By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — The message delivered by hundreds of labor union members and supporters Saturday was “change is needed.”
Led by leadership of the AFL-CIO Niagara-Orleans Labor Council, a large group of workers took to Old Falls Street to protest what they feel is poor decisions made by poor political leaders.
Jim Briggs, president of the AFL-CIO Niagara-Orleans Labor Council, said especially in Niagara County, the workers have been taken out of the equation, reduced to being considered the problem rather than the solution.
“We’ve got less teachers teaching our children, we’ve got less people cleaning our streets, we’ve got less people working in the parks, we’ve got less people making sure the water’s safe to go in the river,” he said. “We’ve got less people in patrol cars, in fire trucks. We’re fast-tracking to a third-world economy in Niagara County. It sucks and it ends today.
“Is it better today than it was 10 years ago? We’re not the problem. The problem is we don’t elect the right people who take an interest in community before political party. Rs and Ds are great, but this community is way more important and we should demand today that it ends.”
Much of the focus of Saturday’s speeches during the Rally For Niagara’s Future and Our Children’s Future focused on what attendees believe is misspent tax dollars on politically charged items.
Bill Rutland, president AFSCME Local 182, representing Niagara County blue-collar workers in public works, parks, office for the aging, jail maintenance and others, said he’s upset about recent decisions by the Republican majority in the county legislature concerning the records department storehouse and the legal fight against Chemical Waste Management in Lewiston.
He said the records housed in a bought-and-paid-for facility in Lockport will be moved when the building is closed, to a facility in Burt owned by a county Republican financial backer as part of a contract for records storage. He added a plan to build a new storehouse on county-owned land in Lockport made more sense but was overlooked.
Concerning CWM, he said a recent decision at the most recent legislature meeting to hold off until after the election to once again work with its hired attorney fighting the upcoming proposed expansion of a massive chemical waste disposal site is “dirty.”
“We need leaders that are going to represent workers in Niagara County,” he said. “Stop representing the special interest of big business that’s bought and paid for with the politicians we have right now.
“When we waste tax dollars on projects like the record storage facility, that money could be given to help businesses grow and expand in this county and it’s not. Our kids can’t find jobs here, they’re packing up and leaving. They’ve had 10 years as majority in the legislature and they’ve made it worse. We’re still the highest taxed county, we still have people leaving this county every day to find jobs somewhere else.”
It’s no secret labor union leadership has long affiliated itself with the Democratic party. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls and Buffalo, acknowledging the longstanding partnership, took to the offensive against the Republicans in Congress, who he said recently led a shut down of the federal government.
He cried out for a return to the old America, the one under Democratic leadership that secured a $258 billion surplus before a pair of wars flipped the country’s spending on its head. He said the Republican mentality towards government can’t achieve the same result, laying out the Democratic plan to avoid further deficits.
“How is that possible? By record investments in education,” he said. “In scientific research, in a rebuilding of the roads and bridges of America, we created 22 million private sector jobs. The best tax policy is the one that brings taxpayers back to productivity because they contribute to the national treasury and are less dependent on government. That’s the American tradition.”
Other speakers at Saturday morning’s event included Jennifer Diagostino, executive director of the Center for Economic Justice; Richard Lipsitz, president of the AFL-CIO area labor federation; and Mark Montour, who is seeking election as state Supreme Court judge next month.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.