the DC 37 Officers
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District Council 37
On Nov. 27, 2012, Lillian Roberts was unanimously re-elected to a fifth term as Executive Director of District Council 37, AFSCME, New York City’s largest public employee union. District Council 37 represents 121,000 public workers in New York City and state, 50,000 retirees, 1,000 job titles and 54 locals. She is also a Vice President of the New York State AFL-CIO, a Vice President of the NYC Central Labor Council, and Co-Chair of the Municipal Labor Committee.
Ms. Roberts identified her priorities for her fifth term, which began when she was sworn in on Jan. 22, 2013, as negotiating a new contract, winning additional compensation for certain titles through a salary review process with the city, and overseeing the return to DC 37’s headquarters, which was seriously damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
In 2012, Ms. Roberts was re-elected without opposition to a three-year term as International Vice President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at the AFSCME 40th International Convention in Los Angeles. She was first elected to this post in 2011.
A former NYS Commissioner of Labor, Ms. Roberts was first elected DC 37 Executive Director on Feb. 26, 2002. She was the union’s first female Executive Director. She was re-elected to a three-year term on Jan. 27, 2004, and again on Jan. 23, 2007.
In her first term, Ms. Roberts focused the union’s energy on fighting for a fair contract for members. Ms. Roberts led the DC 37 Bargaining Committee in contract negotiations with NYC to provide raises and safeguard the benefits of the union members who make the city run. The three-year contract settlement, which DC 37 members ratified by 89% in June 2004, provided retroactive raises and a first-year lump sum of $1,000.
In 2006 Ms. Roberts led negotiations for a new contract including a 10% raise, additional funding for the union’s Health and Security Funds, and no concessions. It was considered one of the best contracts in the union’s history and was approved by 97% of the members. An energetic follow-up campaign by DC 37 led to the 2009 lifting of residency restrictions, the final key provision of that contract. Her leadership in the next round of negotiations on the 2008–2010 contract led to raises of 8.18% for the union’s members.
Ms. Roberts has always opposed costly government waste and privatization of public services. DC 37 issued four initial white papers under her guidance identifying up to $3 billion that could be saved by eliminating private consultants and letting city employees do the work. City agencies phased in some of DC 37’s early cost-saving proposals, maintaining services while saving millions in taxpayer dollars — productivity gains that led to an additional 1% raise for DC 37 members in 2005.
However, when funding for the city's contract budget increased rapidly after 2005, climbing to a record cost of $9.2 billion for more than 18,000 contracts, DC 37 issued a fifth white paper in 2009 under her leadership titled “Massive Waste in a Time of Need.” The union has continued to push the city to cut wasteful spending through a campaign that has included award-winning subway ads, TV and radio spots, testimony and lobbying.
With housing costs rising, Ms. Roberts approached the Mayor with a proposal to give DC 37 members and municipal workers an affordable way to meet the city’s then requirement that they live in the five boroughs. The result, launched in 2005, is the innovative DC 37 Municipal Employees Housing Program. The program allows DC 37 members and city workers preference for 5% of units in city-sponsored lotteries for affordable homes and apartments; down payment grants through the NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development; and homebuyer training and education through Neighborhood Housing Services.
Lillian Roberts has a long, proud history as a unionist. She grew up in the tenements of Chicago’s South Side and became a nurse’s aide. In 1959, she joined the hospital local of AFSCME’s District Council 34 becoming a shop steward and officer. She was hired as a staff rep by AFSCME District Council 19 in Chicago, spearheaded the creation of five locals, and led an organizing drive in four Chicago mental hospitals. In 1965, Ms. Roberts moved to New York from Chicago to build up DC 37’s Hospitals Division. She led the union’s campaign to organize thousands of city hospital workers in 1966.
Ms. Roberts was Associate Director of DC 37 from 1967 to 1981 under Victor Gotbaum. She played a major role in organizing new members and establishing an array of benefits, including the largest union-based adult education program in the U.S. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ms. Roberts brought thousands of workers in federally funded jobs into the union. During her 17-year tenure with DC 37, the union’s ranks skyrocketed from 30,000 to 120,000.
More recently, under Ms. Roberts’ leadership, DC 37 won the right in 2004 to represent 2,600 Job Training Participants, who the union pushes the city to hire upon completion of their training, and in 2007, in cooperation with AFSCME, the union established a DC 37 Organizing Department to reach out to non-union workers in DC 37-related titles and bring them the benefits of union membership.
District Council 37
A promoter of unity
DC 37 President Eddie Rodriguez presides over Executive Board and delegates meetings, which sometimes get pretty hot. One of his unofficial duties is to be a peacemaker.
"It's very challenging because you are dealing with a large group of leaders whose locals have specific needs," said Rodriguez, who is also president of Clerical-Administrative Local 1549.
Rodriguez, whose responsibilities include appointing leaders of union committees, encourages thorough discussion. "As president, you do your best to help resolve things," he said. Once the smoke clears, he insists that people come together "as a family."
He said that while controversies sometimes arise, DC 37 activists must remain united as a group in their shared commitment to workers' rights and members' needs.
Rodriguez has dedicated virtually his entire adult life to public service and the union.
He began his civil service career at the age of 19 in 1972 as a Clerk and Eligibility Specialist in the Dept. of Social Services. In 1976, Rodriguez was elected as a shop steward at the Dyckman Center. He then served as chapter chair, delegate, sergeant-at-arms and 5th vice president before his election as president of Local 1549 in 2001. In November 2012, Rodriguez was unanimously reelected to his second term as president of DC 37.
As local president, his priorities have included increasing salaries and benefits, saving jobs, protecting members' rights, ensuring workplace safety, and promoting civilianization at uniformed agencies. In 2013, working with DC 37, he convinced the NYPD to agree to hire more 911 operators to address understaffing.
One of Rodriguez's priorities has also been to promote diversity at the union. A founder and co-chair of Local 1549's Latino Heritage Committee, he served as vice president of the AFL-CIO's Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
As an elected vice president on the Executive Board of DC 37's national union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Rodriguez enjoys dealing with the challenges that face the country's labor movement, such as privatization, attacks on public employee unions and campaigns to cut government programs.
"As president, I enjoy playing an important role in building our council," Rodriguez said. "We can argue and we can disagree. But we must always come together to make sure our institution remains strong."
Gregory N. Heires
Public Employee Press
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Secretary, District Council 37
A recorder of union history
DC 37 Secretary Cliff Koppelman, re-elected in January 2013 to his fifth term, sees the minutes he takes at Executive Board, Delegates and other meetings as "an important responsibility that gives a complete and accurate official record of DC 37."
"The minutes tell our history," he said.
A court employee since 1969, Koppelman brings decades of experience in the labor movement to the DC 37 Executive Board. He served a two-year term as chair of the union's Ethical Practices Committee.
"Civil servants are the guardians for the public, who rely on us for services that improve their quality of life and allow them to be better citizens," he said.
From 1996-2014, Koppelman served as president of Court, County and Dept. of Probation Employees Local 1070, which represents Court Reporters, Interpreters, Secretaries to Judges, Law Librarians and Stenographers in state courthouses and New York City employees in the District Attorneys' offices, Public Administrators' offices and the Dept. of Probation in the five boroughs. He stepped down as local president in October 2014.
The local's Interpreters speak some 200 languages, helping New York's immigrants and residents navigate the daunting court system and city services.
After serving with the U.S. Air Force in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Germany, Koppelman returned to New York City, and eventually became a Court Reporter. He said military service prepared him for court reporting, which he found similar to listening to Morse code.
"I became a DC 37 member and was active in my local. After a year, I was elected chapter chair," he said. Koppelman credits former Local Presidents Mike Gentile and Paul Shelkin as "leaders and mentors who shared their knowledge with me and showed me the way." Koppelman is continuing this tradition by working with his successor, Local 1070 President Fausto Sabatino, to assure a smooth leadership transition.
"All over the country, politicians ignore union contracts and outsource work with little or no accountability as union workers are attacked and vilified," said Koppelman, who works every day to dispel the myth of the lazy civil servant. "When disaster strikes, public employees make sure people are safe and work on the front lines to restore normalcy and services. We make this a better city for all."
"We are fighting for opportunities, for dignity on the job, for the chance to earn a decent living and to protect our pensions and benefits. I'm glad to be part of the team that is moving DC 37 and its membership into the future," said Koppelman. He is an avid reader who loves history, studied judo, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife of over 49 years, Natalie.
Diane S. Williams
Public Employee Press
Maf Misbah Uddin
District Council 37
A supporter of fiscal transparency
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.
Uddin immediately became active in Accountants, Actuaries and Statisticians Local 1407. Local members elected him president in 2000, and two years later he was elected to DC 37's Executive Board as the union's treasurer.
In his first term as treasurer, he initiated a budget process that has improved the transparency of union finances, and since then he has worked closely with DC 37 staff to analyze union expenditures and make long-term capital improvement plans.
In November 2012, Uddin was unanimously reelected to his fourth term as DC 37 treasurer. As treasurer he is responsible for the union's $49.3 million budget. "It's a responsibility that I take seriously, and that I am very proud of," he said.
An advocate for labor rights in his native Bangladesh as well, he is founder and president of the Alliance of South Asian American Labor. Under his leadership, the alliance has increased the political involvement and strength of workers from South Asian countries and exposed the exploitative and hazardous working conditions that factory workers in Bangladesh have to endure to make a living. He also chairs the DC 37 Asian Heritage Committee and serves on the board of the AFL-CIO's Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. Uddin lives in Queens with his wife, Mazeda, and their five children.
Public Employee Press