By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Some of those chanting were workers from a new group called Restaurant Opportunities Center, made up of former restaurant workers, including some of those who lost jobs at Windows. The name of the group is mostly wishful thinking, because as yet, as one member explained, there are few opportunities. "We are trying to do training, whatever we can do," said Victor Severino, who started at the banquet department at Windows in 1996. He was on his way to the job when the towers went down with 73 of his co-workers. "The owner started a new restaurant, but he said he didn't need us," said Severino. "We protested, and then he hired a few and that was it."
Several of those at the rally had been at an earlier demonstration against Pataki last month in Albany. That event got very ugly, with cops on horses marching into the assembled protesters. But little was heard about it south of the capital. The event was organized by a coalition headed by a group called National Mobilization Against Sweat Shops, which has been challenging the Pataki administration for several years to address its broken workers' compensation programs. Pataki passed a law that reduced costs for employers after he took office. The result has been that the state now offers the lowest compensation in the nation to injured workers, and thousands of applicants wait months and, in some instances, years for their cases to be adjudicated.
On October 15, the mobilization took some 400 people from Brooklyn and Manhattan in buses to protest in front of the governor's Albany mansion. Michael Lalan, an organizer of the protest, said they had obtained a permit allowing them to march in the street. But as they neared the mansion, mounted state police charged into the crowd. One woman, an injured former garment worker, was knocked out of her wheelchair. Several people were injured and hospitalized. Four were arrested.
"Apparently they just didn't want us in front of the governor's mansion," said Lalan.
The mobilization group issued a flyer with a photograph of a thick-set state cop pinning a young woman against the ground and pulling her arms behind her. This too might have made an interesting campaign ad. But the only time McCall raised workers' comp issue loudly enough to be heard was at a rally last month held by one of the few unions to endorse him, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.
"McCall seems to be campaigning like he is asleep," said Rosen as he stood with the demonstrators outside the American Express office.