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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

Labor of Love

Monday, May 5th

Dear Friends:

Last Thursday, I was honored to deliver keynote remarks at the FDR Salute to Labor event at the Academy in Poughkeepsie. The whole event was energizing, but I have to say my favorite part of the evening by far was sitting and listening to the recipients of the Eileen Hickey Award share their amazing personal stories. Honestly, all four of these stories took my breath away. The stories were all different, of course, and yet they were all the same. They were all stories of struggle, heroism, heartbreak, community, hard work, and above all, love. These were labor leaders who had sacrificed so much for their colleagues to stand up against injustice and fight for a better workplace for all.

As I sat there listening, I could not help but realize these were not only stories about our labor unions. These were stories about America. These were gripping, personal accounts that show how much we all rely on labor unions in Dutchess County and across the country, as they stand up for all of us in the fight for civil rights.

I try to tell my students this: Labor unions didn’t just build America. Labor unions are America.

In fact, my favorite quote about the power of labor comes from perhaps our greatest champion of civil rights, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.” I can’t think of higher praise than that. Dr. King went on to say, “Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief, and above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. By raising the living standards of millions, labor lifted the whole nation. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”

High praise, indeed.

And yet, these fundamental civil rights – fought and died for by our labor unions – are under attack today, across the nation as well as here at home in Dutchess County. Twenty-seven states have enacted so-called “right to work” laws that make it more difficult for workers to form unions and fight for higher wages and better working conditions in the states that adopt them – resulting in a decrease in average wages for all full-time workers by about $11,000, according to one Congressman’s office.

Here in Dutchess County, we need to finally bring our ideas about workforce development into the 21st Century. After 32 years of simply serving outside corporations, it’s time for a change. It’s time for our county leaders to put the welfare of our working families first, above the bottom line of businesses. And we need a county government that understands you cannot have a workforce without workforce housing!

As your Dutchess County Executive, I will always put the needs of our workforce above those of corporations. Let me be clear: I’m not spouting the same old campaign promises we hear every year, about giving labor a better seat at the table. No, I am saying we need to build a whole new table. A table where our county government always listens to our working families first, before we give away so much to outside corporations. A table where labor always enjoys direct access to our County Executive and has a direct role in the decisions that affect all our workers, from housing to healthcare and everything in between. Together, we can do it.

I would like to congratulate all the awardees at the FDR Salute to Labor last week, representing wonderful unions like SEIU 1199, CWA Local 1120, the healthcare heroes at NYSNA, and LIUNA 108. Sharing your stories meant so much to me and everyone else assembled there, because above all they are American stories. If you are reading this and you are a member of a labor union, please accept my heartfelt gratitude for all you do to fight for our civil rights. You are all heroes to me. Your blood, sweat, tears, and love temper every inch of the American fabric.

Friends, we’ve got a lot of work ahead in building this new table together. I hope you will join our fight to bring hope and inclusion back to Dutchess County by donating any amount using the secure Act Blue link below. Even better, please join us on Tuesday, June 13th between 5-8 pm at Erin O’Neil’s on the Poughkeepsie waterfront for our very first Team Tommy Energy Bar event. It will be a lot of fun, and you’ll get a Team Tommy t-shirt with your donation, as well. Just RSVP with an email to and I look forward to talking with you in person at Erin O’Neil’s on June 13th! Bring a friend, or two!

Speaking of love, Before I sign off this week I want to wish everyone a very Happy Pride Month! We have plenty of wonderful Pride events across the county this June, including the Poughkeepsie Pride Parade on June 10th, and I hope to see you there!

Thank you to all our labor unions in Dutchess County for your tireless efforts to fight for our civil rights. And thank you, for listening! See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy


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