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Occupy Louisville and Unions Rally Together

On Thursday, October 13, 2011, union supporters and Occupy Louisville protesters gathered in Jefferson Square Park for a joint rally. This park at 6th and Jefferson is the location for the Louisville version of Occupy Wall Street where hundreds have gathered daily.

The unions were there to support Occupy Louisville and also to push for an ordinance to stop anti-union forces in the Metro Council from impeding collective bargaining through misuse of economic impact requests. The ordinance the union supporters backed was scheduled for a vote later that evening.

(Russ Cosgrove Addressing the Metro Council; media added by Ed. Staff)

Bryan O’Neill, Secretary Treasurer of Local 345, Louisville Professional Firefighters, spoke. “Over 10 million jobs in our economy have been shed,” he said. “Corporate profits since 2008 are up 44% while we lose jobs, we lose homes. Bonuses since the financial bailout of 2008 are over 30 billion dollars. Where does that leave us? Are those taxes coming back in to pay for the infrastructure? No.” The audience repeated the “no.”

Added O’Neill: “If an arsonist were to go out tonight and burn down somebody’s home and leave that one family homeless—if they catch that person they are going to jail–as they should. “However, if you were a banker, and you leveraged some faulty mortgage swaps, and you put thousands of families out on the street, do you see the inside of a jail cell? No. You get a bonus and a bail out for making thousands of people homeless. That’s the way our economy is working. That’s what we see the corporate and financial powers doing to us.”

The speech was interrupted by the long, loud horn of a passing fire truck. When the cheers died down, O’Neill continued.

“The financial and corporate powers don’t want us to talk about the haves and the have nots–because they are the haves. They drive a wedge between the have nots and the have a littles. They take someone who has nothing and they say look at those teachers, look at those code inspectors, look at those police officers look at those EMS workers—look at what they have—let’s take it away from them.”

He paused and continued, “No, we’re better than that. What a leader does is say look at those benefits, look at those wages, you deserve it too, let’s get out there and give it to you. We need to reach out to those others and elevate them back up. We need to make sure that we get people what they deserve. The money is out there. Corporate profits are proof of it. Spread it around a little bit. When you have that union density with fair benefits and fair wages, the non-union companies have to pay it in order to compete—a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

O’Neill stopped to introduce David James, District 6 Member of Metro Council and sponsor of the city ordinance. “For people who have something negative to say about labor and unions, I just want to say, wait until tonight,” said James. “You have the skills that make our city great.” He was predicting passage of the ordinance.

Metro Council Member Madonna Flood took the microphone and said she walked her first picket line at the age of 14 with Teamsters Local 89 which was on strike at one of the local distilleries. “I was born and raised union. If you have decent wages and overtime pay, it’s not the corporations that did it–you have the union brothers and sisters to thank. I say thank you for all those who are afraid to say thank you.”

Pamela, a young woman with Occupy Louisville stepped to the mike. “We also are workers and we occupy this space for you and for everyone like you. I’m really excited to be with you today. We are the 99%.”

Ken Koch, President of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council spoke next. “This ordinance not only touches the public workers but it touches all workers–everybody. We’re standing behind the people at Occupy Louisville. Anybody that makes under $20 an hour can hardly raise a family anymore. The Central Labor Council is behind you. We’re your friend.”

A young man who identified himself as a member of the Communications Workers of America asked to speak. “Our brothers and sisters in organized labor sacrificed to win the pay, the homes, the health insurance, and the retirement that we have today. Our members in CWA wear red on Thursdays because we have people who were run over and killed fighting for our right to organize and have good paying jobs. This is our country. These rights and benefits, we can never take them for granted.”

He was on a roll and the audience was responsive. “Dr. King went to Tennessee–I may not get there with you—but one day we will all get to the Promised Land—but we have to fight for it—and if your elected officials are not standing with you—vote them out of office. He went down to help sanitation workers and he gave his life for them. Stand and fight. Reclaim your country.”

James DeWeese, a UPS driver and a leader of Local 89 IBT stood to commend Pamela, the young woman from Occupy Louisville, who “spoke only of her support for us and did not ask for anything. But we need to help them with what they need to keep going.” The crowd applauded agreement. “Thanks to all at Occupy Louisville for making sacrifices other people wouldn’t. People need protein– they need food, we all need to donate.”

Sean Metcalf of Occupy Louisville was moved to speak. “By coming here today we are proving that we are democracy. If we stand up for our rights we can get what we want. Corporate greed is everywhere.” He hesitated saying that public speaking was new for him, but with the crowd’s roar of encouragement he continued, “We need to rally and get together. You have a great night. I have to go to work myself.”

Carl had a few words to add. “I’m with Occupy Louisville. It’s wonderful that unions are here. I’ve lived in other countries where unions have far more power than they do here. Unions have a legacy that passes from generation to generation so that we don’t have to live where one CEO dictates. Last night we froze because of the rain. But we’re still here and hope that more will join us.”

Several others spoke including Metro Council Members Vicki Welch and Mary Ann Butler, Kirk Gillenwaters of Local 862 UAW, a Teamster leader, and State Representative Wade Hurt.

The day’s joint agenda completed, Occupy Louisville gathered to march to the West End while the rest went to fill the Metro Council chambers to encourage council members to vote for the ordinance.

The council room was packed due to lots of mobilization by AFSCME, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1447, the Fairness Campaign, the Laborers and many others. Teamsters Local 783 was out in big numbers.

Russ Cosgrove of Occupy Louisville used the open mike part of the council meeting to announce that they had finally achieved a permit that would allow them to stay overnight in Jefferson Park ending the grueling nightly trip to the Belvedere to sleep.  After much discussion and some impassioned speeches, Metro Council voted for the ordinance. The vote was 16 to 9.

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Kay Tillow

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