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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Celebrating Italian heritage


Although this years’ celebration was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, marking the immense contributions of Italian Americans to the culture, history, and the labor movement are still paramount, particularly in this time of uncertainty.

From Ellis Island to the hiring halls in the East Village and 14th Street, generations of Italian immigrants came to this country, and with each decade provided part of the force of New York labor to become the powerhouse it is today.

Working their way up, Americans of Italian heritage went into the union workforce, some sacrificing their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. As time went on, leaders of Italian heritage, such as Angela Bambace and Luigi Antonini, took leadership roles in the needle trade unions, leading the fight for safe working conditions and fair wages.

Others took jobs in the public sector, while some became leaders in labor’s struggle. In particular was DC 37’s Alan Viani, who as President of Local 371 and SSEU’s Joseph Tepedino, led the 1965 Welfare Workers strike. The victory was a pivotal moment in the union’s history and changed the way in which the city worked with the newly empowered union.

After serving as a local president, Viani eventually became DC 37’s chief negotiator for 12 years, serving through the difficult years of the 1970s financial crisis, as he strove in establishing the union into the powerhouse that made New York City run.

We honor their contributions, as we do so many others that have come daily to work, risking their lives as essential workers during this pandemic. Perhaps you do not know them by their names, but their work can be seen daily.

“While we cannot have an event this year,” said Local 1455 President Michael DeMarco. “We will always be here. Next year, we will gather to celebrate our history and culture, to honor our work and the accomplishments we have made.”