A noisy caravan of union demonstrators descended on Greenwich on Thursday afternoon, putting a spotlight on what they say are the health risks and medical burdens faced by service workers due to imbalances in the economic system during the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the demonstration — called “Money Bags and Body Bags” — the union activists brieﬂy placed trash bags rigged to look like body bags near the residences, before removing them, as a way of dramatizing their concerns over health-care and income inequality.
About 40 cars took part in the caravan in Greenwich, which had
started with as many as 100 vehicles driven by union workers from “The ruling class, many of whom live in Greenwich, a lovely town, have no idea of the consequence of their actions. It’s a wake-up call; their actions have deadly consequences to us,” said Rick Melita, who represents 65,000 SEIU members in the state as the executive director.
Six janitors have died of the coronavirus in Connecticut, as well as 11 nursing assistants, union representatives said. The SEIU represents custodians, nursing-home workers, prison workers, rest-stop janitors, school bus drivers, day-care workers and others.
Union organizers wanted to send a message, pointing to a lack of personal protective equipment for workers, the difﬁculties of obaining workers compensation and inequities in the health-care system that he says hits working people the hardest, Melita said. They were also promoting the message, “Tax the Rich.”
Melita said the lengthy process to get workers comp beneﬁts for burial expenses in particular was “sickening.” The union leader was also critical of what he called a “get back to work, suck it up, take the punch” mentality that he said some business leaders and commentators were promoting.
“How many of our members of have to die for the Dow before we get angry?” he said. Added an SEIU spokesman, Frank Soults “The wealthiest residents seem to be paying the lowest percentage than any other group.” The demonstrators also cited a range of progressive causes in their daylong trek through the wealthy neighborhoods.
The caravan departed from a central Greenwich commuter lot and wended up North Street, Lake Avenue, Round Hill Road and then Buckfield Lane in the the backcountry. The caravan got mostly quizzical looks from bystanders and landscapers as it wended its way through the community. One woman driving a BMW SUV stuck her hand out of her car window and gave union demonstrators the finger.
They stopped near the homes of Donald Lake, Lucy Stitzer and Betsy McCaughey on their drive, and placed the symbolic “body bags” in the area, as a kind of activist theater. Lake is vice chairman of Caliburn Holdings whose affiliate, Caliburn International, is the holding company of the nation’s only for-profit migrant youth shelter operator. It has come under criticism for the housing conditions of underage border-crossers on the Mexican border with the United States. A message left for Lake at his office was not returned.
Stitzer owns a stake in Cargill, the largest food company in the practices. A message was left at her philanthropic organization was not returned. McCaughey is a Fox News columnist with a lengthy history of opposing the Affordable Care Act, the program initiated by President Barack Obama to expand health-care coverage for citizens. A message left at her personal website was not returned.
On Buckﬁeld Lane, near the home of McCaughey, the union demonstrators were called “socialists” by a woman who stopped to watch their activities, which prompted a contentious exchange. The union protesters were all wearing masks, to prevent the transmission of coronavirus. But the woman who stopped was not, which led to another point of contention. A police ofﬁcer stepped in and asked the parties to separate and move along.
Police ofﬁcers shadowed the convoy as it drove through Greenwich, and no serious incidents were reported. According to police spokesman Lt. Mark Zuccerella, “We were there for the caravan to facilitate their needs, as well as the other motorists in the area. Everyone’s rights and safe demonstration or exercising of those rights are important to us.”
Greenwich has a history of drawing demonstrators and activists, due to its reputation as a home to the wealthy. Activists in 2017 ran buses into Greenwich though a union-backed protest called the “Lifestyles of the Rich & Shameless” tour.
In 2017, the SEIU protested the lay-offs of janitors at an ofﬁce complex in central Greenwich.
Written by Robert Marchant