Union groups from across central New York marched in the Labor Day parade at the New York State Fair Monday morning.
The president of the New York State United Teachers federation, Karen Magee, spoke to a large crowd about the accomplishments of the labor movement including better safety conditions, weekends and the 40-hour work week. NYSUT is made up of 600,000 members who work in education, healthcare and human services.
But Magee also spoke about the current challenges facing American workers. She said for the past 35 years, worker productivity increased 64 percent yet workers' hourly pay increased less than nine percent. She reminded workers that those covered by union contracts earn 14 percent more than nonunion workers and the rate is even higher for African Americans and Latinos.
“When American workers do well, the economy does well," Magee said. "When the economy does well, jobs are created. When jobs are created, American workers do well. It’s cyclical, it’s basic, it’s simple and I don’t understand why others don’t see it."
Magee also praised the state’s plan to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to 15 dollars an hour but said it should be extended to all workers.
She said for the past five years the wealthiest one percent earned 58 percent of the gains. She also said the average CEO makes almost 900 times more than a full time minimum wage worker.
Magee said the labor movement has enough people to push its interests forward.
"Let's commit to support each other," Magee said. "Be at rallies, get-togethers like this one, in union halls, on picket lines and more so at the voting booth."
Magee said they will continue to fight for legislation that provides funding to 9/11 responders at risk of health effects from exposure to toxic materials after the attack.
Rep. John Katko, a Republican, also spoke to union workers and praised the labor movement as the backbone of the U.S. economy which makes up 25 percent of the world’s economy with only two percent of the population. Katko said he broke with his party when he voted against the Tran-Pacific Partnership agreement which lowers taxes on imported goods and services from 12 Pacific Rim countries.
"You've had to fight the onslaught of cheap overseas labor and companies abdicating their American responsibility to stay here," Katko said. "Now we're coming back because I've talked to companies all over the world and they're finding out that labor overseas isn't all it's cracked up to be."
Katko’s largest applause from the crowd came when he talked about his support of changing Common Core educational standards. Katko said the Common Core should recognize that students in the city of Syracuse cannot be taught the same as students in the suburbs.