By LILLIAN ROBERTS
District Council 37, AFSCME
Around the holidays in December, as the union gets ready to help numerous
members in need, I also ask myself whether I have done enough personally
to make someones life a little better.
And when it comes to the problems faced by immigrants in the United
States today, I feel the same way. Its important to speak out
on the big national issues that have brought millions of people
including many of our members into the streets in recent months.
But we have to do more both as individuals and as a union.
Heres an example of what one person can do: After the 9/11 tragedy,
a Jewish staffer phoned his Muslim friends in the union and said,
You may be facing a lot of slurs and hostility because of this.
If you have to go anyplace where people might give you a hard time,
call me and I will walk with you. If you need any kind of help at
all, just call me. Its vital for every one of us to do
our part personally to extend a helping hand to the newcomers in our
midst, and for a large and important institution like District Council
37 to show the way in providing services to our members from the far
corners of the globe.
At DC 37, we are known for the tremendous array of services we provide
to members of our union family, and that includes our sisters and
brothers who were born elsewhere. Let me give you a few examples of
what I am talking about.
Hundreds of members every year participate in the English as a Second
Language course offered by our Education Fund, which focuses on helping
foreign-born members improve their spoken and written English communication
skills. We offer these classes close to members jobs in Manhattan,
Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. In a single class, participants may
come from Russia and Japan, South America and South Asia, Argentina
New York is the classic cultural melting pot, but it is
also a city of ethnic enclaves, and some of the classes take on the
flavor of their neighborhoods. You will find more Haitian Creole spoken
near Kings County Hospital and more Eastern European tongues in the
North Bronx. But all the students are working hard so they can communicate
better with their neighbors, move ahead on the job and become well-informed
members of a democratic society. DC 37 believes in helping them with
all these goals.
Our other language programs such as Spanish, Mandarin Chinese
and Italian teach much more than the language. They help members
improve their understanding of other groups and their cultural sensitivity.
Opening the doors to city jobs
When discrimination based on race, sex, disability, sexual orientation
or country of origin undermines our members rights to equal
treatment, DC 37 stands up and fights back. Decades ago, our Legal
Dept. won the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in this field, Dougall
v. Sugarman. The 1973 ruling canceled a law that banned non-citizens
from city jobs and opened the door to first hundreds and then thousands
of DC 37 members who today play a vital role in keeping New York City
As workers from around the globe, especially professionals, flocked
to city jobs, our lawyers continued to process their claims regarding
promotion and pension rights. And when many were disqualified from
their jobs because the former city Personnel Dept. had overly narrow
views of what foreign educational degrees were acceptable, our Legal
Department broke through that barrier to keep open the doors to quality
civil service jobs.
Our Citizenship Committee one of the few union programs of
its kind helps empower members to become citizens. Working
with the committee, lawyers from our Municipal Employees Legal Service
have already helped hundreds of members fill out the complicated legal
papers (which outside lawyers charge from $500 to $1,000 for) while
committee members help them prepare to pass the difficult test.
DC 37 is proud that a local president who is himself an immigrant
to the United States heads this committee and that many other local
presidents and officers come from countries around the world. One
of our highest officers, DC 37 Treasurer Maf Misbah Uddin, helped
his nation, Bangladesh, gain its freedom before he came here, where
he is carrying on the struggle for the rights of all immigrants and
all our members.
At DC 37, we dont just talk about progress for our foreign-born
sisters and brothers, we provide the services and the leadership to
make immigrant rights a reality.