2020: A Year-in-Review
As we come to the end of an unprecedented year in our city and our nation’s history, we’re taking a look back at all that we’ve accomplished as a city labor movement in the face of previously unimaginable obstacles.
Throughout the pandemic, our labor movement has stood with essential workers who put themselves in harm’s way to make sure that New Yorkers had access to healthcare and critical goods and services. We’ve supported and fought for working families who saw their jobs and livelihoods slip away in the resulting economic crisis. We’ve mourned those who have been lost, and recommitted ourselves to the fight for strong safety and health protections. We’ve spoken out against racial injustice and the continuing systemic inequalities faced by our brothers and sisters of color. And at the same time, we’ve kept up our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, and we’ve re-imagined our political and civic outreach programs to engage with our members in new ways, in a year when that engagement was more critical than ever before.
None of this would have been possible without our affiliates and their members. On behalf of all of us at the New York City Central Labor Council, we extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude for your solidarity and for your partnership, and we wish you and your loved ones a brighter, happier, and healthier 2021.
The CLC and many of our affiliates spent the early months of 2020 kicking off a robust Census 2020 campaign, with a citywide Census Day of Action in February. We continued our outreach efforts with our annual Labor and Civil Rights breakfast, hosted this year by EmblemHealth with more than 100 guests representing dozens of unions, community organizations, and elected officials from across New York City. At the event, we took the opportunity to not only reflect on the continuing unity and interdependence of the labor and civil rights movements, but also to explore the role that these movements would play in ensuring the success of the 2020 Census, and the critical impact that the Census has on working people and our communities.
We also completed construction and moved into our new office at 350 West 31st Street, in a building owned by the NY Metro American Postal Workers Union. The new New York City Labor Center will help create a cost-effective and permanent institutional presence where members and affiliates can collaborate, and project a message of solidarity, strength and purpose for Organized Labor. And eventually, we expect to be able to provide a multi-use and flexible amenity space, including auditorium space for meetings and other training rooms.
In March, the Labor Movement along with the rest of our city began to feel the terrible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time that so many New Yorkers began to face the health-related challenges, thousands of others faced the sudden loss of their livelihoods as the country plunged into an economic crisis that continues today.
In response, we also saw unions and working people increasingly banding together to put pressure on employers and raise public awareness about health and safety issues they were facing on the job, and demanding that their employers prioritize the health and safety of their workforce over profits.
At the CLC, we quickly launched COVID-19 Resources and Ways to Help webpages, with updates on legislative and policy developments as well as information on how to donate supplies, contribute to Relief Funds, volunteer, register community spaces, and donate blood. Together with the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds (COBUG), we convened a remote meeting with NYC Media and Entertainment Commissioner Anne del Castillo and our live entertainment affiliates, who were among those earliest and hardest hit by the economic impact of the virus.
We held the first of dozens of weekly calls with our Executive Board members, who would be joined over the course of the year by Senator Charles Schumer, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, and AFL-CIO staff who addressed response efforts at the national level, as well as numerous City and State elected officials and agency staff who shared their knowledge and resources related to the local response. We also organized the first of many virtual Delegates Meetings, where we again hosted both City and State agency officials as well as our partners at NYCOSH, who joined us several times to share information on the responsibilities of employers as they pertain to workplace safety, and ways that employees can mitigate the risk of contracting the virus.
And in late March, on the 109th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, we found ourselves memorializing the fire in a different way, at a time when urgent attention needed to again be drawn to workplace conditions and the health and safety of workers. Together with Workers United, we called for a galvanizing moment to avoid the damaging costs of shortsighted political decisions and put the safety of our working people front and center, and remembered the words of Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”
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Throughout the spring, New York City's working people and families continued to bear a terrible burden, as jobless claims continued to climb and data began to show that the virus was ravaging the city’s communities of color and spreading along the edges of New York’s vast economic divide.
In April, the CLC NYC CLC hosted Know Your Rights trainings on the NYS Eviction Moratorium and on Mortgages and Foreclosures During COVID-19. Guest speakers included NYC Assistant Comptroller for Economic Development Brian Cook and members of the Legal Services Staff Association/UAW 2320. A recording of the Eviction Moratorium training can be found here, and the Mortgage and Foreclosure training is here. We also cosponsored the virtual Organizing 2.0 Conference, which brought together hundreds of leaders, organizers, fundraisers, techies and activists for workshops and trainings focusing on online to offline organizing, digital strategy, member engagement and more.
On April 28, the CLC and NYCOSH, along with the entire NYC Labor Movement, observed Workers Memorial Day. As we do each year, we remembered workers killed or injured on the job as a result of construction incidents, equipment failures, traffic accidents, workplace violence and more. This year, we also honored those workers lost as a result of contracting COVID in their workplace. Though our commemorations looked different than they have in the past, taking place largely through social media and other online platforms, they were more important than ever. Together with guest speakers AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, Father Brian Jordan, OFM, and Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director of The Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, we mourned those who have been lost, expressed our gratitude to those who continue to put themselves in harm’s way to make sure that New Yorkers have access to healthcare and essential goods and services, and called for a renewal of the fight for strong safety and health protections. A scroll which includes the names of many of the workers lost prior to Workers Memorial Day is available here, and the full online program can be viewed here.
As part of its ongoing weekly meetings, the CLC Executive Board passed two unanimous resolutions relating to the pandemic. The first condemed anti-Asian, Pacific American discrimination, in response to our brothers and sisters in the Asian Pacific community being singled out for racist and xenophobic attacks related to the pandemic. The resolution specifically recognized the large numbers of Asian Pacific American workers who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other medical and health care workers on the front lines of the fight, and committed the NYCCLC and APALA NY to working with elected officials to condemn and end racist stereotyping and attacks upon members of the Asian Pacific community and promote the unity of working people. Read the full resolution here.
The second resolution acknowledged the importance of the public Postal Service and the need for it to survive the financial crisis caused by the negative impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on its revenue, calling on all member unions to ask their members to support the public Postal Service by calling their two Senators and requesting immediate financial relief for the Postal Service, and ask their friends, relatives and co-workers to do the same. Read that resolution here.
In June, the CLC hosted three important virtual events. The first, Future in Focus 2020: Exploring the World of Organized Labor and Unionized Careers, was an annual event co-hosted with our partners at UFT, with a goal of increasing awareness about the Labor Movement and the many career opportunities that exist for high school graduates. Viewers participated in our virtual panel and connected with presenters from seven organizations (UFT, AFM Local 802, IATSE Local 798, Actors’ Equity, SEIU Local 246, LSSA/UAW 2320, IATSE Local 52, DC 9 and Nontraditional Employment for Women) representing workers from the trades, entertainment, education, and public service sectors.
Our second event, the Labor Counts! Census 2020 & Civic Action Town Hall, was a discussion around the importance of the 2020 Census and the most current information on voting in the upcoming elections. Panelists included representatives from the Association for a Better New York (ABNY),the NYC Dept. of Planning, 1199 SEIU, District Council 37, AFSCME, United Federation of Teachers, SEIU 32BJ, Greater New York LECET, NYS Laborers Organizing Fund (NYSLOF), Census Counts Campaign/The Leadership Conf. Education Fund, and New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).
Finally, our "Labor and the Moment" live panel event was an opportunity for labor leaders in NYC to discuss the role of the Labor Movement in the fight for racial, social, and economic justice. The event took place as working people across our city were demanding justice for the senseless death of George Floyd, and for an end to the continuing systemic inequalities that are faced by our brothers and sisters of color every day in America. This live panel was moderated by CLC Secretary-Treasurer and UFT VP for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds, and featured panelists including Kyle Bragg, President, 32BJ SEIU; Lester Crockett, Regional President, CSEA/AFSCME Local 1000, Region 2; Henry Garrido, Executive Director, AFSCME District Council 37; Mark Henry, President, ATU Local 1056; Myra Hepburn, Secretary-Treasurer, OPEIU Local 153; Gloria Middleton, President, CWA 1180; Edgar Romney, Secretary-Treasurer, Workers United, SEIU; and Jonathan Smith, President, New York Metro Area Postal Workers Union.
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Over the course of a normal summer, the CLC would be in full event planning mode, preparing for the nation’s largest Labor Day Parade and March. This year, we faced a different challenge—finding ways to keep our traditions alive while acknowledging the physical restrictions caused by the pandemic. With the assistance and support of our affiliates, we responded to the challenge by replacing a single Labor Day event with an entire Labor Week of Action. We kicked the week off with messages from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer, and also had the opportunity to hear from Vice-President Joe Biden in conversation with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, featuring questions from rank-and-file union members.
We focused on voter registration efforts, absentee ballot applications, and other GOTV efforts, as well as the HEROES Act and other COVID-related legislation. We had a panel discussion on the HEROES Act featuring union members and leadership from across the NYC Labor Movement, and also hosted a discussion and training on poll worker opportunities and absentee voting.
We continued our focus on the 2020 Census efforts with a message from NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and a Facebook Census Town Hall. We also highlighted recent organizing campaigns, information about how to join/form a union, testimonials from union members, and all the ways that workers come together and build power to make their lives better.
On September 11, we joined the rest of our City and nation in honoring the 19th anniversary of the attacks, and all the lives that were lost on that day, live streaming the annual reading of names and sharing IBEW Local 3's commemoration. Finally, we wrapped up the week of action with a live streamed Labor Mass, and a look back at the week and at our Labor Day events of past years.
We also rallied to support our affiliates whose members were finding their livelihoods threatened by the economic crisis. In August, we rallied alongside our brothers and sisters for a “Save the Post Office” event on the steps of the Farley Post Office, protesting the Trump administration's dismantling of the USPS and demanding that Congress provide at least immediate financial support and stop and reverse the mail slowdown policies introduced by Postmaster General DeJoy. And in September, with the clock ticking for 22,000 municipal workers whose jobs are hanging by a thread, we gathered in Foley Square to send a message to city and state leaders that essential workers are not expendable workers.
And in late summer our NYC Labor Votes! campaign kicked off a robust member-to-member phone bank for the 2020 elections, conducting twice-weekly phone bank opportunities for NYC union members to reach out to other union households both in NYC and in battleground states. Throughout the campaign, affiliate members provided voters information on labor-endorsed candidates in their communities, and encouraged members to call their legislators and demand that COVID-related legislation be passed and signed into law.
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Throughout the fall, our NYC Labor Votes! Campaign was in full swing, increasing our outreach efforts as the election drew closer. Through our member-to-member phone banking efforts in battleground states, we were able to make more than 100,000 calls to union voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan from September to Election Day. We also mobilized our affiliates and their members for in-person lit drops and door to door in two critical areas of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley. And here at home, CLC staff coordinated with the NYS AFL-CIO to engage with approximately 20,000 New York union members via text messaging.
By the end of Election Week, the results of Labor’s efforts nationwide were clear: the national AFL-CIO's post-election survey showed that union members voted by 58 percent for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and while the general public supported Biden by three points, our members favored him by 21 points. The path to the White House ran through America’s labor movement, thanks in part to the hundreds of CLC affiliate members who went above and beyond by making calls and travelling in person to engage with their fellow members.
But our engagement efforts didn’t end there: with the critical Georgia Senate races heading into runoff elections on January 5th, and control of the Senate in the balance, we’ve continued to mobilize our affiliates and their members with daily phone banking opportunities for NYC union members to reach out to union households in Georgia in support of AFL-CIO candidates Reverend Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff. With only days to go, there’s still time to get involved—visit our Labor Votes! page to sign up.
We also spent time this fall wrapping up our Labor Counts! Census Complete Count 2020 outreach efforts. With a deadline that was constantly shifting, our Committee ramped up its efforts to ensure our ability to count our members, their families and the communities where they live, convening 23 separate coordinating meetings by the end of the campaign. We organized and participated in numerous virtual town halls and outreach events in partnership with NYC Census 2020, ABNY, and NYCounts 2020.
Labor Counts in collaboration with the Consortium for Worker Education engaged more than 70 unions and made more than 70,000 calls, and our affiliates did their own mailings, phone, text and job site contacts with their members. Defying all odds, and despite numerous attempts by the Trump administration to thwart an accurate count, New York City registered a historic 61.9% self-response rate to the 2020 Census, outpacing the Census Bureau's own pre-COVID estimate for self-response in the New York City metro area, which was 58%.
Meanwhile, here in New York City, we’re ramping up our work in preparation for the 2021 citywide elections. With the primary moved up from September to June for the first time this year, early engagement is critical. In October, we kicked off our candidate screening process by inviting declared candidates to participate in Pre-Screening Workshops.Through this pre-screening process we’ve been able to educate more than 175 candidates on the basics of our labor movement in New York City.
In November, we began facilitating full screenings, where city council candidates had the opportunity to interview virtually with panels of political representatives from our affiliate unions. To date, we’ve hosted more than 130 candidates at these screenings, and we expect to begin making City Council endorsements in mid-to-late January. We’ve also been hosting opportunities for candidates for Mayor and Comptroller to meet with members of our Executive Board to make their cases and answer questions about their candidacies.
Finally, last week the CLC held a food distribution event which provided holiday meals to more than 200 working families in NYC. AFM Local 802 hosted us in front of their building on 48th Street in Manhattan, and we partnered with Amalgamated Bank, Pave the Way Foundation and the COVID-19 Emergency Task Force to make sure that these families had something to celebrate. IATSE Local 764 and UNITE HERE Local 100 were also on hand to help unload and distribute the goods. Each recipient was provided with a holiday ham, non-perishable pantry items, fresh fruits and more. Thank you to our partners and to all of our affiliates who helped get the word out to members in need.
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NewsGuild of NY members at the Wirecutter Union, Buzzfeed News Union, and Ziff Davis Creators Guild join the New Yorker Union in reaching agreements with their respective employers on Just Cause without exceptions
Staff at Entertainment Weekly, Martha Stewart Living, Shape Magazine & PeopleTV along with The Markup Unionize with NewsGuild of NY
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