DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido is bringing an organizing culture back to the union.
Worried about right-wing attacks on organized labor throughout the country, Garrido has focused on encouraging greater member participation and rebuilding the union since the DC 37 Executive Board appointed him in 2014 to finish out the term of his predecessor, Lillian Roberts, who retired.
“We cannot sit back,” said Garrido. In November 2015, DC 37 Delegates elected Garrido to a three-year term, which began in January 2016.
“Working families have been getting hammered for four decades,” Garrido said. “Unions are really the last standing progressive institution in the country that has the power and will to fight to protect and improve the standard of living.”
After losing more than 10,000 members because of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s austerity policies, DC 37 is turning the corner. Since Garrido took over, membership has grown by 4,000.
The union worked out an agreement with the city’s new administration to contract in several thousand information technology workers. It is bringing in new members by identifying city employees misclassified as managers who should belong to the union. The union is working with the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to help welfare recipients in the city’s job training program find real jobs.
Garrido’s deep concern about economic injustice and poverty is one of the reasons he decided to dedicate his life to the labor movement, and he has brought that concern to the bargaining table in tense contract negotiations, most recently with the City University of New York, where thousands of DC 37 members earn less than $15 an hour.
Garrido learned about the value of unions from his mother, a garment worker, who used to tell him about the indignities and abuses on the factory floors in the city. His exposure to the economic exploitation in his native country, the Dominican Republic, also instilled in him a desire to help the downtrodden, something he has acted upon as executive director.
Fighting for better pay
Last year, Garrido worked with Board of Education Employees Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I on an agreement to boost the pay of many low-wage employees, primarily in the schools. Over the long term, the union hopes to win greater pay equity for women. In early January, Garrido accompanied Bill de Blasio at union headquarters when he announced a $15 an hour minimum wage for 50,000 low-wage city employees and contracted employees. Many of the 20,000 regular city workers will be covered by the pay increase. Perhaps the greatest initiative of the Garrido administration is its “Union Strong” campaign to conduct one-on-one conversations with 50,000 members and to urge thousands of agency-fee payers to join the union. Agency-fee payers are workers who haven’t joined but pay a “fair share” for union services, such as collective bargaining and workplace protections. DC 37 staffers and activists have signed up thousands of agency-fee payers through the Union Strong campaign.
The initiative is part of a nationwide undertaking by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, DC 37’s parent union, in response to a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could devastate public employee unions and the millions of workers they support. A decision in favor of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association would overturn the fair share rule, which has been upheld in the courts for more than four decades.
With a keen interest in public policy and administration, Garrido said he has enjoyed several new responsibilities as executive director.
He is now a trustee on the city’s Workforce Investment Board, which advises the mayor on jobs and economic development. He serves on the board of the New York City Employees Retirement System, where he is a critic of outlandish investment fees. He is a member of the board of directors of the Dominican Republic Parade, a position that helps the union improve its community ties.
At the union, Garrido chairs the DC 37 Annuity Fund. And he is devoting special attention to the DC 37 Health & Security Plan to study how to strengthen the union’s prescription drug benefit, which is being battered by the rising costs of medications.
“Leading DC 37 is a calling for me,” Garrido said. “The union is the best vehicle our society has to improve the lives of working families. That’s why I am so passionate about our mission.”
Gregory N. Heires
Public Employee Press
District Council 37
Uniting the union
DC 37 President Eddie Rodriguez was re-elected unopposed in November 2015 to a second full term, which began in January 2016.
First elected in May 2011 after his predecessor retired in mid-term, Rodriguez presides over what is at times a contentious democracy. But in those times, he responds in a relaxing, often humorous manner that helps the delegates gatherings run smoothly.
As he told the DC 37’s Public Employee Press in November 2013, “It’s very challenging because you are dealing with a large group of leaders whose locals have specific needs.”
Apart from presiding over delegates and executive board meetings, Rodriguez is also in charge of appointments to union committees.
Rodriguez, who is president of Clerical-Administrative Employees Local 1549, has dedicated his life to public service, since arriving at the Dept. of Social Services in 1972, as a 19-year-old Clerk and Eligibility Specialist.
Shortly afterward, he committed fully to the union. In 1976, he became a shop steward at the Dyckman Center, beginning his rise within Local 1549, first serving as a chapter chair, then as a delegate, sergeant-at-arms and later as 5th vice president. In 2001, Rodriguez took over as president of the local.
In his tenure as Local 1549 president, Rodriguez has worked tirelessly to advance the rights and improve the conditions of his members, pushing for civilianization at the NYPD and fighting on behalf of 911 workers regarding excessive overtime and unfair work rules and labor practices.
Rodriguez has also been an enthusiastic supporter of DC 37/AFSCME Strong, leading his local in developing intensive training for shop stewards and advancing the union against attacks by right-wing special interests out to destroy the labor movement.
“We have to come together as one,” he said, in speaking of the organizing effort.
Public Employee Press
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Secretary, District Council 37
Moving DC 37 ahead
Walthene Primus was elected Secretary at the DC 37 Delegates Council meeting in January 2016.
With 91,000 plus votes, she won by a landslide the three-way race to fill the executive position vacated by former Local 1070 President Cliff Koppelman, who retired.
Her election occurred at the Delegates Council’s monthly meeting on Jan. 26, 2016. The union’s more than 300 delegates cast weighted votes representing a portion of their locals’ membership. Primus brings four decades of experience to the office. She chairs the DC 37 Women’s Committee and serves on AFSCME’s Women’s Advisory Committee of DC 37’s parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently appointed Primus as one of seven commissioners to the newly created Commission on Gender Equity.
Primus is a strong advocate for the rights of female workers, who make up almost 60 percent of the union’s membership. She is committed to ensuring that all women are respected on the job, and also are paid equal wages and get opportunities for training and promotions.
“We have to engage members to raise their appreciation for the union in their lives,” she said. “Membership in DC 37 impacts the whole person — it protects their jobs, wages and health so they can sustain their families, and live in safer communities that receive better services.”
As a child of the Great Migration, Primus moved to Brooklyn at age 5 from St. George, S.C., and she has been working since she was 15. Her civil service career began in 1977 at the New York City Housing Authority.
Primus served as was a shop steward for NYCHA Clerical Employees Local 957 for almost 15 years before members elected her president. She’s been a DC 37 Executive Board member since 2002. “I am looking forward to moving DC 37 ahead,” Primus said.
“The labor movement faces vicious attacks from conservatives that are far more serious than our members may realize. I’m here to support our executive director and take our agenda to the next level.”
Diane S. Williams
Public Employee Press
DC 37 Treasurer Maf Misbah Uddin joined the municipal workforce in 1988 as an Actuary working for the New York City Office of the Actuary.
Actuaries make complex calculations for pensions and other related areas based on information such as life expectancies. Uddin has master's degrees in actuarial science, mathematics and demography.
Maf Misbah Uddin, president of Accountants, Actuaries and Statisticians Local 1407 since 2000, began his fifth term as treasurer of DC 37 in January 2016.
Uddin became an active union member shortly after joining the municipal workforce as an Actuary in 1988. He holds masters’ degrees in mathematics, demography and actuarial science.
Since becoming treasurer of the union, Uddin has devoted countless hours to DC 37’s annual budget process. In his first term as treasurer, Uddin began a budget process that improved the transparency of the union’s finances. He has persisted in working with DC 37’s accounting staff and other key workers to analyze expenditures and in making long-term capital improvement plans.
Uddin’s expertise helped to keep DC 37 on budget during the trying times of immensely expensive repairs from the damage to the union’s headquarters in lower Manhattan following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
In addition to his work at DC 37, Uddin is a leader in the South Asian American community. He is the founder and president of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor (ASAAL), which celebrates the many contributions of South Asians to the labor movement.
Uddin was a major advocate pushing for New York City public schools to observe two of the most important Muslim holidays, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, which were added to the school holiday calendar beginning in the 2015-16 academic year.
Public Employee Press