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SLPC, MMH on minds of Solidarity Day attendees

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MASSENA - In addition to the typical candy, pens and pencils handed out by participants in Monday’s Solidarity Parade, parade goers were also handed information from employees of Massena Memorial Hospital on why they feel the hospital should stay public and yard signs reading “SAVE SLPC” by employees of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

Among those supporting the psychiatric center employees were Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell (D-Theresa) and Senator Joseph Griffo (R-Utica).

“I’m part of the task force working to keep it open, and I’ll be participating in a joint hearing with the Assembly and Senate on Sept. 7 in Ogdensburg,” Ms. Russell said. “This issue isn’t as much about labor as it is having a strong community and keeping those services available for those who need them. Our unions build strong communities,but we have to compliment services, otherwise things fall out of balance.”

Mr. Griffo also offered support for the Psychiatric Center, although Ogdensburg is not part of his senate district.

The senator also said, he understands, better than most, what the Ogdensburg community is currently going through.

“In the area I represent over the last few years we have lost a psychiatric center and a correctional facility in Central New York,” he said. “If the governor doesn’t understand the economic impact of these closures, he should certainly understand it impairs the ability to provide these services.”

Mr. Griffo also said he has been working with Se. Patricia A. Ritchie (R-Heuvelton), who does represent Ogdensburg, to help preserve services at the center.

As for the fight to keep MMH a public hospital, Mr. Griffo said the decision whether privatize the municipal health care institution is one that should be made locally.

“The community needs to come together to decide what is best for the hospital to keep it open,” he said. “Taking sides one way or the other isn’t what’s best for the community.”

Ms. Russell though said in her mind privatization isn’t the answer.

“I know the next couple of years in health care are going to be challenging for everyone, but I don’t think MMH should be targeting unions to pin the blame on,” she said. “This is a period of transition and to me it seems like they’re using the transition to try and break the union.”

Ms. Russell said what she would like to see is the hospital administration working with its employees, rather than against them.

“This is a very complicated issue, and I would like to see the hospital work with its unions to get through this, rather than using their backs to avoid making administrative changes,” she said.

Teamsters Local 687 President Brian K. Hammond also said he doesn’t think privatization is a good thing.

“It’s been owned by the public for so long and it should remain that way,” he said.

And while the Teamsters don’t represent employees at the psychiatric center, Mr. Hammond said that doesn’t mean his members would not be affected.

“The people making deliveries there, more often than not, are Teamsters,” he said. “There will be less delivering and people will have less disposable income to order things that are delivered to their homes.”

And while they may not agree on everything, Mr. Hammond, Ms. Russell, Mr. Griffo and Central Trades and Labor Council President Ronald P. McDougall all agreed on one thing. Labor Day is a day to honor the nation’s working men and women.

“I think Labor Day is an important event for everyone in labor,” Mr. Hammond said. “They need to celebrate working people and that’s what Labor Day does.”

“Our members of organized labor are the backbone of our economy,” Ms. Russell said. “Their numbers are shrinking, and I find that to be problematic, so I’m here to show support for the men and women who continue to fight for the middle class.”

Mr. Griffo, who represents communities in Northern and Central New York, said that hard working men and women are among Upstate New York’s greatest asset.

“I think one of the most important assets in New York, whether its Northern New York or Central New York, is our workforce,” he said.

Mr. McDougall, who helped to organize this year’s festivities, said that while he’s seen bigger crowds in past year’s the threat of rain may have kept some people away.

“It’s number 33 for us,” he said. “The weather has cooperated, although there were some doubts as late as 7 or 8 this morning (Monday).”

All in all though, as children screamed on the playground and their parents enjoyed a cold drink on their day off, Mr. McDougal said he would consider the day to be a success.

“It’s another successful Labor Day here in Massena,” he said.

To help fund the activities, tickets are sold for a drawing is held each year with a grand prize of $10,000 awarded. Winning the grand prize this year was Sheila Ayotte of Massena. Mike Derosie of Massena won $5,000. Ed Cunningham of Massena won $1,000 and Shelly Chilton, Massena, won $500. Other prizes awarded included $400 to Dawn Jenne, of Parishville, $300 to Taylor Fuller of Potsdam, $200 to Darren Derango of Massena and $100 to Adam Bigtree of Hogansburg.

The top three parade entries as determined by this year’s judges, Scott Wilson, Albert “Herb” Deshaies and Penny Pullmain were AFG Local 1968, IBEW Local 2032 and CSEA Local 845.

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