CNY Organized Labor Aims to Boost Interest, Membership Amid Declining Numbers

Sep 2, 2019

Union members of all stripes gather for the annual Labor Day parade at the fairgrounds.
Credit Elizabeth Kauma / WAER-FM 88.3

Hundreds of members of organized labor didn’t seem too discouraged when it literally “rained on their parade” Monday morning at the state fairgrounds, as they chanted "We are the union, the mighty mighty union!"

Members of any number of unions ranging from carpenters to teachers marched through raindrops and puddles to show their solidarity.  But union membership nationwide is at its lowest in 65 years…at just over 10 percent.  Staffer at SEIU 1199 Lawrence Brooks says apathy is a factor.  

"We haven't really had many big fights.  People have gotten used to the fact that they can get a job and those rights are ingrained into what folks already fought for.  People don't necessary realize that nothing's given.  Somebody had to fight for the rights that they received."

Credit Scott Willis / WAER-FM 88.3

Brooks says they hope the parade tells people that working people still matter and that it’s OK to sign a union card.  Vice president of the Syracuse Labor Council Julie Searle  says labor contracts lead to better overall pay and benefits.

"They could take thos benefits away from someone, once the union goes away maybe a year later.  'Maybe we don't need to pay to you that anymore, because the union isn't knocking on our door anymore.'"

Meanwhile, unions representing the public sector seem to be thriving.  Just ask John Buttino, a fire protetion specalist with the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.  They fall under the Public Employees Federation.

Credit Elizabeth Kauma / WAER-FM 88.3

"We've noticed tremendous retention, and even more importantly, we've noticed a lot of increased activism and activity with our members, wanting to become involved."

Buttino says having the backing of a union enhances their job performance. 

Speaking of performance, the state fair shattered its overall attendance record for the fourth consecutive year.  Governor Cuomo made a quick stop Monday to mark the occasion.  As of early Monday afternoon, 1.33 million people had come through the gates.  Last year’s record was 1.27 million.  Final numbers won’t be in until after the fair closes at 9:00.