Ethnic and Labor Issues Converge

From left to right Michael Yellin, Director of Communications at LRA Consulting, Richie Steier, Editor of the civil-service newspaper "The Chief-Leade, Lenore Friedlaender, of 32BJ SEIU, and Cara Noel the Communications Director at NYC Central Labor Council.

From left to right: Michael Yellin, director of communications at LRA Consulting, Richie Steier, editor of the civil-service newspaper “The Chief-Leader,” Lenore Friedlaender, of 32BJ SEIU, and Cara Noel, communications director at NYC Central Labor Council.

International Workers’ Day and the announcement of a historic contract negotiation between New York City and the United Federation of Teachers were the backdrop to a panel discussion, How to Cover Labor Issues, held May 1 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Hosted by the school’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media, the conversation convened labor reporters, leaders of labor unions and members of the city’s community and ethnic media.

“Today is so historic because this is long overdue,” Cara Noel, director of communications at New York City Central Labor Council said speaking of the city’s settlement with the teachers’ union. “We are looking forward to an administration that is willing to work with labor.”

Panelists agreed that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration was clearly more aligned with the concerns of the city’s unions than that of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

While opening with the news of the day, the discussion soon shifted to focus on immigrant communities’ involvement with the labor movement and how the community and ethnic press might fit into the equation.

Richie Steier, editor of the civil-service newspaper The Chief-Leader, offered a historic perspective on the importance of ethnic communities in labor unions.

“The school bus drivers traditionally had been an industry where it was primarily Italians as both drivers and the escorts, now more than half of the union is black and a good part of that is Haitian American,” he said. “Once an ethnic or racial group gets a foothold in an industry it tends to attract other people coming into it.”

Panelist Michael Yellin, director of communications at LRA Consulting, a firm that represents a number of the city’s unions, noted the importance of reaching out to workers through the community and ethnic press.

“If there’s a campaign that I’m working on or a message I need to get out at a community level bypassing the daily press and trying to get to people where they actually live, I certainly go to community and ethnic media,” he said. “I will actually spend money to advertise there as well because it’s very important for people to support that press. Without it we’d be stuck with several dailies and some pretty bad television coverage.”

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