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Troygle, anyone? The Hellions of Troy skate to attract Google.

Photo: Alicia Solsman

We’re Feeling Lucky

Troy threw a party to attract a new Google venture—and hopes the company noticed

More than 100 Troy residents filled Monument Square Tuesday while the Hellions of Troy roller derby team zipped through the street, rallying support for the city’s “need for speed.” Internet speed, that is.

In early February, Google announced its plan to build and test ultra-high-speed broadband networks in the United States, giving one lucky city the opportunity to transfer data in speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. There was an immediate response from many Troy citizens, who believe their city is a prime candidate. Uncle Sam impersonators and other star-spangled individuals joined the Hellions in the square, hoping to gain Google’s attention in a fun and unique way. They held signs similar to Google Maps’ bubble-shaped indicators, making Troy’s location known.

“It raises attention and awareness,” said Mayor Harry Tutunjian, who showed off his own speed at the event as he rolled through the square on his Segway, wearing a plush Uncle Sam hat. “It shows that the community can come together—people from all different institutions, businesses, citizens, government, all coming together to really raise the attention of our efforts to get Google to come to Troy.”

From the beginning, Troy citizens were responsive to the Google initiative; hundreds joined the Facebook group within 24 hours of Google’s announcement.

“The whole city is on board,” said Councilman Ken Zalewski. “We just want to make sure our response is really strong, and as creative as possible.”

The plan’s followers have been dubbed “Troygle,” and they created troygle.org to explain the city’s goal and receive nominations. The Web site pictures Uncle Sam, this time pointing his finger at Google, telling the multinational Web giant, “I want you.”

A laptop was available at the event for attendees to nominate the city. Friday marks the deadline for nominations, and Troygle is making the final push for supporters.

Troy residents and officials believe their city is in an advantageous position to gain this distinction, listing numerous qualifications such as the city’s history, architecture and educational institutions.

“It really makes sense for Google to give Troy a serious look, because of our previous successes,” said Tutunjian.

Zalewski believes the addition of Google high-speed would showcase the ever-growing technology that already exists in the region. “We are a part of Tech Valley. There’s Silicon Valley in California, and now there’s Tech Valley right here in the Capital Region.”

The group has gained support from Troy’s educational institutions—Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Russell Sage College, Hudson Valley Community College, and Emma Willard preparatory school—the presence of which are believed to be yet another selling point.

According to Google’s guidelines, the city must have a population between 50,000 and 500,000 in order to apply, Troy being on the smaller end of the spectrum—for now, at least. Troygle supporters believe faster Internet may be what the city needs to attract more residents and businesses.

“It would add to our ammunition of ways to get people to come to Troy as another attraction,” said Tutunjian. “We have the history, we have the architecture, we have the schools, and we have the river. Having Google high-speed would put us on an international map.”

Self-proclaimed “computer nerd” Zalewski points to the national attention Troy received last fall, when President Obama visited to HVCC, as an example of the city’s greatness. Obama spoke about the importance of education for the economy, job creation, and technology. “Certainly the president saw something in the city of Troy,” he said, “and we’re hoping Google will see that same thing.”

Zalewski drafted a resolution in support of the administration’s response to Google’s request for information. The resolution passed in the city council unanimously, “which is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s even bringing some harmony to the government process, which is nice.”

Though Zalewski realizes the extent of Troy’s competition—bigger, more populated cities—he remains confident in Troy and the people that represent the city. “It’s very, very exciting. Somewhere deep down, I have a gut feeling we’re going to get this. Based on the response we’ve had so far, I feel like we can do it.”

“This is real Troy,” said Tutunjian. “People coming together to work toward a goal.”

—Elizabeth Knapp


We Did Protest a Holiday Inn Express Last Night

The battle over unionizing a Latham hotel takes another twist

It has been a little more than a year since four employees of the Holiday Inn Express in Latham were fired, allegedly for spearheading a campaign to unionize in an attempt to secure better working conditions and wages. These terminations ignited a battle between local union activists and the owner of the hotel, Jim Morrell. According to union and political leaders, Morrell’s obstructive behavior has not only been illegal and immoral, but also represents the most appalling union- busting tactics that New York has seen in almost a century.

“There are laws that prohibit the company from behaving a certain way during an organizing campaign, and the company broke those laws,” said Nicki Weiner, business agent for Local 471, the local branch of the Rochester Regional Joint Board of Workers United. “They spied on the union activists; they obviously illegally fired people. They interrogated employees that were known union activists. There’s a whole laundry list.”

The employees met with the director of Local 471, the Rev. Mike Roberts, before presenting their letter of intent to organize to the hotel’s management. Days later, on April 23 and 24, 2009, Becky Wallis, Molly Anastasio and Craig Prusky were fired. A fourth employee, Tiffany Wheeler, was fired shortly thereafter. Following the terminations, the workers filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

According to union leaders, the company began engaging in an intimidating anti-union campaign among the remaining employees and conducted a fraudulent union election in which ballots were impounded and the fired workers were denied the right to vote.

“The union’s goal from the start has been to foster ethical standards for fair union elections,” said Richard Bensinger, director of organizing for the national AFL-CIO. “Jim Morrell has, time after time, rejected and corrupted the election process. However, like many bullies, Mr. Morrell underestimated the workers he employs.”

Facing a preponderance of evidence and community backlash, Morrell opted to settle just before the NLRB announced its decision. The settlement required that the erstwhile employees be reinstated to their original jobs at their original pay.

“That’s just law,” said Roberts. “The settlement was also that the company would agree to a quick rerun election. The reason that’s important is because it gives the company less time to bring in a consultant to expose the workers to that anti-union campaign all over again.”

While the expelled employees were not given their jobs back immediately, Roberts said that he urged patience. “We were all hopeful that that they just needed a little time to get their house in order, clear their schedules and get the people their jobs back.”

Instead, on Feb. 22 of this year, the workers were called in for a meeting where they were informed that the hotel was under new management and that they were not bound by agreements made under the old regime. The stunned workers were told that they would not be reinstated and that they could reapply if they chose to do so.

“I talked to the new manager and explained that we expected him to honor the settlement that Morrell had just signed with the board. He explained to me that his position was that he is not bound by Morrell’s settlement,” Roberts said. “Morrell is still the owner. They’re still under the same ownership.”

Morrell’s office has not returned repeated calls from Metroland.

Roberts is less confident that the board will rule in their favor this time. “They’re telling us that they may have to buy the company’s argument that this is a different management company and therefore not liable for the sins of the past. If that’s going to be their position, we’re going to really have to shift some of the focus of all this to the board itself, because this would have national ramifications. It would be a blueprint for private-sector employers to rattle workers that are trying to form a union, from coast to coast.”

The workers and supporters gather once a week to rally and protest in front of the building. Roberts has expressed a desire to increase presence to two or three days a week, and at the busiest times. “I feel like we need to hit them much harder.”

“Morrell clearly appreciates the lack of penalties in the labor board process as well as his ability to crush the union with brute force. In 35 years of union organizing, and having studied hundreds of organizing campaigns, this is as unethical of an employer response to organizing a union as I have ever seen,” said Bensinger.

According to Barney Horowitz, Albany representative for the NLRB, the most recent charges were filed on March 22. “The investigation pursuant to these charges is just beginning. It’s hard for me to respond while we’re still collecting the facts. The union has filed charges making a certain claim and we are investigating those charges.” Horowitz added that he expected that further charges could be leveled. “We will investigate the extent to which the employers have complied with the settlement that they reached in February.”

Albany County Legislator Bryan Clenehan (D-Albany) said, “The way he had total disregard for his employees right to organize is actually stunning; it’s amazing it happened in 2009. The most recent actions are even more incredible, where he backed away from a deal after months and months of work and picketing by employees. He reached an agreement with them and then just completely disregarded that deal. That was probably the most incredible thing of all. I think the big issue is that he has had a consistent disregard for his employee’s rights to organize, and that’s an absolute right under the federal law and the way that he’s interfered with it has been pretty much unconscionable.”

—Ali Hibbs

Go to the Metroland blog to see video foot-age from protests held outside the hotel, including one clip where Morrell apparently hits a demonstrator with his vehicle.


Albany Y on Life Support

At the 11th hour, the mayor steps in to keep Washington Avenue facility open at least another month

 

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings joined J. David Brown, president and CEO of Capital District YMCA, at the Washington Avenue branch Wednesday to announce the city’s reclamation of the building in an attempt to keep it open, after months of fruitless efforts by community members.

Just two weeks prior to Jennings’ announcement, Brown sent a letter to YMCA members making it known that the branch would, in fact, be closing.

Recognizing the community’s need for such a facility and responding to their cry for help, Jennings met with Brown and a member of the Y board, expressing his decision to extend the facility’s closure until May 1, which will give him time, he said, to organize a group that is capable of evaluating the building and identifying what steps need to be taken—including the potential addition of new programs—in order to keep it open.

Jennings said he will become “very, very involved” over the next five weeks, bringing in officials from not only the city, but the county and the state, making assessments of the physical plan of the facility and how much it will cost the Y to remain open.

Chris Mercogliano, one of the leaders of the community task force to save the Y, remains skeptical.

“Everything that was said was so vague,” he said. “It’s certainly good news that there’s a commitment to keep this facility alive, but my question is, what will happen to the precious community that existed? It doesn’t sound like anyone knows.”

The dwindling membership and the facility’s financial losses became generally known to the community only after it seemed it was too late. The task force responded immediately, holding phone-a-thons, donations and rallies to attract new members and raise awareness and were unconvinced when told their endeavors were futile. Mercogliano said that he believes that those problems could have been solved, perhaps, without the intervention of the city, but under a trusted and committed leadership.

“It became very apparent that the Capital District YMCA had given up on those problems,” he said. “I think it’s good that the responsibility, the stewardship is going somewhere else, clearly that needed to happen, the CDYMCA was done, they didn’t want this place to exist anymore.” Mercogliano hopes to have more input under the city’s administration.

Brown claimed that he and his board members had always intended to keep the facility open. “And we still do,” he said, “which is why we’re willing to take a second look, and we’re willing to extend it another month.”

He continued to say that the membership revenue is at the same level it was a year ago, deterring the board from moving forward.

“When you have a facility this large, and don’t take advantage of it, shame on us,” said Jennings, “shame on us for not doing what’s right. In my mind, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we don’t work together.”

—Elizabeth Knapp

 

 

 



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