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Labor Leaders: No Need for NY to follow WI

February 28, 2011

NEW YORK - New York labor leaders are taking the offensive against budget cuts, saying New York can show the nation budgets don't have to be balanced on the backs of workers. Charlene Obernauer, director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, says New York does not need to follow Wisconsin, where lawmakers voted Friday to strip most public workers of collective bargaining rights.

Obernauer says New York has plenty of better ways to balance the budget - ways that do not involve billions of dollars in cuts.

"We can't accept that we need to cut all our services when we know how we can fund this. Millionaires are not paying their fair share in taxes, they are getting massive tax breaks. Cuomo knows that; so does Gov. Walker."

Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker has proposed rolling back union rights as a way to balance the state budget. The largely absent Wisconsin Senate still has to vote on the collective bargaining issue. Obernauer wonders if the 40-hour work week could be the next anti-labor target.

SEIU-32BJ secretary treasurer Hector Figaroa says the latest census showed that less than seven percent of private-sector workers are unionized, versus 35 percent of public-sector workers. He accuses big business of using that divide to play one side against the other. He adds that unions are there to protect the rights of all workers.

"We need to be able to give hope to people who are employed by private employers that they, too, can get pensions, they can get health insurance and decent wages. We want to organize workers and make these demands - the kinds of demands that are reachable for everybody."

Obernauer says New York could close most of its $9 billion budget gap if it eliminated $8 billion of what she calls "hidden giveaways" in tax breaks and corporate subsidies.

"I mean, corporations that ship jobs overseas are getting money in New York State; corporations that don't hire people with living wage jobs are getting money; corporations are getting money that don't even create jobs."

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY