BELLEVILLE, NJ — The honorees at the Essex County Democratic Committee’s annual
Labor Breakfast, hosted on Friday, Feb. 19, at Nanina’s in the Park restaurant in Branch Brook Park in Belleville, were: Susan M. Cleary, the president of District 1199J, NUHHCE, AFSCME, AFL-CIO; Peter Growing, the council representative of Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters; Mark Longo, the director of ELEC 825, Operating Engineers 825, a labor management fund; and Tony Oliveira, the business manager for LIUNA Local 472.
Awards were also presented to New Jersey Education Association Secretary-Treasurer Sean Spiller and United Transportation Alliance of New Jersey Executive Director Wendy Zuniga. The UTANJ is an affiliate of Communication Workers of America Local 1039.
New Jersey State Democratic Committee Vice Chairperson Lizette Delgado-Polanco served as mistress of ceremonies for event
“Out of the mouth of a worker emerges a leader,” said Essex County Democratic Committee Leroy Jones on Friday, Feb. 19. “Honorees, you epitomize what our labor movement is all about. We have been engages in this great crusade on behalf of people. We just call them family.”
Jones is also the chairman of the East Orange Municipal Democratic Committee; the city of East Orange was well-represented at the event, thanks to his presence and participation, as well as that of Mayor Lester Taylor, City Council Chairman and 3rd Ward Councilman Ted Green, 1st Ward Councilman Chris James and Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, among others.
Taylor said it was an honor and a pleasure to attend the annual Labor Breakfast. He said he hails from a union family, with his father a proud and staunch union man, so he understands how important organized labor is to stable, economically- and socially-viable communities.
And Taylor has already shown he is willing to put his money where his mouth is, when it comes to unions; the mayor recently intervened to successfully broker a settlement in a contract with the Communication Workers of America Local 1077 in his city, reiterating his commitment to collective bargaining with a mission to make $15 per hour the standard for municipal employees in East Orange.
“I was proud to join the Essex County Democratic Committee in recognizing the contributions of those who continue to advocate for workers in our area, especially at a time when the fight for livable wages has reached a significant turning point,” said Taylor on Monday, Feb. 22. “These labor leaders are on the front lines of progress to support and strengthen working families.”
Bennie Brantley, the president of CWA Local 1077, which represents the bulk of the East Orange municipal employees that are not members of the Police Department or Fire Department, recently agreed with Taylor to a historic new contract that guarantees the $15 per hour “living wage” the mayor and others, such as Oliver in the state Assembly, are working to ensure becomes the norm across the Garden State.
“Wherever I am, I’m at work and I came to this event because it’s extremely important to recognize unions because, without unions, workers wouldn’t have a decent living wage, health benefits, vacation, lunch hours, personal days, sick days — all of these things are brought about through the action of labor,” Brantley said Friday, Feb. 19.
Oliver, who represents the 34th Legislative District that includes East Orange, stressed the importance of raising the state’s minimum wage so that it actually becomes a “living wage” that allows the working class to thrive.
“This morning, we’re all here to support and honor leaders in the labor movement,” Oliver said Friday, Feb. 19. “You heard today remarks about the disparity in pay between union members and non-union members. And for many of our readership in Essex, what’s important to note is that African-Americans, whether they’re males or females, most certainly make 27 to 33 percent more in their pay (thanks to the labor movement). There are a lot of efforts to dismantle the union system in this country, but organized labor and collective bargaining created the middle class in our country, so we just wanted to recognize and acknowledge all of the people who represent organized labor, to tell them that what they’re doing is important and to support them in their work.”
“My executive director (Zuniga) was being honored and she deserves it,” Lionel Leach, president of CWA Local 1039, said Friday, Feb. 19. “We formed the first taxi union in the state of New Jersey. There are only five of its kind in the United States and she’s the brainchild behind it, so she definitely deserves this award.”