Fighting For Fair Budgets

By HENRY GARRIDO
Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO

Henry Garrido

As part of a coalition we played an important role in stopping nearly $1 billion in combined cuts in the state budget to the City University of New York and the city’s public hospitals.

The fight-back is an example of how we participate in the political process to protect our jobs and the services we provide.

The campaign involved demonstrations, lobbying, and social media, including collecting thousands of signatures for an on-line petition.

Now that the Albany fight is over, we focus our attention on the city’s budget. We expect a busy couple of months ahead as the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio work out an agreement on the budget, which should be signed by the end of June.

We have a number of priorities for the city’s fiscal 2017 budget that I want to share with you.

● We seek $65 million more for the operating expenses of the city’s three public library systems in order to return to the funding level prior to the 2008 financial crisis, which ushered in years of budget reductions and downsizing.

We are also working with the administrations of the three library systems to secure $100 million in capital spending to address building needs.

● We urge the City Council to allocate $7 million to fully fund the troubled Cultural Institutions Retirement System, which covers 20,000 employees.

Forty percent of the plan participants, primarily DC 37 members, work for cultural institutions, and 60 percent are workers at day-care centers. The Bloomberg administration undermined the financial base of CIRS when it privatized child-care centers, forcing hundreds of workers contributing to the pension plan out of work.

We also have priorities in education, parks and recreation and public safety.

For education, we seek funding for 29 Inspectors of licensed and unlicensed day-care facilities and additional Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialists at renewal schools. We are pushing for more funds at the Dept. of Parks and Recreation to allow the pool and beach season to be extended by a week and to ensure that 50 Gardeners and 200 City Park Workers aren’t displaced from their jobs.

Budgets reflect political agendas

In public safety, we call for converting School Crossing Guards into full-time positions, the takeover of the routes of a bankrupt private ambulance company by our Emergency Medical Services locals, and the civilianization of 500 positions at the New York Police Dept. and 100 positions at the Dept. of Corrections.

One of the aims of the Friedrichs v. California Association of Teachers case — on which the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked earlier this year — was to prevent public employee unions like DC 37 from having a say in public policy and the budget process. The conservative backers of the lawsuit and others want to characterize public employee unions as selfish special interests and want to silence us. That bogus characterization infuriates me.

We are involved in politics to protect ourselves. But we are not defensive about that. When we fight for ourselves, we fight for the entire community.

We work in the public sector because we are committed to providing services that make New York City an attractive home for businesses and millions of residents. On the contrary, our enemies want to enrich themselves by privatizing public services or simply dismantle the social safety net that protects our society.

The larger issue here is the budget process is inherently political and reflects our vision of society. Our passion is in public service. We will never quit our fight to prevent government from abandoning working families and becoming solely beholden to the 1 percent.

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