By DIANE WILLIAMS
DC 37 Local 983 welcomed several classes of new recruits to the Parks and Recreation Academy on Randall’s Island in March.
Twenty new Urban Park Rangers, all recent college graduates, previously worked security at airports and malls before entering training for civil service careers as PEP Officers. The Parks Dept. academy schools UPRs for 11 weeks after which the agency assigns them to regular patrols in public parks.
“This job entails teaching the public about nature and respect for the environment and protecting people so they can enjoy our city’s miles of trails, beaches and parklands in safety,” said Local 983 President Joe Puleo, who started as a UPR over 20 years ago.
Urban Park Rangers watch over some 29,000 acres of parkland citywide from the Bronx’s 2,765-acre Pelham Bay Park to Manhattan’s Battery Park to the wetlands of Staten Island’s Greenbelt and beyond.
As Peace Officers they are authorized to issue summonses and make arrests. Puleo said, “We are the first line of law enforcement in the Parks Department.”
Puleo was joined by Vice President Marvin Robbins and Marlena Giga, local treasurer and grievance rep. They reviewed the union’s hard-won medical benefits, salary and job protections. All the recruits eagerly signed the green membership cards that make them officially part of DC 37.
Sharing 983’s history as life-saving first responders during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricanes Irene and Sandy evacuations, Puleo said, “The reason you’re here as Parks employees is because this union lobbied the mayor and the City Council for more money for PEP Officers.”
The union, with help from Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, has grown the ranks of UPRs to 200, up from just 50 citywide two years ago. In March, Puleo lobbied City Hall to budget for another 200 PEP Officers.
“This is a great chance to enter law enforcement in a job that offers benefits and security,” said UPR recruit Brianna Perez, who studied criminal justice and sociology at Lincoln University.
UPR recruit Leslie Zhang, a John Jay College alum, said, “I left a security job at Kennedy airport. It’s slightly less pay, but I made a career move.”
“It’s important that you stick together,” Giga advised recruits. “No one comes to work to be physically or verbally abused–you can arrest that person. Protect each other as you protect the public