By HENRY GARRIDO
Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO
I was happy, to say the least, that our new economic agreement was overwhelmingly approved.
A lot of work went into this contract.
Many union locals encouraged members to share their ideas about negotiations.
We reported on our progress in the union newspaper and blog. DC 37 carried out an on-line survey.
Our bargaining team stuck together. And our staffers provided important background to back up our case.
The contract provides for a decent wage increase; protects our prescription drug and other benefits; maintains our premium-free health-care plan; significantly boosts funding for our education program — which helps members advance their skills and enrich their lives — and includes our new employer-provided paid family leave benefit — something only about 15 percent of the U.S. workers enjoy.
Significantly, we won a no-giveback contract in a very difficult political period in which we face creeping authoritarianism and a relentless assault from the radical Right.
The rise in overt racism and xenophobia is particularly disturbing to our DC 37 community where we take great pride in our diversity. Many of our members settled in New York City because of economic hardship, religious discrimination or political repression in their home countries.
So, I believe it is important that we consider the context of our negotiations. There were a lot of reasons, quite frankly, to believe that the economic and political climate wasn’t particularly favorable. Consider:
• shortly before the conclusion of our contract talks, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Janus v. AFSCME, which aims to cripple public employee unions financially;
• pro-corporate and anti-labor interests control the three branches of our federal government;
• low unemployment hasn’t increased the bargaining power of workers;
• new jobs for most are in poorly paying economic sectors; and
• inflation has wiped out the wage increases that have occurred under the Trump administration.
Besides seeking to bankrupt public employee unions, the radical right wants to destroy the collective bargaining process. By restricting the right of workers to bargain, anti-labor interests aim to strip away the power of unions to negotiate for fair wages, affordable health care, pensions and other benefits.
Our union consciousness
I wish to also underscore the importance of our institutional power and unity.
So far, in New York, we don’t face the anti-labor environment of right-to-work states. Here, public sector employers recognize that collective bargaining provides a contractive process for negotiating wages and benefits while protecting the pocketbooks of taxpayers.
New York City remains a labor town. Unions continue to be a powerful force in Albany.
This round of bargaining took place as we continue to move forward with our long-term plan, “Leading the Way,” which aims to make our union more powerful and grassroots-oriented.
We are increasing our membership, organizing teams of political activists, and working with enthusiastic new rank-and-file leaders in our work sites. Our new contract reflects a greater dynamism at DC 37.
Thanks for your support.
The DC 37 Blog is an online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal employees in New York City. This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Public Employee Press.