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PEP April 2006
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Public Employee Press

Local 375 wins 500 grievances at DEP
Total estimated at $10 million over last four years


Spearheads of estimated $10 million grievance victories at Dept. of Environmental Protection were Steve Awad, President of Local 375’s Chapter 8, seated third from left, and Local 375 Rep Karl Toth, seated second from right, with members.

More than 500 Local 375 members have won millions of dollars in back pay and upgrades over the past four years as the union has worked with the Dept. of Environmental Protection to clean up a huge backlog of grievances.

The awards total an estimated $10 million, according to Local 375.

“We convinced DEP that it was in the interest of both sides to work together rather than letting grievances pile up and go to arbitration,” said Claude Fort, president of Civil Service Technical Guild Local 375. “In most cases, DEP was losing the arbitrations, and its hard-nosed policy was hurting the morale of our members, who clearly weren’t being paid appropriately.”

The bulk of the grievances concerned members in the local’s Chapter 8 (Water Resources), which covers 900 workers. Three other chapters at DEP represent environmental engineering (Chapter 13), air and noise control (Chapter 32) and the upstate watershed (Chapter 40).

$90,000 back pay
In addition to promotions, many members won salary increases ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 and back pay awards of around $20,000 for two to three years of out-of-title work. Members were often promoted more than one level or into a higher title series. Some got back pay awards as high as $50,000 and even, in one instance, $90,000.

Local 375 hasn’t actually totaled up all the victories. But Chapter 8 President Steve Awad, who handles the grievances with Local 375 Rep Karl Toth, figures that if 500 workers won an average of $20,000 each, the total would be $10 million.

Awad said resolving the accumulated grievances and improving bitter labor relations began shortly after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg started his first term. A union delegation led by DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts, Fort and Awad met with new DEP Commissioner Christopher Ward. Ward, no longer at the agency, agreed to have DEP’s labor relations director work with the union to resolve the cases.

“Besides helping improve members’ living standards, our work at DEP has improved the image of the union itself,” said Jon Forster, the local’s 1st vice president. “This is important because ultimately the strength of the union depends on its support among members.”

Awad said that when he became chapter president several years ago, members were indifferent about the union and meeting attendance was sparse.

Ionnis Iliopoulos, who won promotions from Assistant Mechanical Engineer to Associate Project Manager 2 and Mechanical Engineer 2, acknowledged that he used to rip up union mailings before Chapter 8 started to more aggressively represent him and his co-workers.

These days, Iliopoulos earns $20,000 more thanks to his own grievances. He shows up at the monthly chapter meetings — which are now attended by 300 members — and he has twice chaired the chapter’s election committee. “It would have been impossible to get what we deserved without the union,” he said.

“There’s a lot more faith and trust in the union,” said Local 375 Pension Chair Jean Placide, who was promoted from Assistant Engineer to Associate Project Manager 1 through a grievance. “And now, DEP is recognizing what we are doing. They are settling most grievances without fighting.”

— Gregory N. Heires


 

 
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