By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Local 983 is working around the clock to build union membership in a massive campaign to enroll 1,500 new City Seasonal Aides. The Parks Department hired the CSAs to clean up public parks across the five boroughs.
“Our grievance reps are working 15-hour days in order to get these newest Parks employees to join the union,” said President Joe Puleo. Since June, the local has signed up about 1,000 members as part of their all-out effort.
During the COVID-19 lock down, New York City residents are using neighborhood parks, beaches and boardwalks, urban forests and nature trails more than ever. These greenspaces are essential to the well-being of New Yorkers seeking reprieve from the confines of their apartments and homes.
But in 2020 and throughout the pandemic, public parks quickly became overrun with trash and debris.
DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, local union leaders and the Play Fair Coalition of parks advocates successfully lobbied City Hall to increase the Parks Department budget to $603 million. City Hall added $117 million to pay for more staff, cleaning and maintenance.
“The Parks Department launched a citywide cleanup that includes converting Jobs Training Participants to City Seasonal Aides. These jobs are funded through December 2021,” explained Puleo.
The new workers help clean and maintain acres of city parks and greenspaces, recreation centers, public pools, and 14 miles of beaches from Staten Island’s South Beach to Orchard Beach, the Bronx Riviera. Additionally, the City rehired 200 Urban Park Rangers and PEP Officers in Local 983 it had laid off last year.
“We have about 99 to 100% of full-time Parks employees represented by DC 37 Local 983 enrolled as dues-paying union members. Our goal is to enroll these newest Parks employees. The challenge is there is a high turnover among JTPs that complicates matters,” said Puleo.
“We meet individuals who never belonged to a union before. They are so grateful to learn of all the benefits DC 37 members get,” said Marlena Giga, an Associate Urban Parks Ranger and grievance rep.
DC 37 members receive medical and dental coverage, paid holidays and sick time, and many more union-negotiated benefits. They also get tuition-free college through AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“I visit 20 to 30 city pools and beaches each week, meeting new Parks employees and sharing information about our union,” said Local 983 Grievance Rep Donald Chapman. He brings bottled water and enrollment packets with green DC 37 signup cards. It is all part of a full-court press to organize as many city workers as possible.
Giga said every day she meets a mix of people from youths to retirees, who are glad to join the corps of unionized Parks workers. “CSAs are the backbone of the Parks Department,” Giga said. “They are hardworking and proud to keep our city parks clean. Their work is vital to our city’s comeback from this pandemic.”