By GREGORY N. HEIRES
DC 37 members are angry that, in the wake of a politically charged U.S. Supreme Court attack on unions, wannabe union-busters are trying to dupe New York City public employees into giving up their rights.
Janus v. AFSCME capped a decades-long effort by a nationwide anti-labor network to cripple public employee unions, cut government services and support anti-worker state legislators and governors throughout the country.
A group calling itself NewChoice NY — which is supported by the Koch brothers and other ultra-rich labor foes — recently sent out an email blast to a total of 500,000 New York public employees — including DC 37 members — at their workplaces, trying to cajole public employees to leave their union.
DC 37 also received reports of home visits by right-wing network representatives.
“They try to sound as if they’re just doing workers a favor by providing information,” said one longtime DC 37 official. “What they really want is to blow up the labor movement. And that is not helping workers.”
Several Local 1549 members who are employed by the New York Police Department were outraged that NewChoice NY got hold of their work email information. NYPD served a cease-and-desist order to the group.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order declaring that New York State “will not subject public sector workers to the abuse of their information as part of a campaign” to harass and intimidate workers.
DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido blasted the campaign by union-busters.
“In anticipation of Janus, we stepped up our workplace visits to inform members about the value of unions and encourage them to participate more in DC 37 activities,” he said. “As we continue our long-term efforts to make the union more energetic, dynamic and powerful, we are not going to tolerate these attempts by outsiders to sabotage the labor movement.”
“The email convinced me that these are powerful people who have access to personal information,” said senior attorney Carl Foster, a Local 1359 member who works in the rent administration unit at the state Dept. of Housing and Community Renewal. He sees attempts by NewChoice NY and others to undermine local unions as an affront to black Americans, for whom public employee unions and government employment have historically offered a pathway to the middle class.
“My fear is that a way of life will disappear, that we will slip into a modern serfdom and despotism,” Foster added. “Down the road, it could be that there will only be the few rich on top with the rest of us at the bottom. It’s already happening.”
Service Aide Frances Gonzales, who the chair of Local 1549’s chapter at the Teachers Retirement System, said her coworkers were scared by the letter, which they consider as a violation of their privacy. Gonzales provided Local 1549 with a copy and posted a warning about it on her Facebook page.
“Their goal is to sabotage us,” Gonzales, said. “Our goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“We got to stick together,” Gonzales said. “We have to be ready to fight for ourselves and the future—our kids and grandkids. We have to keep the union alive.”
One of the leaders of NewChoice NY is a right-wing political operative named Robert Bellafiore, a former press secretary to former New York Gov. George Pataki who worked on Republican Alfonse D’Amato’s failed 1998 U.S. Senate re-election bid.
The union-busting campaign in New York is part of a nationwide operation coordinated by the Virginia-based State Policy Network to attack public unions.
The DC 37 Blog is an online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal employees in New York City. This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Public Employee Press.