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Feeding the world

Farm work is a demanding job, and without migrant workers, it’s difficult to imagine much of it getting done. To show its appreciation, the Brockport community has held “Bienvenida” for the last 20 years, a day to welcome migrant workers, the vast majority of whom now come from Mexico. “This is a celebration of welcome and of gratitude,” said Sister Judy Justinger.

            Around 200 migrant workers and community members came together for a Mass, a meal, and some dancing. “It’s a chance for the community to celebrate the harvest with workers who are coming to do a difficult job,” said Brockport Mayor Josephine Matela. “We recognize the work they do in providing food for us, New York and, really, the world.”

            The celebration is not only a chance to recognize the work that migrant workers do, but also to introduce them to the community. “People don’t know migrant workers,” said Manuela Swanger. “This is a chance for the community to meet them.” Aspacio Alcantara agreed. “This type of event is trying to make a bridge between the community and farmworkers,” he said.

            One worker from Gurerro particularly enjoyed the event. “It feels nice,” he said, “like family.” Isidro, who comes from Michoacan, was also thankful for the welcome. “It’s a beautiful thing that we can all get together like this and get to know each other. I’m happy with people here for recognizing farmworkers.”

            But in the midst of the celebration was a reminder just how difficult a migrant worker’s life still is. One advocate found 12 men living in a broken-down van not far from a migrant camp. The men had worked just one day in the last month and were out of money. They were brought to the celebration not for a welcome, but for food.

--- Joseph Sorrentino

Phone demo

On a sunny June 19, around 300 telephone company workers marched and chanted outside the Frontier/Citizens Communications offices at Washington Square. The members of Communications Workers of America Local 1170 were steamed about Frontier’s laying off 40 union members that week (on top of 30 in March), and about the fact that the company continues to use non-union contract workers for some functions. “The company is hurting financially, and they’re taking it out on us,” said marcher Cynthia Hodge, a cable splicer for 14 years.

            Local 1170, said union president Linda McGrath, has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and the process is moving toward arbitration. The major issue, she says, is that the company has kept contract workers on board while laying off union members.

            Frontier spokesperson Tor Constantino said the pain is being shared: The company also has laid off 80 management people. “It’s the reality of the economy,” he said. “We’re losing market share, and the customers we do have are reviewing their discretionary expenses.” What about the contract workers? According to Constantino, they’re used only for “ditch-digging” type jobs, not the skilled jobs union members hold.

            Back on the street, Cynthia Hodge was angry that top execs weren’t feeling the same pinch as those laid off. Indeed, Citizens Communications CEO Leonard Tow pulled down $1.5 million in compensation last year, plus more than $600,000 in exercised stock options, according to Yahoo Market Watch and the AFL-CIO.

Show must go on?

The US Navy Blue Angels and other weapons of mass entertainment made the Rochester skies a little less friendly June 22 and 23. Lucky Rochesterians who didn’t attend were made an audience nonetheless as sonic booms rattled neighborhoods across the map.

            But the cognitive dissonance was worse. Dave Vigren, CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union, main sponsor of the show, said “area families” were the beneficiaries. In a Monroe County news release, he maintained such events are “a key ingredient in helping to make the Rochester area such a special place to live.”

            If that’s so, then ideological blinders, not to mention earplugs, are key ingredients, too. That’s because of the raw militarism on display. The Blue Angels website is upfront: The team’s lofty mission is “to enhance Navy recruiting, and credibly represent… [US] armed forces to America and other countries as international ambassadors of good will.” Translation: get more people involved in force projection, or plain imperial muscle. Just ask the people of Iraq who regularly have to attend US military air shows of force.

            Two Rochester groups, Pax Christi and the Catholic Worker, showed up to protest the fallen Angels. (Which reminds us: military air shows have a bad history of accidents.) “We were there to protest weapons, which the airplanes are,” says Pax Christi member Jan Bezila. “They are not toys. They are not fun. Unfortunately, this is promoted as a family event.”

Conservancy feels the Tug

Northern New York’s Tug Hill Plateau is not just an Adirondack fringe area. It’s a delight in itself, with attractions like the Salmon River and Fish Creek, farming communities and isolated hamlets, and famously snowy winters.

            Now the Nature Conservancy of New York will preserve a big chunk of the plateau. With the help of New York State, the Conservancy will pay Hancock Timber company $9.1 million for almost 45,000 acres in Lewis County. This, says a news release, will be the “largest land acquisition that the Conservancy has negotiated in the state of New York.” The acquisition, known as the “East Branch of Fish Creek site,” includes extensive wetlands as well as spruce and mixed-hardwood forests, says the news release.

            The Conservancy will own 13,000 acres outright, says the news release. And by agreement, a Boston-based timber company will “manage” the remainder of the land, using “sustainable forestry” techniques. The entire acreage will be protected by conservation easements, in cooperation with state government.

            Tug Hill, its recreational trails, and fishing sites are big draws for Rochesterians. Most likely the Conservancy’s new deal will enhance the relationship.

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