Cultural Institution Employees $ave with MELS Legal Benefit

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

Dozens more DC 37 members who work at NYC’s cultural institutions are using MELS since union representatives on the Trust for Cultural Resources negotiated to restore the benefit in 2020. 

“Tops on our agenda was to restore the legal benefit to our 3,000 members and retirees. MELS is something you don’t know you need until you need it,” said Raul Domenech, president of Local 1501 Wildlife Conservation Society who is a cultural trustee. The benefit was suspended after the 2008 recession.

“When a member is suddenly in a situation where they need a lawyer, whether buying a home or drowning in debt, MELS lawyers can help,” Domenech said. “It’s a union benefit that can save a member thousands of dollars.” 

Five trustees representing DC 37 worked to have the Cultural Trust restore the union-negotiated legal benefit to retirees and members of six DC 37 locals — 374, 1306, 1501, 1502, 1503, and 1559. These unionized employees of the world-renowned cultural institutions now can access the Municipal Employees Legal Services benefit with no increase in dues. 

As of Dec. 2020, MELS has opened about 125 legal cases for Cultural employees, with more underway. Of the legal services members need most:

  • 25% are housing cases and landlord-tenant disputes 
  • 20% are Family Court matters
  • 20% are consumer debt and bankruptcy cases
  • 15% are wills and end-of-life documents, and 
  • 10% each are for divorce and real estate. 

“Members are relieved to know they can get free legal advice and representation, especially in these uncertain times,” said Leonard Paul, a trustee and Local 374 president.

Other union representatives serving as Cultural trustees are Rawle Campbell, president of Metropolitan Museum of Art Local 1503; Wilson Souffrant, president of Brooklyn Museum Local 1502; and DC 37’s Director of Technology and Member Services Chris Wilgenkamp.

The cultural institutions, whose staffs include DC 37 members, are the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Staten Island Zoo, and New York Aquarium; public gardens such as Wave Hill Gardens, the Brooklyn, Queens and New York Botanical Gardens; the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Hall of Science.

To schedule a MELS screening session, email MELSscreeningunit@dc37.net or call 212.815.1111.

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