By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Standing up for themselves to speak truth to power, about 50 members of two DC 37 locals united in a peaceful protest outside Brooklyn Surrogate Court January 14, to call for the ousting of the Public Administrator of Kings County.
“For too long we’ve been totally disrespected by someone who has no regard for workers or the community,” said Anthony Wells, president of SSEU Local 371, whose members staff the office of KCPA Commissioner Richard Buckheit, a state appointee.
“My members ask that they be treated with dignity and respect,” said Fausto Sabatino, president of Court, County and Dept. of Probation Employees Local 1070. “He called the Department of Investigations on my members to pressure them to quit. One member resigned rather than face abuse. Please Buckheit, take a hike!”
The crowd erupted chanting “Buckheit take a hike!”
“We are standing where justice prevails,” said emcee Rev. Tahaka Robinson, of the Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, who kept the crowd fired up. “Dr. King said, ‘The arc of moral universe bends towards justice.’ We are the moral conscience!”
Social distance and the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the union members who gathered under Lady Justice to demand justice, dignity and respect at work. And the union contends they deserve no less. But court workers charge that Buckheit regularly uses discrimination, threats and intimidation toward women and Black and Latino workers and the community at Brooklyn Surrogate Court.
DC 37 local leaders including Wells, Sabatino, Local 1503 President Rawle Campbell, City Council members and several lawyers supported the lunch hour demonstration held on the eve of the national holiday honoring slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
“The community and the union are one,” said Wells. “We are affected by this belligerent abuse and discriminatory practices. It is mental violence. There is no place for it. We are making good trouble in the tradition of John Lewis. We say: Commissioner Buckheit, behave or get the hell out!”
“The struggle is still real,” said Donald Nesbit, Local 372 Board of Education Employees executive vice president. “We are united. Buckheit, we were here before you and we will be here after you’re gone.”
“Enough is enough!’” said City Council member Darma V. Diaz. “Buckheit is on a power trip but we are here to say: “Not on our time, not on our backs!”
Long time union ally and retired state Assembly member Annette M. Robinson reminded the crowd: “We stood down the KKK when they came to New York City. We forced them to take off their hoods and retreat. We cannot allow a hostile work environment. Not here, not today. We will continue to fight. Don’t let nobody turn us ‘round!”
Several workers fought back tears and others let them flow as they shared their stories of abuse by Buckheit.
“My team is hurting,” said Latoya Richardson, an office manager and Local 371 member. “We love our jobs. We earn our living working hard for the community. But we are disrespected, discriminated against, harassed and retaliated against. We’re here to say ‘NO MORE!’”
Union leaders also allege Buckheit shows total disrespect at labor-management meetings. Wells said: “He is uncooperative. He started this problem, but we’re here to finish it!”