« On the Carnage in Pittsburgh | Main | STOP THE SHUTDOWN: Tell the Senate to re-open and fund the government. »

Jewish Labor Committee's 47th Human Rights Awards Dinner

all three.JPG
l-r: Robert D. Aronson, incoming Board Chair of HIAS, the refugee and immigrant aid organization; Henry A. Garrido, AFSCME District Council 37 Executive Director; and Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union. (Miller Photography)

November 29, 2018: New York, NY -- The Jewish Labor Committee held its 47th Human Rights Awards Dinner in New York City tonight. Three honorees were recognized: HIAS, the refugee and immigrant aid organization, AFSCME District Council 37 Executive Director Henry A. Garrido, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Stuart Appelbaum, President of the JLC and of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), chaired the event. He welcomed those in attendance by noting a sense of solidarity in the room. “At a time when the world seems to have gone wrong in so many ways,” Appelbaum said, “it is good to come together with people who share a different vision – and are convinced that it doesn’t have to be this way.” Appelbaum went on to explain the legacy of the JLC, formed in response to anti-Semitism in 1930s Europe, and its relevance today.

He then introduced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who presented the first award of the evening to Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU.

Governor Cuomo and JLC President Appelbaum.JPG
New York State Governor Cuomo (standing); Stuart Appelbaum (seated) (Miller Photography)

Cuomo spoke warmly of being with mishpukhe (family) at this gathering and thanked the labor movement for coming together during the recent November midterm elections. He commended the SEIU as a champion of progress and as a leader in the fight for a $15 minimum wage, a campaign that was successfully won in New York State. Upon accepting the award, Henry thanked leaders such as Cuomo for working with her union, but also recognized dedicated union members in attendance,including Donna Hampton, the security officer at JFK International Airport in Queens, NY, who led the #PovertyDoesn’tFly campaign that won $19/hour wage by 2023 for tens of thousands of New York and New Jersey airport workers.

2018 JLC HRA Dinner Donna Hampton DSC_6606-1.jpg
Donna Hampton Recognized and Applauded at JLC Human Rights Awards Dinner(Miller Photography)

The speeches of the evening were profoundly shaped by the political and historical circumstances surrounding the event. Appelbaum recounted that earlier in the day, Governor Cuomo directed New York State Police to investigate swastikas spray-painted at the office of a Jewish professor at Columbia University. “We’ve seen a fifty percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in this state… Once you demonize differences, it starts a negative energy of its own,” noted Governor Cuomo.

Several of the presenters spoke about this recent spike in anti-Semitism and most notably the recent mass shooting incident at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The weight of Pittsburgh was felt by all, especially with the work of HIAS being cited by the attacker. The Pittsburgh synagogue had participated in the “National Refugee Shabbat,” a HIAS initiated event to catalyze a national discussion about the refugee crisis. The shooter was motivated by extreme hatred of immigrants and the approaching “migrant caravan.”

Upon accepting the award on behalf of SEIU, Mary Kay Henry remarked, “How prophetic of the Jewish Labor Committee to be honoring HIAS at this moment. Because of the immigrant ancestry of our union, we feel incredibly linked with the work of HIAS."

The attack in Pittsburgh and rising anti-Semitism was discussed as part of a larger epidemic of hate spurred by the current administration towards those who may be “different,” particularly refugees and immigrants. Over Thanksgiving weekend, migrants seeking asylum at the Mexico border, including young children, were tear-gassed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

Speakers at the JLC dinner felt a deep connection to recent events, either from the history of their union, or their personal life experiences. “Sister and brothers, these tactics are a betrayal of what America stands for. They are a betrayal of what drew me here as a child refugee,” proclaimed Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, before presenting HIAS with its award. Tefere, who fled war-torn Ethiopia when he was nine years old, was turned away at the Sudanese border but eventually found refuge in the United States.

Tefere Gebre and Henry Garrido at the 2018 JLC HRA Awards Dinner.JPG
l-r: Tefere Gebre and Henry Garrido (Miller Photography)

DC 37’s Henry Garrido drew from his personal history as well. “I stand here as a living testament to the discussion that you heard before about the plight of immigrants in this country,” said Garrido upon accepting his award. Garrido moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States at a young age. He recalled the injustices that his mother faced as an immigrant garment factory worker, which later motivated him to join, and eventually lead, AFSCME DC 37 as an organizer.

The evening demonstrated the power of standing united against hate. As Elissa McBride, AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer, presented the award to Garrido, she declared "that spirit of solidarity across all lines of difference is the best of who we are in the labor movement and it's the best of who we are in America.”

The evening concluded with Robert Aronson accepting the award on behalf of HIAS. Aronson, who is the incoming chairman of the non-profit’s board, explained that, in light of recent events, “HIAS continues to respond to the cries of refugees in the words first uttered by Abraham in creating the covenant: ‘Here I Am’.”

In the face of discrimination and violence, the evening celebrated perseverance. We commended the perseverance of SEIU to fight for $15. We recognized the perseverance of leaders such as Henry Garrido, committed to expanding the reach and inclusivity of union membership. And, finally, we came together to celebrate the perseverance of the Jewish Labor Committee, an organization that continues to be the Jewish voice in the labor movement, and the voice of the labor movement in the Jewish community.

Dais at the 2018 JLC HRA Awards Dinner 4 Web.jpg
(Miller Photography)