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labor Feds Are ‘Oblivious to Domestic Crisis!’ Transport Workers Union Leader Says

“There are Americans sleeping all over the streets in urban America,” Samuelsen says. “People have jobs and can’t afford homes. Never in my life have I seen a situation where America’s cities have looked like this."

“It’s not only a border crisis — it is an urban crisis coming on in America.” -- TWU International President John Samuelsen, (Bob Hennelly)

The Biden administration’s failure to address the immigration crisis — as it was ending billions in local COVID aid — is deepening an urban crisis that’s continued to get worse as COVID receded, according to John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union. Samuelsen’s union represents 155,000 workers across the country in the airline, railroad, transit, university, utility, and service sectors.

The TWU president warns there’s ample evidence this beltway inattention to America’s urban centers is causing a major political realignment on the ground that could kneecap Democrats’ prospects in 2024 with blue collar workers that make up his union’s rank and file.

“It’s not only a border crisis — it is an urban crisis coming on in America,” Samuelsen told Work-Bites. “I go from one city to another for a living organizing workers and there is a massive urban crisis going on in America-it’s a housing crisis, a wage crisis, and an opioid crisis and they are all tied together at the hip.”

And while boosters of ‘Bidenomics’ point to economic statistics like the Gross Domestic Product which has seen a robust five percent growth rate, those data points are national aggregates — and no one lives or votes in the aggregate.

“There are Americans sleeping all over the streets in urban America,” Samuelsen says. “People have jobs and can’t afford homes. Never in my life have I seen a situation where America’s cities have looked like this whether it be downtown Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco — every city I have been in the last six months is an absolute heartache. Children sleeping with their mothers on carboard boxes on the street.” 

The union leader continues, “I know the Democrats are in, but I don’t know how long there can be a justification for sending billions of dollars to fight these overseas wars and just completely abdicate domestic responsibilities when kids are going to bed hungry in America. There’s a domestic crisis that the federal government just seems oblivious to. You got to wonder if the people that run this country ever walk the streets of urban America.”

Samuelsen says he was taken aback when he found himself agreeing with his political nemesis — former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — in a September New York Times op-ed.

“The Biden administration has failed to address the steep price many cities are paying for a system they didn’t create and borders the cities don’t control,” wrote the Bloomberg. “The White House ought to recognize the political damage the crisis will do to Democrats up and down the ticket in 2024 if it doesn’t take swift and decisive action.”


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Samuelsen blasted Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) for weaponizing tens of thousands of undocumented asylum seekers by sending them to New York City and other American cities far removed from the southern border.  

“You got to wonder if the people that run this country ever walk the streets of urban America.” — TWU President John Samuelsen.

“That is the most appalling, most despicable political tactic in the history of modern day America — using human beings, children as political footballs as if this is some sort of game,” Samuelsen says. “It’s unbelievable. Little kids — little babies as political footballs, all to prove a point. It so disgustingly immoral and outrageous.”

And yet, the national union leader adds, “the horror of it is that it is apparently quite an effective [political] tactic with longtime city residents,  many of themselves struggling, resenting the new arrivals.”

“It’s working,” Samuelsen says. “It is causing political realignment whether the Democrats are seeing it or not. It is causing a political shift in working people. When the Democrats start seeing African-American Community Boards in southern Queens and central Brooklyn in press conferences about the drain of resources that New York City and New York State have to spend to handle the migrant crisis on the southern border — the Democrats better wake up when they start seeing that happen — and that’s happening.”

Last month, New York City Democratic City Council candidates beat back some serious GOP challengers, but for the first time in 40 years in the northeast Bronx a Republican prevailed when Kristy Marmato bested incumbent Democrat Marjorie Velasquez. In 2022, New York Democrats’ flagging fortunes at the polls resulted is the GOP flipped four seat, helping the national GOP take back control of the Congress.

According to the Pew Center, federal COVID aid to states that often passes through to local governments, reached a record high in FY 2021 when “36.7 percent of states’ revenue came from federal dollars, up from 35.9 percent the previous year. The share grew in 31 states compared with fiscal 2020 and in 49 states versus fiscal 2019, just before the pandemic.” 

“Pandemic aid to states included enhanced support for Medicaid costs, flexible funds for states to combat the public health crisis and plug budget gaps, and significant one-time investments in education and income security, among other programs,” the Pew Center reported. From March 2020 to March 2021 the federal government funneled $800 billion, more than twice what provided during the Great Recession 2007-09. “


At the same time, Washington pulled the plug on the expansion of the Earned Income Child Tax Credit which had briefly lifted over two million children out of poverty in 2021. After Congress pulled the plug on the program, the nation’s child poverty rate went from 5.2 percent, to over 12 percent — or about nine million children now living in poverty.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ budget reductions amount to a five percent across-the-board spending rollback in all city agencies including sanitation, education, and the police.

And while during the pandemic, thanks to a relaxing of the application process for Medicaid during COVID, the percentage of uninsured American dropped by 18 percent, Washington’s decision to “unwind” the program earlier this year could result in as many as 24 million Americans losing their healthcare. In New York State, it’s stripped 800,000 of their coverage, the Times Union reports.

Recently, New York City public sector unions blasted Mayor Eric Adams’ mid-year budget cuts aimed at closing a $7 billion dollar budget gap he said was created by a confluence of addressing the migrant crisis, the ending of federal COVID aid and the slowing of tax revenues.

Specifically, the  budget reductions reflect a five percent cut across-the-board spending rollback in all city agencies including ones deemed essential like sanitation, education, and the police. The trimmed spending plan relies on the cancellation of five new police classes that will result in the NYPD dropping below 30,000 for the first time since the 1990s.

According to the education news website Chalkbeat, the city’s public school system could face a $2.1 billion hit that would include a $120 million reduction for its Universal Pre-K program. 

"These are unnecessary budget cuts to our public schools,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the UFT, the city’s largest public union. “They are driven by City Hall's false political narrative that New York City is about to fall off a fiscal cliff. Revenues are higher than expected, investment from Albany is up, and reserves are at a near-record high.”

Mulgrew continued, “Rather than protect our public schools, City Hall proposes to cut overall funding, and on top of that, is making good on another threat by clawing back $109 million from city classrooms. That means 653 schools – 43 percent  of the school system - will be hit now with midyear budget cuts. Class sizes will rise, and school communities will be needlessly damaged.”


State Senator John Liu (D-Queens) served in the New York City Council and as New York City Comptroller from 2010 to 2013.

“There’s no question that across-the-board cuts are going to be some heavily painful cuts and a lot of it is due to the asylum seeker crisis but it’s not all that,” Liu tells Work-Bites. “A lot of it could actually be foreseen. We knew there would be a fiscal cliff once the pandemic funding from the federal government ran out. And even as we knew that the city was embarking on new programs that relied on that federal funding, even though everybody knew that federal funding would not continue forever. No, a lot of this is not even Mayor Adams’ fault — it’s his predecessor’s. They started important programs — no question, but without the requisite funding to keep it long lasting.”

Liu is not optimistic about the prospects for federal help.

“The federal government has certainly cut back on many of the programs that New Yorkers need and that’s something that we look to our federal representatives to continue to fight for,” he says. “Obviously, there’s a huge amount of gridlock and chaos in Washington, especially in Congress where the power of the purse lies. This uncertainty from Washington certainly does not help us.”

The former City Comptroller, who served during the Bloomberg era, thinks the city can realize savings in some of its outsourcing contracts.  

“I have been railing about outside contracting in New York City for many years and it’s not hundreds of millions of dollars — it’s actually well over 20 billion dollars,” Liu says. “The biggest source of potential savings for the  city is not necessarily with the non-profit organizations [social service contracts], it is with the corporations and high priced consultants that the city pays for out of this $20 billion contracting budget. That’s the major source of savings the city could achieve.”

But Liu said the city’s “projected deficits were not a doomsday scenario. “

“We’ve faced similar, actually far worse forecast deficits in recent years in New York City,” he says. “Clearly after Sept. 11, which is a generation ago already, the deficits were far, far larger that necessitated drastic action such as borrowing to cover current operating costs…in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the city also faced humongous deficits that had to be overcome. I have no doubt we will get past this but it won’t be without pain.”  


New York City Comptroller Brad Lander (D) believes  the significant influx of migrants can help uplift the city’s economy as these new arrivals join the city’s workforce and help the economy to continue to expand while maintaining its population which actually declined by five percent as the pandemic wore on. He warns that cuts on the scale Mayor Adams has outlined would undermine the city’s role as an economic engine that historically benefited from the dynamism of immigration. 

“I feel optimistic in the future we can have in New York City if we make good choices,” Lander said on WBAI. “This is a city that always thrived as a result of immigration and investing in public goods like our public schools, CUNY, our public libraries, our subways, our infrastructure and as a result that produced a flourishing economy that grew and people created businesses and created value.”

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