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Workers protest in candlelight vigils

Updated 6:50 pm, Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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  • Clara Cator, left, joins protesters as the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union organized a series of demonstrations nationwide including one at the Government Center in Stamford, Conn., Dec. 10, 2012. The demonstrations were timed to coincide with federal budget negotiations, demonstrators support increasing taxes on the wealthy and oppose reductions in funding for government benefit programs. Photo: Keelin Daly / Stamford Advocate
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Stamford, CT
    Clara Cator, left, joins protesters as the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union organized a series of demonstrations nationwide including one at the Government Center in Stamford, Conn., Dec. 10, 2012. The demonstrations were timed to coincide with federal budget negotiations, demonstrators support increasing taxes on the wealthy and oppose reductions in funding for government benefit programs. Photo: Keelin Daly

 

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Holding signs that said, "No more tax cuts for the rich," and candles in plastic cups, about 100 protesters gathered in front of the Government Center on Monday night.

The demonstration was part of the Fiscal Cliff Candlelight Vigils, calling for U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman to support increasing taxes on wealthy residents and oppose funding reductions for government benefit programs as part of federal budget negotiations.

"I pray for the protection of our government leaders," one speaker said.

Activists, labor officials and residents held a series of demonstrations around the nation Monday, including in Hartford. The Stamford vigil was sponsored by the state AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union.

A representative from Himes' office read a letter from him, thanking people for fighting for the human race and saying he supports them.

"We face a choice that will define the future of our nation, and it's time for Washington to act on a plan that will reduce the deficit and grow jobs through shared opportunity," Himes said in the prepared statement. "While some wish to raise taxes on middle-class families and indiscriminately slash budgets, I support a wiser plan -- one that asks the most fortunate to pay a little more to reduce the deficit and that allows us to make the investments in transportation and education we know will keep our economy growing from top to bottom for decades to come."

Jessica Ramos, spokeswoman for SEIU and the Coalition of Residents and Immigrants in Solidarity, said the key points are that the so-called fiscal cliff should not be on the backs of the working people and that the groups want comprehensive immigration reform.

"We just want a solution that keeps families together," she said.

Ramos said most protesters work in and around the Stamford area. Other signs at the rally said, "Don't cut my Social Security" and "Congress -- Do the right thing."

Clara Cator, of Bridgeport, stood against the wall of the 888 Washington Blvd. building with a sign that said, "Protect unemployment." Cator was an employee at West River Health Care Center in Milford who went on strike and lost her job when negotiations failed. She is relying on unemployment, but doesn't have health insurance. "I'm here to support Obama healthcare," she said.

Gina Eugene, also a Bridgeport resident and former employee of the same facility, said she doesn't want her unemployment to be cut because she cannot pay her mortgage now. She said she also supports a health care plan for her and her children.

"I have no insurance for my kids," she said. "I can't even take them to the doctor."

Phillip Braydeen, another worker at the facility, spoke to the crowd with a bullhorn, saying he hopes this "great country" will do the right thing.

"We're all in this together," Braydeen said. "We're all part of the puzzle. We all deserve to have decent wages."

Alberto Bernardez, a leader for SEIU, also spoke with the bullhorn, saying it's not fair to put all of the economic crisis on the backs of the working people.

Bernardez translated for Leonel Arenas, a member of the same union, who said, "We had our dreams turned into nightmares." Arena, a janitor at the United Bank of Scotland in Stamford, is from Guatemala.

Speaking for other immigrants, Arenas said they fear deportation each day and want to send a strong message that they are hard-working people who contribute to the nation. He said they also want to send a message to the government that they will be fighting for immigration reform.

Bernardez said comprehensive immigration reform is needed because people who are not in the country legally, but have been here for a while and have not committed a crime, should have a path to citizenship and family unification. "We are calling on everyone to join our just cause," he said.