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PEP Dec 2006
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Public Employee Press

The organizing challenge

Local 1549 targets non-union HMO




Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez (r.) discusses benefits of the union at a Nov. 2 meeting with MetroPlus workers. From left, Barbara Ingram-Edmonds, Jim Cullen and Renee Gainer.

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

With the support of DC 37, Local 1549 is “talkin’ union” with workers at MetroPlus Health Plan.
Ronnie Harris, director of the Clerical-Administrative Division, noted that for more than two years, the union has quietly laid the groundwork — through workplace research and training sessions in organizing — for recruiting about 400 workers at the health-maintenance organization at the Health and Hospitals Corp.

Known as Enrollment Sales Representatives and Enrollment Sales Representative Assistants, the workers handle enrollment applications of people who use the HMO of the city’s public hospital system.

Local 1549 hosted a meeting at DC 37 headquarters on Nov. 2 to hear the concerns of a group of the workers as the union prepared to shift the organizing drive into full gear.

Shop stewards help campaign
Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriquez greeted the workers, who were joined that evening by the union reps and Local 1549 shops stewards who are helping with the campaign.

Local 1549 2nd Vice President Ralph Palladino, Assistant Director Renee Gainer of the Clerical-Administrative Division, DC 37 Director of Field Operations Barbara Ingram-Edmonds and Jim Cullen from the Albany office of DC 37’s national union, AFSCME, were on hand to discuss the nuts and bolts of the organizing effort.

Local 1549 is competing with the Organization of Staff Analysts to represent the workers. As PEP went to press, a date for the representation election hadn’t yet been set, and the union continued to dispute HHC’s attempt to have “no union” as one of the choices on the ballot.

“We need a union—bad—there,” said a MetroPlus worker.

Workers complained about the high cost of medication because they lack a decent drug plan. WithDC 37’s prescription benefit, the workers would be responsible for a relatively modest co-pay and therefore would not face the hefty bills they pay now.

MetroPlus workers also don’t enjoy the disability, child care, tuition reimbursement, scholarships, reimbursement of civil service fees, podiatry, education and legal benefits they would have as Local 1549 members. They also aren’t covered by an economic agreement, and they don’t have contractual protections against disciplinary action.

Workplace protections
“There’s no training,” another MetroPlus worker said. “And responsibilities are being added to the plate.”

Responding to the workers’ criticism of their work circumstances, Palladino pointed out that Local 1549’s working conditions contract allows the union to press management to provide training and equipment.

Besides contractual protections, Ingram-Edmonds pointed out that by joining the union, the workers would be able to take advantage of an affordable housing program and immigration and counseling services.

“We are a real union with a long history of protecting its members,” said Gainer, emphasizing thatDC 37 will react aggressively to address management abuses while providing cover for frontline workers.

 

 

 

 
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