5/1/08: Teamster, housing workers and community members rallied at NY City Hall protesting Bush cuts

By Richard at UnionReview

On May 1, Teamster Local 237 held a very spirited rally at City Hall Park to raise awareness to the ongoing budget cuts slashing into the New York City Housing Authority, which employs about 8,000 Local 237 members. Here's the whole story.

Marguerite Frasier is an employee of the New York City Housing Authority and member of Teamster Local Union 237. Though Frasier handles the pest control, changing out light bulbs and maintenance at one of the 440 projects in NY, she doesn't have the supplies to do her work. "We are short on man power, and we have no supplies to do janitorial or extermination work," she said.

Marguerite was one of 3,000 Teamsters who were then joined with workers from other unions and housing advocates at a rally on May 1st outside City Hall Park in New York City; a protest to raise awareness of the Bush Administration budget cuts, which continues to under-fund the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and continues to make it almost impossible for Marguerite to even do her job.

Teamster Local Union 237, which represents 8,000 NYCHA employees working in the City's housing projects, organized the spirited event to raise awareness of the fact that after eight years of budget slashing valued at $611 million, the fate of New York's public housing is in grave jeopardy.

With the absence of appropriate federal subsidization, the Big Apple has a big bill; one it cannot afford to pay. "Workers are losing their jobs and residents are losing their homes," Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, said. "We are the largest public housing system in the country, if we fail here ... we fail everywhere," Floyd told a sea of workers carrying blue, yellow and white signs that read, "Local 237 & Residents United for Decent Housing." When he closed his speech by saying, "We count, we vote; you have to deal with us," the crowd responded with a roaring cheer that could probably be heard throughout Manhattan - it was loud!

The focus of the rally was to bring to light the fact that the Federal Government, on George Bush's watch, only gives public housing 81 cents on the dollar. "We want the Bush Administration to live up to its obligation to fund public housing," Floyd said.

Rosa Vazquez, another NYCHA employee and Local 237 member working in the Millbrook Houses in the Bronx says, "I have to use my own money to buy Clorox and whatever else is needed." She says that she is not reimbursed, and doesn't care if she is; her primary concern, just like her coworker Marguerite, is that her work gets done every day that she goes to work. "I needed the building clean and so I do what I need to do," she said.

The "I do what I have to" attitude is with every one of these 8,000 Teamsters. They do what they can to take matters in their own hand, but they can't afford to pay for garbage bags and cleaning supplies - and it is not their responsibility. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government, and that is what every speaker who got to the microphone worked to put forth.

As the workers are without supplies to get their jobs done the right way, and members from other unions are faced with layoff after layoff, leaving many Local 237 members working on skeleton crews; the residents are faced with rent increases. With more than 20% of the local's membership living in public housing as well as working for the Housing Authority, this is a double-edged sword.

On one hand they fear they will lose their jobs, which they often don't have the supplies to carry out, and simultaneously they fear they will lose their homes because the rents are going through the roof.

As morale among the workers diminishes, the union officials, City council members, as well as residents; came up to the podium to tell the workers that they are appreciated. "There is no institution more important to this City than public housing," screamed Dennis Hughs, President of New York State AFL-CIO, and strong ally of the Local Union 237. A sentiment only backed up by senior citizen and public housing resident and Teamster activist, "I know what you know ... the best thing about public housing is the people who live there. The next thing is the Local 237 workers who work there."

Stay tuned, this is not only a fight worth fighting, but one in which we will prevail.

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