Cultural Trust Restores Union’s Legal Services

Local leaders met with DC 37 Health and Security Benefit Director Jodie Goldstein and MELS Director Bill Whalen Jan. 28 to finalize restoring the union’s legal benefit to 3,000 members and retirees in six locals at the city’s museums, gardens and zoos. Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera


Beginning March 1, DC 37 will resume offering legal services to members employed at and who have retired from New York City’s cultural institutions.

“We are geared up and excited to offer much-needed legal services to these DC 37 members with no increase to their dues,” said William Whalen, the director of the Municipal Employees Legal Services. About 3,000 DC 37 members in six locals: 374, 1306, 1501, 1502, 1503, and 1559 and retirees will have access to MELS lawyers. These union members work at the American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, Wave Hill, the New York Aquarium, Brooklyn, Queens and NY Botanical Gardens, and other cultural sites. They should expect to receive a letter from DC 37 explaining the benefit shortly, Whalen said.

After the 2008 stock market crash, the Cultural Trust lost a lot of money. Trustees voted to discontinue the MELS benefit, citing the prohibitive costs for a service members hardly used.

“Now that the market is doing better and the Cultural Trust is doing well, there is nothing preventing the Trust from offering this valuable benefit to employees again. This is a victory for our members,” said Raul Domenech, a trustee and the Wildlife Conservation Society Local 1501 president.

Over the years, Domenech said, longtime union members recalled having the legal benefit. Others, he said, “inquired about it because of divorce or trying to buy a house, and I wouldn’t be able to help them.”

“MELS is something you don’t know you need until you need it,” Domenech added. “When a member is suddenly in a situation where they need a lawyer, having MELS can save them thousands of dollars.”

When Domenech became a trustee in 2019, he and the other Cultural trustees from DC 37 made restoring the MELS benefit an agenda item. Finally, last December trustees voted unanimously to restore it.

Cultural trustees are Domenech, Metropolitan Museum of Art Local 1503 President Rawle Campbell, William Souffrant, president of Brooklyn Museum Local 1502 and Chris Wilgenkamp, director of Technology and Member Services at DC 37.

“The Cultural Presidents are unified when it concerns any benefit for our members,” said Campbell. “Getting the Cultural Institutions back into MELS is a good start. Special thanks to President Raul Domenech for prioritizing this benefit.”

MELS provides legal representation in Housing Court, Section 8, NYCHA, landlord-tenant disputes and eviction proceedings; consumer matters, bankruptcy and represents defendants in debt collection and foreclosure matters; Family Court and matrimonial disputes including separation agreements, protection orders and divorces, paternity, custody, visitation and adoption; real estate transactions in New York City; Consumer debt and bankruptcies; wills, power of attorney, health care proxies, SSI/Disability, Medicaid Food Stamps; living wills and health care proxies, school suspensions, immigration and citizenship, and other civil matters.

“DC 37 not only protects its members on the job,” Whalen said. “With the MELS benefit, the union stands behind members at home and in their community and continues to do so throughout their retirement.”

Local 1503 and Local 1501 will hold MELS informational meetings on the following dates:

Local 1501:
February 5
New York Aquarium, ED Hall at 5:30 p.m.
602 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11224

March 18
New York Hall of Science at 5:30 p.m.
47-01 111th St.
Corona, NY 11368

March 31
Central Park Zoo, Education Class Room at 5.30 p.m.
64th St. and 5 Ave.
New York, NY 10021

Local 1503:
February 24
Metropolitan Museum of Art – Art Study Room/Uris Center
81st St. and 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10028

Please check with your union rep or local president for MELS informational meeting dates or call MELS at 212-815-1111 to schedule a screening session.


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