Stepping up for labor

UFT members show their pride at parade

Alison Gendar

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (center) helps the paraprofessionals celebrate their 50th anniversary at the parade.

Man and woman wearing union shirts Pat Arnow

Teachers Richard and Bonnie Skibins, who met at PS 123 in Brooklyn 25 years ago, have been married 20 years.

“Who are we? UFT! What are we? Union strong!”

It was a chant heard up and down Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Plaza to Central Park on Saturday, Sept. 8, as more than 1,200 exuberant UFT members turned out in force to show union strength and pride at the city’s Labor Day Parade.

This year, for the first time, members and their families also continued the celebration at a special family festival at a nearby middle school.

“We’ve got to come out and represent to show how important unions are across the nation!” said retired teacher Paulette Jackson.

Wearing “Union Proud” T-shirts, UFT members proudly hoisted their UFT umbrellas aloft as UFT President Michael Mulgrew, the parade’s grand marshal, led the union contingent up Fifth Avenue.

“The Labor Day Parade is an opportunity to show the forces desperate to undermine our rights that we remain strong and that we stand together,” Mulgrew said.

Many participants were first-time attendees who said that the Supreme Court’s anti-union decision in Janus vs. AFSCME in June had galvanized them.

“The Janus case made us aware of the threat against unions and has made our chapter stronger. We don’t want another Wisconsin,” said Hoi Yee, a union delegate from PS 101 in Brooklyn who attended the parade with other members from his school. “We want to show our support and keep our union strong.”

Nicholas Jacobellis, a teacher at Frederick Douglas Academy II in Harlem, was also attending for the first time.

“I was shocked when I saw this many people,” he said. “It shows the people in power how many of us there are in unions that vote.”

The parade marked a special occasion for the union’s 25,000 paraprofessionals, who kicked off a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the vote by paraprofessionals to join the UFT in 1969.

“I’m really happy to be here to support the union and support the paraprofessionals,” said paraprofessional Paulette Carter, another first-time attendee. “The union’s done good things for me.”

Carter, who works at Middle College HS at LaGuardia Community College, said the union’s Career Training Program helped her earn her bachelor’s degree.

After the parade, members headed uptown to the Robert F. Wagner MS schoolyard, where they enjoyed a BBQ lunch, a bounce house, face painting and balloon artists.

“It’s amazing,” said Sherena Lawson, an occupational therapist at PS 65 in Queens, as she surveyed the crowd alongside her 8-year-old daughter. “There’s such a warm feeling of community and togetherness.”

See more photos in the gallery »

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