By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
DC 37 and the City Parks and Recreation Department worked together to put federal stimulus funds to work extending 2,500 seasonal workers’ jobs through June 2022.
“We lobbied the City to apply a portion of the federal surplus to the Parks Department and use that money to save seasonal workers’ jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Joe Puleo, Local 983 President and DC 37 Parks Committee Chair. The Parks Department cycles its seasonal workforce in recurring six-month work schedules, lays them off over the winter and rehires them again come spring.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, New Yorkers used public parks more than ever but left behind mounds of trash and waste each day. DC 37 Parks Committee Co-Chair and Local 1505 President Dilcy Benn said, “We were short-staffed in 2020, after the City let go hundreds of Parks workers. Neighborhood parks and relief stations were overrun with garbage, debris and human waste. We did not have enough workers or personal protective equipment (PPE). It was a real challenge to keep up.”
“We realized that millions of dollars from the federal stimulus were left on the table, so the Parks Committee members put our heads together to come up with a plan to use the surplus to protect our members’ jobs,” Puleo said.
Puleo, Benn and DC 37 Research and Negotiations Assistant Director Mark Heron worked with the Parks Dept. to keep seasonal employees on the payroll from June 2021 through June 2022. The agreement also extends seasonal workers’ health and welfare benefits. Parks called back its seasonal employees represented by Locals 299, 983, 1505 and 1508 in March 2021.
“In July we got word that our jobs were extended to December 31,” said Walter Odom, a 30-year City Seasonal Aide, who works at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. “Then in October we learned our jobs are extended through June of 2022. I am glad Joe and the union helped make this happen for us. I am very glad for the work because it’s hard to make ends meet on unemployment.”
In addition to cleaning and maintaining city parks, Parks workers and Local 2507 Fire Inspectors distributed PPE and masks to the public and educated them about social distancing and other safety protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“It is a victory and blessing for our union members to remain employed even as record numbers of private sector workers were being laid off during the pandemic. And it is a win for cleaner parks across the city,” said Puleo.
The DC 37 Parks Committee leaders said that in 2022, they plan to press the new mayor and the City Council to fully fund these lines and make seasonal workers full-time Parks employees.