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Public Employee Press
By GREGORY N. HEIRES
The introduction of the grievance tracking system is part of a major digital project to improve the union's day-to-day operations. The union will implement different phases of the project over the coming months.
The project will enable the union to keep more comprehensive and accurate membership records, track city spending and employment practices, strengthen DC 37's political work, mobilize activists more effectively, and help locals better address concerns of their rank and file.
Before September, the union didn't have building-wide Wi-Fi service at its headquarters, and locals needed to arrange for their own wireless services.
"We're finally entering the digital age," said DC 37 Associate Director Henry Garrido, who is coordinating the project with Arthur G. Waka, director of the union's Information Technology Dept. Applications Manager Michael Pennix of the IT Dept. worked closely with the software contractor, InternetGrievanceSystem, to customize the grievance tracking system to the union's needs.
Recently, the IT Dept. held training sessions for the field representative staff of the union's Clerical-Administrative, Professional, Hospitals, White Collar, Blue Collar, and Schools divisions.
The union has armed reps with what Garrido jokingly dubbed "high-tech arsenal packets," which include wireless tablets and portable printer and scanners.
"We've equipped our field staff with a mobile office," Garrido said. "With their computer equipment, they now can take information from members at their workplaces and file grievances immediately."
The need to go digital was underscored by the union's experience with Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Reps were forced to scramble to cover their cases because DC 37 headquarters - which housed their paperwork - was shut down for nine months and they had to work out of satellite offices. This newspaper, along with union attorneys in the DC 37 Legal Dept. and Municipal Employees Legal Services, faced the same dilemma. Staffers generally recovered crucial documents from the building, but the lack of access to all of their records and working in decentralized locations created difficulties.
"The union will eventually become paperless," said Michael Riggio, director of the DC 37 White Collar Division. "This will entirely change the way we do business."
"This will really improve our ability to defend members," said David Boyd, an assistant division director in the Schools Division. Until now, reps would often spend several days preparing grievances. The process involved interviewing, accumulating documents, photocopying and writing letters to management with the grievance form. Now reps will be able to input information into their tablets while interviewing members, scan documents and file the grievance with the push of a button.
Wendell Reid, who is a Council Rep in the White Collar Division, noted that reps will no longer have to rely on their memories and agenda books to keep track of their grievances because their tablets will automatically notify them of contractual deadlines for proceeding with grievances. That is very important, because cases are time-bound and therefore can be lost if the union doesn't show up at a hearing or misses a filing deadline for additional steps in the grievance process.
"This will help me be more efficient and organized," said Council Rep Amena Black, who also works in the White Collar Division.
At DC 37, union reps are assigned to specific locals. Each rep will only have access to his or her assigned areas, which ensures the confidentiality of members represented by other locals.
In essence, reps are going to be working with an electronic filing cabinet. They will have electronic access to contracts; city policies; safety and health information; membership lists with worksite, job status and contact data; grievance documents, and information about managers and agency structures. They will use drop-boxes to file grievances and generate reports.
"The tracking system is going to be transformative," said Chris Wilgenkamp, assistant director of the White Collar Division. "We will be able to instantaneously check on the status of our work." He added that, reps will no longer have carry heavy bags with them to workplaces. They will send management grievances at the touch of a button. Local presidents will be able keep abreast of business through their tablets without having to worry about waiting for a day or more after making phone inquiries in the building.
"This is going to be a big help to me," said Eileen Muller, president of Brooklyn Library Guild Local 1482. "I will have just about everything I need at the tips of my fingers when members call for help."
"I have always believed we must move on from our archaic paper system," said Fitz Reid, president of Health Services Employees Local 768, a big fan of the digital project. "Better access to information and the improvement of the grievance process will make us a stronger union. Information is power."