By HENRY GARRIDO
A union’s power depends on the ability to grow and the flexibility to change.
2019 was a year of tremendous growth and change within District Council 37. With the addition of nearly 25,000 non-profit, care workers from the former DC 1707, our union now has a broader scope and the potential to organize more New Yorkers in both the public and private sectors.
The benefits of unification quickly became apparent when we negotiated historic pay increases for members who are early childhood educators at community-based programs in an agreement that put them on the path to parity with their counterparts at the Department of Education.
But numbers alone do not reveal a union’s strength, and strength alone does not reveal a union’s character.
In 2019, we aimed to stay true to our mission of defending members and making our city more livable for all New Yorkers by:
- helping members who had been mistreated by management find equitable resolutions and economic justice through the grievance and arbitration process
- pressuring lawmakers to ensure sufficient funding of vital public services such as parks and libraries with the city budget
- enhancing member services, such as adult education and preserving benefits
In 2020, we can expect to face daunting challenges — from Trump’s Washington and other sources of austerity and inequality — that will further test our resolve and our ability to build a more equitable city, state and country.
Adversity seems unavoidable in 2020.
On the heels of the Trump administration’s unprecedented tax breaks for the wealthy come proposed budget cuts that target the rest of us. One recent example: Just weeks before Christmas, the Trump administration approved a rule that will remove nearly 700,000 people from the federal food-stamp program.
And health care remains a challenge that so-called leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump defender Sen. Lindsey Graham keep running away from.
After trying repeatedly and unsuccessfully to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, McConnell announced earlier this year that, in an act of political cowardice, Trump’s political allies would not present a health care plan until after the 2020 elections, which strikes me as a clear sign their solutions signal pain for millions of American families.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Trump cuts spell trouble for the New York State budget, which in turn can cause damage here in the New York City metropolitan area.
Exacerbating health care issues in New York are the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs and hospital care. These costs are not sustainable and too often they make no sense. For example, cataract surgery at one “voluntary, non-profit” hospital can, inexplicably, cost thousands of dollars more than at another. Adding insult to injury is the fact that many of these hospitals receive huge tax breaks from the city even as their CEOs reap millions in salaries and perks.
As 2019 drew to a close, and in partnership with our sisters and brothers at SEIU 32BJ, we urged the City Council to shed light on why hospital care is so expensive at some of the biggest and best-known medical institutions and to demand accountability.
At a Council hearing on Dec. 12, I spelled out a course of action to push back against these costs that threaten the ability of unions — as well as many employers throughout the city — to guarantee affordable, quality care for members and employees.
We believe, for example, that the city and state need to re-evaluate their property tax exemptions to private health care providers if these organizations are not willing to treat populations that can least afford it.
In 2020, there will be profound, political challenges as the presidential race steps into high gear and candidates vie for citywide and local, legislative seats.
We will continue to organize and defend our members in the workplace. We will seek technological solutions that keep members informed, and make it easier for them to access services and assistance.
I wish you all a Happy New Year, and look forward to working with you in the months ahead.