Sept. 12, 2015

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I love a (Labor Day) parade

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Click here to watch a video of UUP members in the parade

UUP members joined thousands of their union sisters and brothers from dozens of professions and trades Saturday for a show of labor pride that marched straight up the world's greatest stage for a parade – New York City's Fifth Avenue.

It was the city's annual Labor Day Parade, held the first weekend after Labor Day to accommodate the many smaller local parades around the state held the week before. Organized by the New York City Central Labor Council/AFL-CIO, the event drew union locals representing dozens of professions and trades: K-12 teachers, college and university professors, nurses and other health care workers, police officers and other public safety workers, and skilled tradesmen and women.

More than 120 UUP members from chapters all over the state came to the city—by bus, train, plane and subway—to march in one of the nation’s largest Labor Day parades.

“Sometimes you feel that you're laboring alone,” said Barbara Heiles, the newly elected officer for contingents at the New Paltz Chapter, adding that she hasn’t marched in a parade since she was a Girl Scout. “I'm grateful to see that there are a lot of us, that we're out there to show that the union has dedicated members.”

Colorful floats and banners, crisply uniformed marching bands, singers and dancing samba drummers with blazing red shirts and a rhythm that had onlookers swaying to the beat all heralded the different unions against a backdrop of cheering and waving New Yorkers and tourists.

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The 20-block parade route started in midtown Manhattan, ended on the outskirts of Central Park. It passed many Manhattan landmarks notable for their strong links to labor history through their construction—like Rockefeller Center—and their symbolic support for the labor movement, such as St. Patrick's Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

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UUP, NYSUT leaders march

UUP Treasurer Rowena Blackman-Stroud, above left, president of UUP’s Downstate Chapter, led the union's delegation; she was joined at times along the parade route by several statewide NYSUT officers: Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, vice presidents Catalina Fortino, above, and Paul Pecorale, and Secretary Treasurer Martin Messner.

“Many of you traveled long distances to get here,” Blackman-Stroud told UUP members as they prepared to step off, in an acknowledgment of the predawn start of the journey to New York City that many of them made. “I want to thank you for your commitment to UUP. Today is a special day, and it is important to celebrate our achievements and march with our brothers and sisters from all over the state.”

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UUP participants, sporting the union's distinctive red-and-white T-shirts, joined the formation along with their affiliated sisters and brothers in NYSUT and the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY. Several of the UUP marchers, such as Farmingdale Chapter President Vicki Janik, above, handed out books and pencils to children along the parade route.

Why they marched

“I've always been politically conscious, and the goals of the union are in line with my personal philosophy of equity and fairness,” said John Hughes, a professional with Empire State College and a newly elected delegate who will attend his first UUP Delegate Assembly in October. “The more I learned about the union movement and the more I learned about what UUP does, the more I wanted to get involved.”

The show of strength comes at the end of a summer that reflects the new reality for this higher education union: There is no such thing as a slow time or a catching-up season after the legislative session. UUP members heeded President Fred Kowal's call to continue their hard work and support for the union throughout the summer. Their responses were seen in meetings with Regents as part of a continuing effort to reform the teacher certification process, and in outreach to lawmakers as part of the campaign to urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign the Maintenance of Effort bill.

Thoughts of the work already done, and the challenges ahead, made it all the more special to stride up Fifth Avenue in the spotlight as onlookers cheered the parade.

“Fired up,” is how Hughes described his mood on the bus back to Albany. His fellow UUP members agreed.

“I felt energized,” said Oneonta Chapter President Bill Simons, who has participated in many such events but looked and sounded as enthusiastic as though it was his first parade, also. “This really is about solidarity.”

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