ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Workers’ Center celebrated workers’ rights Monday at its 34th annual Labor Day picnic.

More than 100 attendees of the picnic Monday enjoyed food, games and live music at Cass Park. The Workers’ Center honored several members of the community for their dedication and sacrifice helping workers this year. As is tradition, the Workers’ Center also gave out the annual notorious dishonor, the Goat of Labor. Every year, the “award” goes to “an especially egregious offender of workers’ rights.”

Pete Meyers, a founder and coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, said their mission is to “stand up with and for all people treated unfairly at work.”

From left Pete Meyers and Rob Brown, of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
From left Pete Meyers and Rob Brown, of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Making a minimum wage the living wage was this year’s picnic theme. The living wage figure was recently raised to $15.11 for employers who do not provide health insurance and $13.90 for those that do. Every two years, Alternatives Federal Credit Union reassesses the Tompkins County living wage. Activists are currently pushing for Tompkins County to make the minimum wage a living wage.

Related: Tompkins County living wage raised to $13.90/$15.11

In past years, the Goat of Labor Award has gone to Cayuga Medical Center and Tompkins Cortland Community College. This year, Cornell University got the Goat.

Speakers cited a couple reasons for Cornell University’s nomination this year. One concern was Cornell’s response to graduate student unionization efforts, and another was Cornell building with non-union labor.

Rob Brown, office manager and development associate at the Workers’ Center, said Cornell has a formal agreement with local building trades unions to work with local labor. However, Brown said Cornell has skirted that agreement with recent projects by hiring out-of-state developers for construction with non-union and non-local labor. The second problem with that, Brown said, is that the developers have long-term building management contracts which means staff in those developments can also be non-union.

“It dodges Cornell’s union agreements for construction, it dodges Cornell’s union payroll and thereby weakens unions in two directions,” Brown said.

Cayuga Medical Center did get an honorable mention in the Goat of Labor category. Dave Marsh, president of Tompkins-Cortland Building Trades Council, said Cayuga Medical Center has hired Hayner Hoyt for construction. The company has come under fire in the past for being part of a scheme designed to take advantage of a service-disabled veteran-owned small business program to secure government contracts.

Officials from Cornell University and Cayuga Medical Center could not be reached for a response Monday.

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center gave out three awards — the Mother Jones and Joe Hill Awards and the Friend of Labor Award.

The first Mother Jones Award went to the Gimme! Coffee baristas, who formed a union this year. The second went to Ellen David Freeman.

The Joe Hill Award, which recognizes sacrifice for labor rights, went to three former full-time contingent faculty members at Ithaca College who were vocal union organizers and later terminated, including David Kornreich, Shoshe Cole and Rachel Gunderson.

“They invested their time and their energy into building a union for full-time contingent faculty at IC to protect temporary workers at the college,” Megan Graham, assistant professor in the department of writing said before the award was presents. “Without these three and the work they put in, I guarantee you the 60-odd full-time contingent professors at IC, myself included, would not have a union today. We would not have the benefits we won in our contracts for full-timers. Rachel Gunderson, Shoshe Cole and David Kornreich fought and won and they made their community a better place for all of us.”

Eric Evans, a member and leader of UAW Local 2300, was also honored for his fundraising efforts for the Robin Fund, which helps people in the community in financial crisis. Evans said he raised more than $3,000 this year for the fund.

The Friend of Labor Award went to the Cornell Labor Law Clinic, who helped the Ithaca College professors with their National Labor Relations Board case.

Photos by Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice.

The theme of this year’s Labor Day picnic was “Make the minimum wage a living wage in Tompkins County.”
The theme of this year’s Labor Day picnic was “Make the minimum wage a living wage in Tompkins County.”
Attendees brought dishes to share at the Labor Day picnic.
From left, Legislature candidates Anne Koreman, Henry Granison, Deborah Dawson and Amanda Champion.
On left, Michael Koplinka-Loehr, running for Tompkins County Legislature, also had a booth at the picnic.
The Ithaca Bottom Boys play at the annual Labor Day picnic.
From left, Shoshe Cole, David Kornreich and Rachel Gunderson accept a Joe Hill Award from the Workers’ Center.
From left, Shoshe Cole, David Kornreich and Rachel Gunderson accept a Joe Hill Award from the Workers’ Center.
Eric Evans, a members of UAW Local 2300, accepts an honor for his work for the Robin Fund.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.