At Meetings Around the City, Public Service Workers Are Signing Up With the Union
By GREGORY N, HEIRES
DC 37 continues to sign up new members under our Leading the Way campaign to promote the benefits of union membership and encourage rank-and-file participation.
Last month, DC 37 held five meetings with mid-level city employees whose misclassified job titles had kept them out of the union during the Bloomberg administration but are now eligible to join or re-join.
A sixth meeting was also held in November for City University of New York employees, who recently won a new contract.
Union Offers Job Security
Many workers who signed union membership cards at the meetings indicated that job security was their top reason for joining.
Monifa Thomas, a 20-year city employee who is now a senior project manager at the Administration for Children’s Services, described job security as “an extra comfort” to have. “Managers don’t have that,” she said.
Thomas said she looked forward to becoming a member of Social Service Employees Union Local 371 again, recalling that the union helped her purchase her home five years ago.
During the past few years, union and city negotiators have discussed DC 37’s contention that as many as a few thousand city employees are misclassified as mid-level managers and should be represented by DC 37.
Through the process, both parties study the duties of managers and then agree upon which ones should be reclassified.
Desmond Angus, an administrative director of social services at ACS, said he supports the reclassification.
Angus said he was pleased he would no longer have to pay for a rider for his prescription drug plan.
The city agreed to boost its annual contribution to the plan — which has an affordable copay structure — during contract negotiations with DC 37.
Angus said he was also happy to have two vacation days restored. City managers lost those days, which provided the city with savings to pay for a new paid sick leave benefit.
As a DC 37 member, Angus will only be charged a modest payroll deduction for the new benefit under the union’s new economic agreement with the city.
Workers at the School Construction Authority said they are happy to have union representation since it will allow them to receive overtime pay.
One former manager complained about being forced to accept weekend assignments and to work as late as 10:30 p.m. during the week without extra compensation.
The union has historically had a tough time developing strong support from thousands of part-time employees at CUNY. Many of them are transitory workers who don’t see the need to join the union.
In the union’s outreach, DC 37 representatives stress how the union provides job security, a rich benefits package, protection from management abuse and negotiated pay increases.
Just last month, the union concluded talks with CUNY on a tentative economic agreement that calls for four 2 percent annual wage increases.
CUNY College Assistant Julia Lauren, a Local 2054 shop steward at LaGuardia Community College, is participating in the union outreach. She said she probably succeeds in signing up as many as 90 percent of her coworkers when she explains the value of union membership.
Health care is a very important issue for Lauren and her coworkers. “To work part-time and have insurance is just a miracle,” said Lauren, saying she was thrilled that her health plan covered her brain surgery in 2008.
Members receive employer-provider health-care insurance, which DC 37 protects through negotiations with the city.
In the outreach, DC 37 representatives often comment on the contributions of unions to our society as they discuss DC 37 benefits.
“We are living in a time in which workers around the country are witnessing what’s probably the most relentless attack on their unions in decades,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido.
Garrido noted that following World War II, unions were responsible for the growth of the middle class.
Today, unions are the principal barrier to the long-term agenda of corporations and the 1 percent to erode employee benefits, undermine union power, defund government programs and to redistribute income to the power elite.
“Unions, including our own, need to become stronger,” Garrido said. “If the right succeeds in making unions powerless, workers will see their living standards erode as our society becomes more economically polarized,” he said.
The DC 37 Blog is an official online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 public employees who work in New York City and its surrounding areas. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2018 issue of Public Employee Press.