Worksite Activists Gear Up for a Busy 2017

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Organizing Director Barbara Terrelonge (left) and Nicole Lang-Garcia map out a strategy for organizing worksites. Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera.

By ALFREDO ALVARADO

District Council 37’s Organizing Dept. is preparing for the challenges ahead.

The department’s focus for 2017 will be to continue developing the union’s presence at worksites and engaging members at agencies throughout the city.

During 2016, organizing activists began recruiting volunteers for the union’s new Member Action Teams. “The MAT volunteers are the foundation of this movement that we’re building,” Organizing Director Barbara Terrelonge said.

Unlike union shop stewards, MAT volunteers are not elected,  and come from various locals. “This is a grassroots effort and it takes place at the workplace,” Terrelonge said.

This year, union organizers recruited volunteers at lunch-time meetings at City University of New York campuses, the Dept. of Education and NYC Health+Hospitals.

The organizers held 48 meetings at CUNY, where they conducted one-on-one interviews with members to see how they feel about the union and to mobilize members around the campaign for a new contract for CUNY workers.

Volunteers like Local 384 member Michelle Karpeles at the College of Staten Island spread the word about the contract campaign to coworkers. Karpeles, an Administrative Assistant, was responsible for bringing members to a rally in front of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office.

“We filled a bus with 55 of our members for that rally,” Karpeles said.

Organizing Goals Met

Since becoming a volunteer, Karapeles has also gotten the opportunity to meet many more coworkers represented by DC 37.  “I’ve worked here a long time, but there are still parts of the school I’m not familiar with,” she said.

Organizing on a CUNY campus can be a logistical nightmare. The Queens College campus has over 40 buildings spread out over 90 acres. The City College campus in Harlem sits on 36 acres.

MAT volunteers are also instrumental in getting members to attend lunch-time meetings to update them on the union’s current campaigns and inform them about benefits.

Volunteers created an email list to communicate with members at City College. “If it wasn’t for our activists we wouldn’t have gotten such a good turnout at our meetings,” said DC 37 Organizer Nicole Laing-Garcia.

The Organizing Dept. had a goal of establishing MAT committees at 25 agencies, but they far surpassed it and established a presence in 69 agencies, including the Human Resources Administration, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Fire Dept. of New York, the Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Dept. of Education and the New York Police Dept.

Local 1113 member Gerda Sampson works at the Police Dept. and became a volunteer. With more than 15 years on the job, Gerda knows her way around the department, so she easily collected more than 50 union cards during the campaign to sign up new city workers and veteran workers who were no longer on the union’s list of members.

“Our MAT team meets on the first Wednesday of the month,” said Sampson, who works as an Associate Investigator at NYPD. “It’s where we discuss workplace issues. I really enjoy it.”

On the agenda for 2017 will be educating members about a vote for a constitutional convention that will appear on the ballot next November.

As mandated by the New York State Constitution, every 20 years voters must decide whether to convene a constitutional convention. DC 37 is opposed to a constitutional convention because it could reopen a discussion about pensions, which are now protected by the constitution. The union is concerned that public sector workers could be used as scapegoats and blamed for the state’s financial troubles.

The full agenda and goals for 2017 will be discussed on Feb. 11, during a Saturday conference for MAT volunteers.

“I’m excited because it’ll be our first meeting with all of our 200 volunteers,” said Terrelonge, who is working on the program for the conference. “We’re looking forward to working with our volunteers and developing our agenda for the New Year.”

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