ranging from members of the Syracuse Teachers Association to United University Professions.
But the keynote speech came from the resident of New York State United Teachers, representing 600,000 members in education, health care, and human services. Karen McGee took the helm of NYSUT as the first woman president in April 2014. She made the trip to Syracuse from Harrison in Westchester county, where she’s been an elementary school teacher for 30 years.
"You seen the bumper stickers on the car. Union: the folks that brought you the weekend. You're damn right we brought you the weekend and the 40 hour work week, and fought against exploiting children in the workplace."
McGee says today, they’re fighting for fair wages for the working poor, including the $15 an hour wage for fast food workers. She says they’re fighting against overtime abuse and wage theft. The only other person to make remarks at Monday's rally was someone who on the surface might seem like an unlikely supporter of labor. But Republican Congressmember John Katko heaped plenty of praise on unionized workers past and present, and committed to fix something that has generated much concern among teachers, parents, and children.
"I'm fighting every day to try and undo the mess that common core has become," he said to a cheering crowd. "You deserve to teach how you want to teach. You can't teach a kid in the city of Syracuse the same way you teach them in Fayetteville-Manlius. It's time they recognize that," he said to more applause and cheers. "I'm with you, I don't care what party I'm with because I understand labor is the backbone of Central New York."
Katko says he broke with his party to side with labor in his opposition to the Trade Promotion Authority, which congress approved earlier this summer. He says the TPA amounts to another NAFTA, draining good jobs from upstate in favor of cheaper labor overseas.