By GREGORY N. HEIRES
About 200 shop stewards, activists and union leaders attended Local 1549’s annual conference on advocacy and political action on Jan. 26.
Each year, the local holds the conference reviews its political and legislative priorities. Its purpose is to educate shop stewards and chapter chairs about key and critical issues, giving them background information to share with their coworkers.
But beyond spelling out the local’s agenda, the conference serves as a call to action. Local leaders and panelists reinforce to conferees the importance of getting involved in politics and community issues—in addition to being the voice of the union in their workplaces.
“We have to protect each other,” said Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez.
Local 1549’s 2019 agenda includes:
- The 911 surcharge.
- Winning back jobs taken over by the state to the Human Resources Administration;
- Supporting public hospital system and its HMO, MetroPlus and
- Affordable housing.
“Unfortunately, the system is broken,” said 2nd Vice President Ralph Palladino. He spoke the day after President Donald Trump announced the ending of the federal government, which cost the economy an estimated $11 billion and affected 800,000 mostly unionized federal workers, who were either forced to continue work without pay or were furloughed.
Palladino credited air traffic controllers for pressuring Trump to reopen the government. During the strike, many controllers called in sick as union leaders voiced concerns about public safety.
He also referred to the wave of teacher strikes in recent months as a sign of a resurgent labor movement.
Palladino described the local’s recent blocking of Trump’s attempt to cut SNAP (food stamp) funding as an example of the local’s contribution to the work of unions across the country to protect public services.
The conference included a presentation about the City Council’s participatory budgeting program. This new program allows participating Council members to dedicate part of their discretionary budget to specific initiatives that interest their community.
The program allows the community activists—including Local 1549 members—to look into possible projects, such as the renovation of a handball court or the construction of water fountain, and put the projects up to a vote.
“We need to be more involved,” said Carolyn Askew, the local’s political action chair, expressing the central message of the conference.
The DC 37 Blog is an official online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents public service workers in New York City and surrounding areas.