Women’s History Month: DC 37 Women Break Barriers in Non-Traditional Jobs

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

Women are shattering glass ceilings in all fields, proving they can do jobs that were previously only offered to men.

In politics, Kamala Harris is the first female Vice President of the United States. New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James are the first women to serve in their respective roles, but certainly won’t be the last. The New York City Council added a historic number of women to its ranks for the City’s first-ever majority female Council with Speaker Adrienne Adams as its helm.

For decades, Lillian Roberts helped organize New York City municipal workers into DC 37 and served as the union’s executive director from 2002 to 2014. DC 37 currently has the Lillian Roberts Women’s Leadership Academy that trains future labor leaders. The union has more women serving as local presidents, executive board members, and managers than ever, including Associate Directors Jahmila Edwards and Rose Miller in two of the top positions.

In March, Women’s History Month, DC 37 celebrates women in nontraditional jobs, and features four members who have broken barriers at work. Their stories tell the paths they cut and invite future generations of women to join the expanded choice of career opportunities in public service.

“I am a Criminalist IV and one of five laboratory managers at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Forensic Toxicology Department, where I’ve worked for almost 24 years. I oversee the daily operations of the laboratory, staff assignments, supervision of staff, and finalize toxicology reports for medical examiners.

“As a public servant for the City of New York, I help bring answers to families by determining the factors that may have contributed to their loved one’s demise.

SONIA CUEVAS, OCME Criminalist IV, OCME Local 3005

“My interest in forensic science began at 12 watching the TV show ‘Quincy’. I was fascinated with the science of detecting things not visible to the eye, but could shed information to help solve cause and manners of deaths. Of course, there were no female scientists on the show, but I knew I would follow the path to this specific science.

“I enrolled in John Jay College and was one of very few women studying forensics. Often I’ve been referred to as a pioneer for women in the field.

“As a Latina, I have faced numerous challenges that range from being paid a lower salary than my male colleagues to being passed over for promotional opportunities. I have worked hard to change the stigma.

“I had never belonged to a union before. On my first day of work at OCME, I asked myself, ‘How can I make things better?’ I joined DC 37 and volunteered to press for a better work environment, better pay, benefits, and an employee wellness program.

“I advocated to upgrade our titles to Criminalist. Initially, we worked for lower pay as Assistant Chemists and Associate Chemists. We faced many challenges and some push back, but I am happy we won the Criminalist title upgrade and better benefits and a better contract. The push for change wasn’t easy or always well received, but DC 37 made it possible.”

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