By MIKE LEE
Deborah Williams, the new director of the DC 37 Safety & Health Dept., learned early in her career that stepping up and taking risks can be essential to effective advocacy.
She has dedicated herself to ensuring the health and workplace safety of public sector workers – as an employee, activist and advocate – for more than 30 years.
Before joining the staff of DC 37, Williams was the Health and Safety Coordinator/Director for SSEU Local 371. While there, she was also a force behind creating the Charles H. Ensley Scholarship Fund, in honor of the late labor activist and former Local president.
It all began when Williams chose to speak out.
While a HRA Caseworker at the Waverly Center in Manhattan in the 1990s, Williams decided to stand up for her clients when the city was threatening to privatize an HRA homecare services program.
Certain that the proposed privatization scheme threatened their well-being and ability to live the remainder their lives on their own terms, Williams decided to attend a City Council hearing on the issue.
“I couldn’t bring my clients to the hearing,” Williams recalls. “But I knew what having home care from the city meant to them. So on the spur of the moment, I decided that I was going to speak on their behalf. I had no idea about the process or protocol. I just walked into the chamber, went up to the Sgt.-at-Arms and signed my name on the list.”
When it was her turn to speak, she was called up with her local leaders, including SSEU Local 371 President Charles Ensley.
Her determination to come forward on behalf of her clients impressed union leadership. Shortly after she was asked to work with Local 371 as a Grievance Rep, then Health & Safety Coordinator, eventually becoming Director under SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells.
Her dedication was recognized in May 2016, when she was awarded the Karen Silkwood Award for her advocacy by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH). She is currently on the Board of Directors for NYCOSH.
Williams also was a long-time member of the Labor Committee for the World Trade Center Health Registry and is chair of the advisory board of the Mount Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health.
In October, she was named the head of DC 37’s Safety and Health unit, a position that puts her in daily contact with members.
“Health and safety are as close as I can get to an exact science–because either you have bedbugs or you don’t, either there’s rats or not,” she says. “I like the fact that there’s always something different, because that means I’m always learning. At the end of the day, it is all about providing quality service and protecting members.”
If you have a workplace safety issue, please contact Safety & Health Department at 212-815-1685 or firstname.lastname@example.org.