N.Y. Laborers Local Takes a Stand at Liberty Plaza

Posted on Oct 12, 2011
Alexander Reed Kelly
Mike Hellstrom (left) worked his way up to union leadership after beginning as a rank-and-file member.

Mike Hellstrom, a construction and private sanitation worker for more than two decades, has been involved in union work for 27 years, and he’s tired of watching his friends and colleagues lose their benefits and earnings after laboring for their entire lives.

Hellstrom and four of his colleagues braved blustering winds to stand with Wall Street protesters Wednesday against the loss of workers’ compensation. His union, Laborers Local 108, is a progressive labor organization in the Greater New York area that represents “average blue collar, working class people that go to work every single day and try to earn a living and feed their families and be part of the so-called middle class, which is evaporating before our eyes,” as he put it.

“We’re fighting corporate greed at the bargaining table. Not just for the last three years but for the last 100 years,” he said.

When asked about the cuts that sanitation workers are suffering, he began by acknowledging the need for all members of a company to share the burden of sacrifice during a genuine financial crisis. But workers are giving up much more than executives, he said.

You know, you got companies that want give-back after give-back after give-back. I can understand—if the company is doing bad and the members have to make a sacrifice to save the company—hey, we’re all in that together. But when their profits are still moving forward and they’re taking advantage of a situation and saying to us they expect us to take a greater portion for medical care or give back sick days and holidays or walk back from secured retirement plans that we have right now because they deem them to be toxic investments, that really starts to irk me to the core, especially retirement. If I can invest 40 years of my life into an occupation, I believe 100 percent that that employer has an obligation back to that employee to provide them with a sound secure retirement system, and employers today are just walking away from those obligations in droves.

And what percentage of the men and women working in his field are facing these hardships? “Every single one,” he said. “100 percent.” —ARK