It took a while, but with support from her DC 37 education fund benefits, Marie Lodescar Francois is ready to raise her voice — and perhaps a few roofs.
“I believe in lifelong learning and DC 37 offers lifelong learning and professional development free of charge,” Francois said. “Education can be life-changing. DC 37 knows that.”
A native of Haiti, Francois moved to NYC in 1983. After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from City College, she took a job with NYC Transit. “They have a special program for Transit corps engineers,” she said. “The new technology trains are all controlled by software. I was able to pass the test and work in that department.”
Right away she got active in Local 375. “My second promotion was a major turning point because it marked the successful and fair resolution of distribution of the title to people on the civil service list,” she said. “I worked hard for that.”
Impressed, the President of Local 375 invited her to be part of his team and nominated her for Pension Chair; subsequently, she was elected Secretary-Treasurer. When her title changed to Computer Specialist, Francois transferred to Local 2627. The president of that local also asked Marie to join his leadership team and nominated her to the Board of Trustees.
“Looking back,” Francois said, “I guess I was kind of in leadership mode all along.”
But still, Marie was unsure about herself.
“Then I participated in DC 37’s Lillian Roberts Women’s Leadership Academy, which is a great program. It provides a safe and supportive space for women to express themselves. It helped me with my presentation skills. Since English isn’t my native language, I had never really felt confident talking in front of people. I started to realize that maybe I could after all.”
Taking advantage of DC 37’s tuition benefit, Francois enrolled in SLU’s Labor Relations Certificate program.
“This program has really helped me develop my communication skills, both speaking and writing. In my first class, the professor asked us to talk about the type of work our parents did for a living. I had so much to say about my parents, who were such hard workers, that it kind of eased me into talking in front of a group. After that, every class just got better and better. I learned how to interpret contract language. I learned the tools needed to represent union members at arbitration hearings. Thanks to my professors at SLU, I feel I have the knowledge and confidence now to raise my voice and fight for my co-workers and defend my fellow union members in contract disputes.”
Asked about DC 37’s new Labor Leadership Program, Francois was enthusiastic.
“DC 37 has a special relationship with SLU. When I wanted to learn more, DC 37 directed me to SLU. Now, I want to continue in SLU’s graduate program to deepen my knowledge and strengthen my skills so I can better stand up for the union and our members. Access to these new benefits hopefully will help me start working on the advanced certificate [in labor relations] and get into the master’s program.
“The labor movement is the backbone of the middle class. The labor movement has fought all along for better and safer working conditions for its members, for health care, and now it is fighting for our education, too. This new program is just one more example of that,” she said.
What would she say to her fellow DC 37 members about the Labor Leadership Program?
“Professional credentials are very important. SLU can help you get ahead in your career and be more productive. You need knowledge about labor laws. You need to know how to read a union contract; if you don’t know the contract, you can be taken advantage of. Knowledge is powerful. Knowledge helps you protect yourself, and it helps you contribute.”
As for Francois, she’s not about to quiet down.
“I want to keep going up the ladder. I want to be in management. Especially, I want to empower women, including the women in my own workplace. I want to create a path for them and be an inspiration for them. Thanks to the special relationship between DC 37 and SLU, workers have an opportunity to learn, to equip themselves and move ahead in their lives and their careers.”
Marie grinned. “And that’s something to shout about!”