February 27, 2018

Union members rally at Worcester City Hall

Grant Welker
Dozens gathered outside City Hall to advocate for public worker unions.
Courtesy
Zena Link, an English teacher for Worcester Public Schools, speaks at a union rally Monday at Worcester City Hall.

Dozens of union members in Worcester joined their counterparts across the state Monday in standing up for their rights as workers.

The rallies at Worcester City Hall, in Boston and elsewhere came as the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case to decide whether public-sector unions can charge union dues to those who aren't members.

The Worcester rally included members of the Teamsters, SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees).

Waving "America Needs Union Jobs" and "We're Sticking With the Union" signs, the workers were joined by Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, Senate President Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat, Secretary of State Bill Galvin, and several Worcester city councilors and area legislators.

Speakers, which included a teacher, firefighter and a healthcare worker, said workers are having to fight against a government seeking to limit their rights and benefits as workers.

"We demand our rights. We will not be undermined by the powerful forces," said Joseph Carlson, the president of the Central Massachusetts AFL-CIO. "It's all about the 1 percent. They just can't get enough. But we're here to tell you, got to share."

"We're going to continue to be heard," he added, drawing applause by those gathered on the plaza between City Hall and Main Street.

Jamael Jackson, who works in medical billing at UMass Memorial Medical Center, portrayed the battle as one unifying union workers from various industries.

"From firefighters to public school teachers to social workers to police officers, we're all joining together, not only as individual unions but as one labor family," he said. "And today, we really are not alone."

Michael Papagni, a Worcester firefighter, talked about firefighters' important role in responding to not only fires and accidents but also drug overdoses.

"They're on the front lines of the opioid epidemic that ravages this city and so many others, they're answering fire calls, at car accidents, and helping people in need. They're educating our youth," Papagni said. "And they can only do because they had the union to provide them with even a small measure of safety and health in an inherently unsafe job."

Petty, the son of a steelworker, was one of a group of public officials to come to the defense of union workers at rallies Monday.

"If some businesses had their way, they'd pay all their workers $9 an hour," he said. "We're a better country because of the unions. If you look at the statistics, people want to join unions again. People are waking up and saying, 'Listen, I deserve a better wage. I deserve better benefits.'"

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