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  Public Employee Press

PEP Feb 2001
Table of Contents
  La Voz

Public Employee Press

Growing the green machine


“The union opened the door, and the members are marching through it,” said Local 376 Shop Steward Tom Mollo, an upstate Watershed Maintainer.

In 2000, members in record numbers poured through that door into DC 37 headquarters to operate telephone banks, and they piled onto buses to Albany to tell the Legislature their needs.

They put on “Fair Contract Now” buttons and marched out of schools, hospitals, offices and work sites from Brooklyn to the Bronx to tell City Hall they need a raise.

And on Election Day, they rose before dawn and worked into the evening to blanket subway stops and polling places with literature to help elect candidates who care about public services, working families and their communities.

For District Council 37, the year 2000 centered on three big issues — pensions, the contract and the election. By the end of the year, members’ efforts were answered with three giant victories: The state enacted the greatest pension improvements in a generation, the voters elected Hillary Rodham Clinton to the U.S. Senate, and settlement loomed on the huge benefit package (see page 3) that represents tremendous progress toward negotiations on an economic contract.

DC 37’s Green Machine grew like it had never grown before.

Pressure for a new contract mounted all year. The new 300-member Bargaining Caucus strengthened two-way communications with members at their work locations as the Executive Board, the Negotiating Committee of local presidents and the DC 37 Delegates considered the union’s official bargaining proposals.

While union leaders presented the members’ demands to the city on March 15, thousands of municipal workers wore huge contract buttons with pride. On their lunch hours, they picketed outside their jobs carrying signs that called for “A Fair Contract for NYC’s Everyday Heroes.”

With support from the Central Labor Council, the drive intensified at the Labor Day Parade. A fair contract for public employees was one of the day’s major themes for some 300,000 marchers. Late in 2000, the Municipal Labor Committee focused on a plan to improve health benefits citywide. Talks with city negotiators reached the handshake stage late on the Friday before Christmas, and the package was ratified by the MLC in January.

Massive participation also made the difference in the drive for a permanent cost-of-living adjustment and other pension improvements. DC 37’s national union, AFSCME, organized a statewide lobbying day in April, and solidarity was strong as 1,300 members turned out to meet with legislators.

The State AFL-CIO organized a giant COLA rally on May 9 to coincide with DC 37’s own annual Lobby Day. The 10,000 unionists who marched on the state capital — including DC 37 members by the busload — cheered as they heard the news that the governor and Assembly and Senate leaders from both parties had agreed to pass COLA legislation and more.

In swift succession, the legislature enacted a historic package of pension gains that will benefit every retiree and working member: the permanent annual COLA for retirees, a contribution cut that will raise take-home pay by 3 percent for most members in Tiers 3 and 4, additional service credits for Tier 1 and 2 members, and a half-dozen other improvements.

The union’s political action apparatus reached a new peak in the battle for COLA and an even higher pitch of activity for the Nov. 7 election. Union members made more than 200,000 telephone calls in the campaigns for Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and the legislators who made this year’s pension gains possible.

A record 1,200 volunteer activists turned out on Election Day. And again, they delivered victory: In New York State, every political candidate endorsed by DC 37 won. Even as a giant “tilt” sign rose over Florida’s questionable vote count, DC 37 retirees were battling for every vote to count.

“Leadership from the Executive Board and local presidents combined with increasing participation by union members to make 2000 a year of tremendous accomplishments for DC 37,” said Administrator Lee Saunders. “And we are in strong shape to advance toward an economic contract and more political victories in 2001.”

New activists felt it strongly and old-timers with decades of DC 37 history under their belts knew it — 2000 was one of the great years in the union’s history.




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