Union wins promotion, $12,000 pay hike and $8,000 in back pay for OCME scientist

MEMBERS FIRST: “Local 3005 is servicing its members better, giving credence and support to their issues,” said the local’s President Jeff Oshins, pictured with VP Samantha Rappa-Giovagnoli. “We are serious when we say the members come first.” Photo: Mike Lee

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

The union helped a forensic scientist at the Office of the City Medical Examiner win over $8,000 in owed back pay, and a promotion with a $12,000 annual pay bump after settling an out-of-title grievance at Step 2.

OCME managers assigned the Local 3005 Criminalist Level 3 supervisory duties of signing timesheets, preparing work orders, scheduling assignments and reviewing other Criminalists’ work. The member asked that PEP not print her name.

OCME forensic scientists staff the country’s most advanced toxicology and biology laboratories and the nation’s only molecular genetics laboratory housed in a medical examiner’s office. The scientists upload DNA samples into CODIS, the combined index system of DNA samples that span local, state and federal databases. As experts in mass fatality management, they are called on to share their expertise in responding to disasters with other jurisdictions.

“Five years ago OCME hired criminalists and assigned them to other units — not the laboratories,” said Local 3005 President Jeff Oshins. “As we talked to members about job specs and work assignments, we learned that several Criminalists were working out of title, including this member, who has about four years on the job.”

“The agency assigned her to act as supervisor and the unit’s liaison to other city agencies, the morgues and funeral directors,” said Samantha Rappa-Giovagnoli, the local vice president and grievance rep who filed the complaint in August 2018. “OCME never had a Level 4 Criminalist in the unit, instead they used this member to supervise without offering a promotion or added compensation.”

It took nearly six months to convince the member to file a grievance. “It’s the power the agency held over this member,” said Oshins. “She was afraid of retaliation and of losing the job she loves.”

OCME Criminalists Level 3s earn about $78,000 to $80,000 annually. Level 4 Criminalists earn just above $92,000. They have bachelor’s degrees in the natural sciences and many have advanced degrees. Seventy percent of OCME Criminalists are women.

“I was unaware that I was working under the incorrect title,” the member wrote in a thank-you note to the union. “Once I met with my union rep, they answered my questions and gave me time to think. I liked that they did not push me. The grievance process was slow and steady, but through each step, they explained everything so I understood what would be expected. I was never out of the loop which made the process much easier.”

The grievance went to Step 2 where an impartial arbitrator ordered OCME to promote the scientist to Level 4 and pay her $8,000 for seven months of out-of-title work.

“We successfully demonstrated that this member adds value to OCME. They agreed and recognized her worth. It’s a win-win outcome for everyone,” Rappa-Giovagnoli said. “The unit never had a Criminalist Level 4 but now for first time there’s a supervising Level 4 title in this unit.”

“I am so glad I went through with it,” the member added. “I am even more thrilled that it was settled without too much issue.”

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