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Long IslandLI Life

Some of the LIers we recognize this Labor Day

Take one guess as to which state was the first to:
A. Celebrate Labor Day before it was even a holiday (1882)
B. Introduce a state bill to recognize the workforce (1885)
Yep, that would be the Empire State, which in 1887 became one of five states to approve legislation enacting Labor Day. The Central Labor Union, an early trade union federation, wanted to recognize its members, who included carpenters, machinists, jewelry makers, construction workers and other members of the working class. 
During the Industrial Revolution, the average worker toiled for 12 hours a day and had a seven-day workweek. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the first Monday in September is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” In June 1894, Congress designated the federal holiday to honor workers in the territories and the District of Columbia.
In the 123 years since, the holiday has evolved. There are still parades, but many spend Labor Day and the days leading up to it enjoying the last remaining bits of summer at picnics, barbecues and on vacations. For Canan Kizufgun, a dishwasher at Ephesus restaurant in Massapequa Park, which serves Mediterranean and Turkish dishes, work and home are nearly interchangeable. “I am very happy to work here because I feel at home, and at home I work in the kitchen too, and love it,” she said.
Newsday asked some of Long Island’s tens of thousands of workers — many of whom will be laboring on the holiday — to share some of the ins and outs and ups and downs of their jobs. Here’s what they told us:

Canan Kizufgun, 57, restaurant dishwasher

Canan Kizufgun, 57, of West Babylon, a dishwasher
Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

“I do everything, starting with preparing the salad like chopping the cucumbers, tomatoes and salad,” said Kizufgun, 57, of West Babylon. “And when customers begin coming, I help serve things from the oven, and sauteing, making some traditional foods. Then after service, there are a lot of dishes which I wash. Then after lunch, there’s a little gap until dinner, so I’m helping to prepare the food for dinner.”

“The family atmosphere. And then because I’m hyper-doing — I can’t stay still; I never stop working — and I’m curious and I love to learn, I am wondering about everything: Why do some plates come back with food and others with no food? Why didn’t they eat it? I want to ask them!”

“On the weekends I work very hard [when we have the most customers], and I think this is endless and that it will never end. I am always asking, ‘How many tables more inside? How many tables? Any dishes at the tables? Guys, please pick up all. Bring me glasses first.’ But at the end of the night, when it’s the dishes only that are waiting, everybody — the waitresses, the cook, everybody — helps me out. And that’s one of the things that motivates me, that they’re helping me. I love the owners of the company so I want to do my best. And also, I like having money to spend.”

Dennis Martin, 65, bus driver

Dennis Martin, 65 of Queens, Nice Bus driver,
Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

“You could have good days and you could have bad days,” said Martin, of Corona, Queens. He drives NICE bus routes in Nassau County. “Customers don’t realize the things we have to do. Like sometimes, if we’re doing a run from Hempstead to Jamaica and the customer might be waiting for the bus and the bus might get there 10 to 15 minutes late, and they’re angry, but they don’t know the reason why the bus is late — it could be an accident, it could be detours, it could be a breakdown on the bus, so you know, many things can conflate. But we, as the official operator, have to be able to relay this to the customer. And I keep them calm at the moment so that at the end of the run they’ll understand, and they’ll be in control.”
“I’m a driver-trainer, training new students coming in on some days. So that makes my job really interesting. I love what I do. You meet different people every day. You never know who you’re going to meet on a bus. You might, say, see someone constantly coming on and off the bus, and another day you yourself might have to go to the hospital, and the same person you were picking up every day works in that hospital, and so just by having that interaction, it makes your connection at the hospital easier because you were nice, you treat them as you should, a professional operator. And that’s what I like.”

“You might not have the breaks that you want, even miss your lunch break. But it’s part of the job. You might meet some customers that might be a little frustrated, but at the same time, you have to interact with them so as to make them more comfortable. That’s just part of the job. As you enter the bus, to the end of the road, you have to be a professional operator.”

Aaron Stein, 43, scientist

Aaron Stein, 43 of Huntington, scientist at the
Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

“I am trying to make things on the nano scale, that is, thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair scale,” said Stein, 43, of Huntington. “And by things, I mean structures, from simple ones like a line or a pillar to more complex ones like electrical devices. It’s work that covers a wide range of applications — for energy, electronics and biomedics. You see, the thing about making things so small is that materials behave really differently on this scale.” 

“Every day is a little bit different. Some days I’m working on my own projects using the tools in the lab, and other days I’m training students and post-doctoral researchers, here and from other parts of the world, to use the equipment to further their own research. And then I have bureaucratic things, such as maintaining the instruments and managing the schedules and making sure that everyone is working safely.” 

“Probably the public doesn’t know much of anything of what we are doing here. And sometimes we don’t either! That’s why we’re here, to learn how certain materials behave in different situations, different geometries . . . The fun of it is the surprises.” 

“I love that it’s different every day. There’s no set routine so there’s a lot of independence to work with lots of different people, and that’s definitely the best part.”

“The challenging thing is that things are very inconsistent at the nanolevel; it’s very difficult to get things to work the same way twice in a row. They’re extremely inconsistent. Sometimes they work for a very long time and then suddenly they stop. Why? You have to figure out when they function and when they don’t; that’s when you learn how they work. But I think when you have an idea about a process, and then you finally get it to work, when you can look in the electron-microscope and see it working, that is a very elegant and beautiful thing.”

Deysi Valle, 40, owner of Quick Used Tires

Deysi Valle, 40, owner of "Quick Used Tires"
Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Valle in her Hempstead shop with employees, from left, Rafael Moranchel, 45, Wilmer Bardales, 22, and Jean Carlos Maradiaga, 21.


“I come in, get working, waiting for customers,” said Valle, 40, of Hempstead. “I know what I have to do every day — the tires, and take care of the customers. Every day I always say you have to be better than yesterday because you never know what is going to happen.”

“I was working with my ex and he was doing mechanics, and I loved it. I love what I’m doing, and I went to school to learn car mechanics, because I wanted to do it. When you want to do something, you can do that; I’m always saying that.
As a woman, it can make you more strong. Sometimes they say a woman can’t do that, a woman can’t do this. And I say: ‘Oh, no, we can do a lot of things.’ ”

“The hardest thing is working with the customers, because a lot of customers, Latino or American, they don’t like it because I’m a Latina or because I’m a lady. They think I don’t know how to work on their car, but trust me, a lot of customers, they don’t even know how to take the spare tire from the trunk.”

“I think I always liked cars. And when I got this opportunity . . . then I got training, and then I had to train my workers, and they’re men. I feel lucky I can do it, and I love it.”

Jose Cunha, 51, carpentry business owner

Jose Cunha, 51, in his mobile carpentry truck
Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

“We do custom woodworking,” said Cunha, 51, who lives in Mineola and started his business in 2000. “We also do small projects for people who need modifications, anything that involves wood — doors, windows, framing, trimming. And we do general repairs, too. The reason we are having a truck now is because of the changes in the economy; shops are becoming expensive, they’re not effective anymore. Instead of the customers coming to us, we go to the customers. So that’s why I have the mobile operation. We go anywhere. Not many people do it because, number one, it takes time to build this kind of structure.”

“We get here at 7 in the morning, we set up, we have breakfast, we look at our schedule, and we talk about what we have to do. Most of the days we call the customers in advance so we’ll be on time, and we always strive to be prompt on jobs. We go see the place, see what we have to do. Most of the customers I have are referrals, but we have some from the web.”

“One thing I like is everything is different. Every customer has different needs. The work we do is always very specific. We can go change the lock on a door. We can change the whole door. We can paint the whole door, we can do the trim, we can do it the way the customer likes. They always get more than they expect, and that is the real reward, that the customer’s always happy. I’ll tell you a story: There was this lady, a neighbor, and she bargained the price, and I said, OK, I’ll do it for you. You’re my neighbor. And she was so happy at the end. The business isn’t always about money. For me, it’s about people. It’s about the people we connect to, and sometimes we don’t even realize the impact we can have on a lot of people’s lives, especially with the economy that we have, when they cannot afford what they had in the past. But I’m out there doing what I have to do because I like what I do. It doesn’t matter if the customer is in a $10 million apartment in NYC or a small house in the Bronx. It doesn’t matter. We go there. No discrimination. You know, I was born in a country [South Africa] that was the last country that supported racism. I left there in 1985 and I lived through a lot of things. And so no matter where they come from, we like to help people.”

“I still have customers from 15 years ago, and some of them have lost their businesses, some lost their houses, and it’s hard. We have to still help them in a certain way, because we want them to smile again.”

“Yelp asked me if I wanted to grow my business. But if I go from five calls a day to 50 calls a day, I can’t answer the phone, so I don’t want to promote my business up to a level that I cannot support my customers. I don’t start a job unless I finish the last job. If we say we’re going to a job, we’re going to go. We’re not going to go to a better job that gives us more. We pride ourselves on what we do.”

Phaedra Musselman, 42, pilot

From left, Pararescueman, Staff Sergeant Ronald Raymond, 33
Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

With Musselman, of Wading River, center,  at the National Guard base at Gabreski Airport in Westhamption are, from left,  Staff Sgt. Ronald Raymond, 33, of West Babylon; and  Airman 1st Class Brian Coleman, 18, of Manorville.

“The one thing about the military, the days are never the same,” said Musselman, 42, of Wading River. Her Air National Guard unit is part of the 106th Rescue Wing at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, and Musselman’s days are now filled with rescues in Houston, where she is helping Hurricane Harvey flood victims. “We have certain assignments we are supposed to do, so hopefully my day includes flying, but that’s not the case usually. I fly anywhere from one to three times a week. The other times I have a lot of desk roles in that I’m a special projects officer . . . one of my assignments is RA [resource adviser] duties. I handle all the days, the dollars, the monies associated with running the squadron. In addition, I train the members within the unit, and from there, I also am a unit health monitor, so I watch people with their PT [physical training] skeds, their physical assignments, and I track all the flying hours for the unit. Basically, what we full-timers do is make sure the squadron is running on a day-to-day basis for any of the part-timers, so that when they get in, they get what they need. There’s a lot of computer-based training, there’s hands-on ground training and there’s flying training. Everything I do is making sure that when that particular Guardsman comes in, they get what they need, and then be ready for deployment overseas.”

“That I make a difference. Every day. I actually believe the motto for the rescue community, ‘So that others may live,’ so that even though today I may not have a mission, maybe one day I will, and I’ll be able to go out there and help somebody, because I’m a mom myself. I have two daughters, 4 and 6, and I would want somebody to make that extra effort for them. Any time anybody can help another service member, I think it is something that is worth doing. It’s funny, something inside of you, you put the uniform on and for some reason, God puts in your brain, ‘This is what you have to do.’ And you just start doing this.”

The hardest part of the job is “the training, the fact that we have so many currencies and new assignments. There are things we practice every day, and then there are others, like the Bambi Bucket for lowering into the sea for collecting water, for fighting fires onboard a ship] and it’s not something we do every day — that’s where it gets a little difficult. If you don’t do it often, you lose that proficiency. And we get behind. We always brief. We will prepare before the brief, read the checklist, learn the lessons that might not be in a book, sit down with the brief together and get on the same page. All before you even get out to the aircraft. We go through the checklist step by step on the ground.”

“Most people don’t know about our unit. We have an international Guard unit there. We go overseas and deploy. And we’re not the only ones. There are the Special Forces, too. The Fire Department, too. The C-130s and the pararescuemen. We may not get tasked that day, but we do get a lot of . . . requests to help members.”

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