Membership Reaches 150,000
By GREGORY N. HEIRES
From the halls of the U.S. Congress to the streets of New York City and workplaces in the five boroughs, DC 37 kept busy in 2019 looking out for the interests of members and retirees. The union’s success in carrying out its mission is becoming ever more important as working families struggle to survive in a political world that is all too often hostile to their well-being.
Making History: Unification of DC 37 & DC 1707
DC 37 made history in 2019, which will be remembered as a year our membership skyrocketed. Nearly
25,000 members from the private sector joined the union in September under a unification agreement between District Councils 37 and 1707, both affiliates of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
As a result, DC 37 membership now tops 150,000 — the highest it’s ever been.
The benefits of unification became immediately apparent during the summer as DC 37 won an agreement bringing the salaries of 4,000 private sector day care teachers into line with their public school system counterparts. The agreement served as a model for a similar pact for childhood educators in the federally-supported Head Start program, and it is now the blueprint for negotiations affecting thousands of other private sector workers.
Grievances & Arbitration
The grievance and arbitration process is DC 37’s chief mechanism for enforcing the contractual and civil service rights of members. The gains are real — and often profound:
- Patient Care Technician Tyrone Wayne was one of 29 workers in Local 420 at North Central Bronx who won a half-million dollar out-of-title group grievance settlement. The agreement provided individual payouts ranging from $1,700 to$24,000 and opened up promotional opportunities. The settlement recognized the workers were performing the dangerous work of more highly-paid behavioral health associates who are trained to deal with potentially violent patients.
- Local 374 negotiated a deal on behalf of Clerical 4 Project Manager Claudia Navas that boosted her annual salary by $1,400 in recognition of her extra work at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
- The union won a $12,000 pay hike and $8,000 in back pay for a scientist at the Office of the City Medical Examiner in Local 3005 who was assigned to take on supervisory tasks without being compensated.
- A group grievance forced New York H+H to elevate the jobs of nine, hourly, part-time workers at the Susan B. McKinney long-term care facility in Brooklyn to permanent full-time positions with full benefits and job security.
- An investigation by the DC 37 Clerical Division led to salary hikes for payroll workers at the Department of Parks and Recreation by exposing that they were not being paid extra compensation required by their workplace contract.
- DC 37 continues to demonstrate that inadequate pay creates a recruitment and retention problem. This year, Local 1503 won a 63 percent pay hike for HVAC workers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art after making that argument.
- Local 768 won $3,100 raises and a $300,000 retroactive payout for pest control aides after a union investigation uncovered a payroll error at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
- An out-of-title grievance won $500,000 to raise the pay of 29 patient care technicians at North Central Bronx Hospital who were assigned the often dangerous tasks of workers in a more highly compensated job involving interaction with potentially dangerous patients.
Paid Family Leave
In January, the city implemented a new parental leave benefit that DC 37 won through its negotiations for the 2017-21 economic agreement.
The benefit, funded through a small payroll deduction adjusted annually according to participation of the previous year, allows members to take off up to 10 weeks a year to care for a baby or ill family member. In 2020, the maximum weekly benefit will be $849.70.
Public employee unions need to be active politically because the livelihood of members depends upon government funding. But the union’s political involvement runs even deeper, reflecting a longtime commitment to social and economic justice.
DC 37 works in alliance with public officials who are committed to looking out for working families. We also work closely with our national union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and community allies on key issues affecting working families:
- DC 37 plays an active role in the city budget process to ensure that public services are sufficiently funded. The union’s parks and library locals were particularly active in the 2019 budget process. The final budget included $9.5 million for 100 seasonal park workers, 50 gardeners, 50 Urban Park Rangers, and 80 PEW officers. Libraries obtained a $33 million boost, which will allow for the expansion of services and boost staffing.
- DC 37 fought for dramatic improvements in legal protections for tenants, and supported legislation to protect patients from hospital price gouging, speed up the process for 9/11-related disability pensions, and provide financial security for surviving spouses and partners of workers whose deaths resulted from 9/11 ailments.
- We backed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposals to create a savings program for private-sector workers whose employers do not have a retirement plan and to guarantee health care for all.
- We vigorously fought for the passage a $14 billion Green New Deal local initiative that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 40 percent in the next three decades. The 2019 law
calls for the elimination of carbon emissions, leading to 100-percent clean electricity by 2050. DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, who has described climate justice as “the moral imperative of our generation,” anticipates that the initiative will create 20,000 green jobs in the public and private sectors.
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido to the New York State Complete Count Commission established to ensure a full count for the 2020 U.S. Census. The count is critical because it determines the number of Congressional seats in the state and the amount of federal government assistance for the city and state.
- DC 37 worked with New York City H+H to lobby for federal dollars for the city’s public hospital system. That effort also involved protecting the right of immigrants to receive health-care services dependent on federal dollars.
- We helped secure funding for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act; continued to fight the Trump administration’s proposed Medicaid cuts and supported a proposal to curb the out-of-control upward spiral of prescription drug prices.
Fight For Economic Justice
Union members receive their regular pay increases under the union’s economic agreement, a master contract that DC 37 negotiates every few years for tens of thousands of members. The agreement establishes a pay pattern for everyone, but the fight for wages doesn’t stop there.
Local unions often work with DC 37 to improve the compensation of their members outside of the traditional negotiations process. For instance, Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Inspectors Local 2507, and Uniformed EMPS Officers Union Local 3621 are working together on a campaign that aims to bring the salaries of EMS workers into line with the pay of firefighters.
Local 983 negotiated a contract for its Urban Park Rangers and Associate Urban Park Rangers that mirrors the more than 7 percent total wage increase and the continued premium-free health-care coverage and other benefits won by 90,000 other DC 37 members in their current contract.
The flexibility of the negotiations process allowed Local 983 to arrange for three new longevity increases ($241 at three years, $603 at seven years, and $5,529 at 20 years) to boost the pay of its members even more. For veteran workers with 20 years of experience, the longevity and wage increases under the contract will ultimately translate into $9,000 during the duration of the 2017-21 contract.
DC 37 won millions of dollars during the last round of talks to strengthen its Education Fund, which has assisted thousands of members in obtaining college degrees through its tuition reimbursement benefit.
- This year, nearly 30 members were in the first graduating class of the City University of New York School of Labor and Urban Studies that DC 37 helped establish.
- The union offers a wide-ranging education program that covers basic academics, information technology certification, English as a Second Language, sign language, conversational classes (Mandarin, Spanish, and French), civic service exam preparation, resume preparation, public speaking, interview techniques, and even memoir writing.
- At the beginning of the year, Dietary Aide Yolanda Jeter enrolled in a union-supported program at NYC H+H that helps DC 37 members who work in the public hospital system’s Food and Nutrition Department earn their GED, professional certification, and associate and bachelor’s degrees. Expecting to triple her salary to nearly $80,000 by becoming a registered nurse, Jeter looks forward to being among hundreds of members who have used the program as their pathway to solid middle-class jobs.
Public Service Heroism
DC 37 members often are confronted with human tragedy. The ultimate act of public service is saving lives and “going beyond the job” to protect New Yorkers from physical harm. Some of our members’ acts of heroism include:
- Emergency Medical Technician Francis Jost saved the severed arm of a man who was struck by a
train on Staten Island. He arranged for the limb to be put on ice and rushed by ambulance to Staten Island University Hospital, where emergency room physicians reattached the arm.
- Local 983 Urban Park Rangers carried out a search-and-rescue operation in a tidal marsh on Staten Island to find a lost 83-year-old man who was found sunk to his ears in muddy water.
- Administrative Project Manager Patrick Burke pulled a man to safety after he had fallen on the tracks at the Yankee Stadium subway, ensuring that he wouldn’t be struck by a train.
Improvements in Union Benefits
A never-ending mission of the union is to look for ways to improve member benefits.
- The union introduced DC37Rewards.com this year. The free, members-only program helps DC 37 workers and retirees enjoy savings from top retailers, gyms, travel partners, restaurants, sports and entertainment events, and more. Through the program, 50 lucky members and retirees won free tickets to a Mets game in May. Local 2507 member Ann Quick won a cruise. Other outings have included a Six Flags trip to New Jersey and a Barclay Center basketball game in Brooklyn.
- The DC Health & Security Plan is responsible for the administration of the rich package of benefits for members and retirees, including audiology, dental, education, legal, and vision. In December, the H&S building on Chambers Street in Manhattan will be closed for renovation to create a state-of-the art dental center there. Dental services will be provided at 186 Joralemon St. in Brooklyn as the renovation in Manhattan moves forward. Dental services will also be enhanced by expanding the list of participating dentists in the plan.
- The DC 37 Health & Security Plan continued the never-ending struggle to preserve, protect, and improve the popular Prescription Drug Benefit. We are currently involved in 18 lawsuits to curb the abuses of Big Pharma, including price gauging, fraudulent advertising, the national opioid scandal, price fixing, and illegal marketing. Throughout the years, H&S lawsuits have won millions of dollars, which has helped contain the drug benefit copays.
- Several DC 37 members are participating in a new NYC H+H program to treat Hepatitis C. The program provides members and their covered dependents free curative medications as they participate in treatment programs at four H+H facilities.
- DC 37 members and their families covered by the EmblemHealth HMO and PPO plans are now eligible for a new program at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The program assigns participants to a team that helps them arrange for treatment at the world-renown cancer center—liberating them from being left on their own to deal with the often intimidating bureaucracy of our nation’s health-care system.
Training, Organizing & Activism
- The size of the union’s organizing department doubled under this year’s unification of DC 37 and DC 1707. But the union isn’t merely devoting its organizing effort toward recruiting new members. Its goal is to deepen the organizing ethos through the union community.
- As a result of the establishment of the Lillian Roberts Women’s Leadership Academy, dozens of
members have participated in workshops and a summer school program to equip them with communication, political and organizing skills they need to be effective leaders in their workplaces, communities and the union at large.
- In October, we launched a new Emerging Leaders Candidate Academy that aims to create a new generation of progressive elected officials from DC 37’s own rank and file. The initiative educates members about what they need to do to run for political office in local, state and federal elections.
- More than 100 activists gathered for an Organizing Leadership Summit in May. And DC 37 offers ongoing classes for union shop stewards. This work helps activists become grassroots enforcers of the union’s workplace contract, and provides them with information that helps them spread the word about the benefit of unionism.
Ultimately, DC 37’s power depends on members committed to addressing the needs of coworkers in the workplace and the broader societal needs of working families. Get Involved!