A Fighting Union: Campaign Key to Contract Victory

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Since early March, as reported in the previous issue of PEPtalk, DC 37 staff and leadership have led nearly 200 in-person worksite lunchtime meetings, engaging DC 37 members on matters involving the then-tentative Collective Bargaining Agreement and showcasing the variety of benefits the union offers members and their families.

Directors and staff from DC 37 divisions representing locals covered by the contract traveled across the city to explain the tentative economic agreement at worksite “Union Days,” answering questions, educating members on their union benefits, and signing up non-members to join the union.

Union Day meetings were held every day throughout March until the night before the vote count—in some cases, as many as four sessions a day.

This field effort was the union’s first major in-person campaign since the pandemic and offered a valuable opportunity to connect one-on-one with members at jobsites throughout New York City.

“We gave our team this directive. Our people took this on and accelerated.”

“This effort has encouraged the entire staff, and they see how important these in-person meetings matter to our members and other city workers,” said Barbara Terrelonge, DC 37 Director of Field Operations. “As we went along, I witnessed the camaraderie and energy among our staff — and that energy was transferred to our members.”

Reps also visited local general membership meetings to stress the proposed collective bargaining agreement’s details and encourage a ‘yes’ vote on the contract.

“The credit really goes to the staff. We gave our team this directive. Our people took this on and accelerated,” said David Boyd, Director of the DC 37 Parks, Cultural, and Higher Education Division, which serves 26 locals. “Because of the nature of our Reps’ work, they frequently deal with challenging problems. This motivated the staff in ways I believe were needed, particularly during the ongoing pandemic.

“Our Reps were overwhelmingly successful. I do not think I’ve seen our membership in a better collective mood than when addressing the contract. We saw the dedication of our staff and how happy they were to engage the membership on such a favorable issue,” Boyd continued. “The collaboration between the Divisions and Research was very close. This reaffirmed our mission and promoted the contract. So moving forward, we will capitalize on the positives from this member engagement.”

On the Frontlines of the Contract Campaign

The DC 37 Professional and Health Care Division, which covers 12 locals, set up daily meetings at multiple sites, including all 11 H+H Hospitals and most locations at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“All lunchtime meetings were to explain the tentative DC 37 economic agreement to our members,” said Marianela Santana, Professional and Health care Division Director. “Our purpose was to ensure that the members understood the contract and for us to answer their questions and concerns.”

According to Santana, members and non-members alike flocked to dozens of these meetings. When the City and DC 37 agreed on the tentative contract, additional informational lunchtime meetings were set up for individual locals.

“Turnout was excellent—we primarily targeted all City agencies in our division while sometimes collaborating on events with other divisions,” said Santana, who lauded her staff for their hard work, including Council Representative Joel Viera-Vera, who worked to set up last-minute meetings during the campaign.

Viera-Vera discussed the complex dynamics of putting together some of these meetings at times on short notice.

“Some of the reps did presentations without a negotiator because we had minimal time to organize and coordinate these meetings,” Viera-Vera said. “It was a collaboration between Reps, the Division, and Research & Negotiations to put these meetings forward and make it happen.

“The City agencies also cooperated in getting the rooms at the last minute. Typically, meetings of this size take two to three months to organize and send notices.”

“They Saw What the Union Could Do and They Wanted to be a Part of It.”

Cooperation from City agencies was a great help to Senior Council Rep Yolanda Johnson, who works in the DC 37 Parks, Cultural, and Higher Education Division. At a Union Day event held in the auditorium at One Police Plaza, NYPD management was fully cooperative.

“Management sent NYPD bulletins to every member and made announcements,” Johnson said.

The effort paid off when hundreds of NYPD employees nearly filled the large auditorium to hear speakers explain the proposed bargaining agreement and take questions from the audience. Members lined up outside the door and down the hallway to sign in and take literature, including newly hired workers who were not yet union members.

“I met several people that had just started maybe three days prior, and they saw what the union could do, and they wanted to be a part of it,” Johnson said. “They didn’t want to be left out of this experience.”

Johnson fielded specific questions from members about DC 37’s services during several of her events.

“After the meeting, people came to ask about dental services, more about the Education Fund, MELS, Immigration Services, housing, and our Personal Service Unit,” Johnson said.

The campaign to support the new contract sparked interest from nonmembers to learn about District Council 37 and the services the union provides. During the month leading up to the contract vote, hundreds of city workers filled out green cards and joined the union, increasing DC 37’s power and influence as a change-making institution.

The campaign’s success and resulting solidarity among members and staff are positive signs for future outreach.

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