By Mark Boshnack
ONEONTA -- Nearly 300 people attended a Thursday afternoon rally to protect worker's rights and protest recent state budget cuts that have affected schools and colleges in New York.
The event at Muller Plaza was sponsored by the United University Professions at the State University College at Oneonta and the Oneonta Teachers Association, part of New York State United Teachers.
NYSUT representative Michael Lynch said the attendance was beyond what he had expected. After recent actions in Wisconsin, Lynch said politicians thought it was safe to go after public employees.
"We're thrilled," he said. "We have to stand up and fight back."
Several representatives from the sponsoring unions spoke. They included Center Street Elementary School teacher Sandy Bright. With the cuts in state aid, "the number of 'a ha' moments, when students get excited about learning, are fewer," she said.
If more people heard the stories of what teachers are going through in the classroom, they would realize the impact of cuts on education, she said.
SUNY Oneonta political science professor Gina Keel said with cuts to the system, she was afraid there would come a day when higher education is once again for the wealthy. She was appalled with the budget proposals from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature that call for tax cuts for the rich and "corporate welfare," at the same time as drastic cuts are being made to education.
Representatives from several other unions spoke. President Roberta Dunker of the Teamsters Local 693 said that with three grandchildren, she was worried about the impact of cuts to education.
President Kevin Clark of the Unatego Teachers Association said he came with 70 members of his union. He was opposed to benefits for wealthy citizens at the expense of workers.
"We share a common concern, a right to earn a living wage," he told the crowd.
President George Lawson of Delaware County Civil Service Employee Association Local 813 said, "I am here because we are one and we need to stand together."
For those who complain about union pensions, he said, when he retires after about 34 years in public service he will receive about $15,000 a year, a far cry from what is portrayed.
Other speakers included state NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta who urged the crowd to make their voices heard in future events.
Lynch said about 200 email addresses were collected for further action from those who attended. The group will be used to organize a steering committee.
SUNY Oneonta UUP President William Simons said the rally can serve as a model for other communities for having the voice of unions heard.