Traffic came to a standstill in Downtown Manhattan Wednesday afternoon, as a labor rally by City Hall turned into a shoving match with police as thousands of union workers blocked traffic on purpose. NY1's Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.
Police reinforcements were dispatched Wednesday afternoon to handle disruptions caused by thousands of union workers marching to City Hall in opposition to the city's proposed budget cuts.
Private and public unions, primarily in the building and construction trades, were marching in response to budget cuts, calling them an attack on the middle class.
Those at the rally filled the streets, hung from scaffolding, and chanted "USA," "unions," and, somewhat ironically, "cops need a raise."
Demonstrators gathered for a peaceful rally at Cadman Plaza before heading across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park and filling Broadway at Chambers Street.
Officers took to scooters and set up cloth fences in an effort to control the mass of protesters. At least one demonstrator was arrested before the situation calmed down.
The arrest did not appear to have been planned, and in fact one union organizer tried to prevent it, but workers said the ensuing struggle was part of the message.
"It's time to get back to work. We're showing people that we're union, we stand up for our rights," said ironworker Glen Green.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's planned cuts would reduce jobs and services, including the closure of 20 fire companies.
More than 4,000 teachers also face the possibility of layoffs.
Many at the rally said they were also angered by union jobs going to non-union workers.
"I'm hurt by it. America's built on unions. My father's an ironworker, my grandfather was an ironworker, now I'm an ironworker, and it's just not right," said Arianna Tancraitor of the Ironworker Union.
"I've been out of work almost a year myself, 25 years in the business, and I've been home a year," said tile, marble and terrazzo worker Sal Zerbo.
"I just hope to get our message across to the political parties to have, to just help us out, you know, just work, we need work," said a third participant.
State President Denis Hughes of the AFL-CIO said he wanted the focus of the city budget to change from job cuts to job security, and said he is willing to compromise with City Hall.
"We're always willing to make the best deal for our members, but we also have to protect our members' interest, so we'll see how this thing develops and how it moves forward," said Hughes.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has previously said state and federal budget cuts have made a balanced budget without cuts seemingly impossible.
However, city officials are currently in discussions with union leaders to tap a union health care fund to save municipal jobs.
The city's budget is due at the end of the month.