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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

2021 #Laborstrong

Year in review


Thanks to a positive change in national governance, releasing us from the shadows of the previous four years, DC 37 was busy at work throughout the year, striding forth with determined purpose. The union got results in its advocacy, with legislative wins and fair budgets from Albany and New York City. The union also moved forward in fine-tuning its services, instituting needed internal reforms, and introducing programs to better serve its 150,000 members and 50,000 retirees.

This was a year when DC 37 grew more potent and influential in city policy discussions, and you—our members—became the deciding factor in who would lead New York City.

Biden Inaugurated: Unions Benefit

After President Joe Biden was inaugurated, he moved fast to repair the damage wrought by the Trump Administration by implementing a pro-worker agenda. He began shortly after taking his Oath of Office by asking for the resignation of Peter Robb, the Trump-appointed General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.

Robb refused so Biden immediately fired him, along with his Deputy Alice Stock, thus setting the tone of a proactive leader acting on behalf of labor.

Biden ordered agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to refocus their attention on worker safety and issued executive orders establishing emergency paid leave and a $15 minimum wage for federal employees and contractors.

He also nominated former union leader and then- Boston mayor Marty Walsh as Labor Secretary. After confirmation, Walsh implemented strong pro-union policies and advocated for the American Rescue Plan Act, signed by Biden on March 11.

The American Rescue Plan Act was strongly supported and lobbied for by DC 37 and its national union, AFSCME. The Act provides needed aid to states, cities, and schools devastated by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on frontline essential public workers who faced layoffs due to the myriad of fiscal crises facing municipalities and states, thus saving thousands of union jobs.

The legislative victories continued. After a long series of negotiations, the U.S. Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Nov. 15 (see page 5), which provides millions in aid to New York City to improve needed infrastructure while providing funds for green initiatives.

#GetVaccinated: DC 37’s Successful Campaign to Get Members Vaccinated

The union embarked on a campaign to encourage members to get the COVID-19 vaccines once they had become available. For months, using PEP Talk, the DC 37 blog, and social media, DC 37 shared testimonials of members who received the vaccine, telling readers of their reasons why.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido personally got involved – getting the first shot of the Moderna vaccine during a press conference in front of tv cameras and print reporters with 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg in Harlem on Feb. 26. In addition, other DC 37 leaders pitched in to encourage members, including Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I, who also serves as DC 37 President, SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells, Local 2627 President Laura Morand, Local 1655 President Magaly Rosario, Local 1501 President Raul Domenech, and Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez.

In March, DC 37 amped up its campaign for members to #GetVaccinated by utilizing staff to set up appointments for active members. In addition, to kick off the campaign, the union co-hosted a successful “DC 37 Vaccination Day” at Citi Field with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

By early November, the vaccination rate for DC 37 city employees was at 92% and growing.

When the City’s agencies decided to enforce vaccine mandates, DC 37 and other unions fought back, eventually negotiating an agreement with many agencies in early November for members who did not provide proof of at least one dose of the vaccine to have the option to resign or take a leave of absence. In both scenarios, employees maintained their health benefits. In his reaction after the deal was reached, Garrido said, “We have reached an agreement that gives our members options. Individuals can now make choices based on what is best for them and their families and know they will have health benefits available during this critical time.”

DC 37’s Involvement Critical in NYC Primaries, November General

The union played a pivotal role during a historic election season in New York City (see page 4). On Jan. 27, as part of a coalition of other city unions under the name #LaborStrong2021, DC 37 joined 32BJ SEIU, Communications Workers of America District 1, the Hotel Trades Council (HTC), and the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), in endorsing a slate of 31 NYC City Council candidates in the June 22 primary.

Eventually, DC 37 delegates also endorsed dozens of additional candidates for the city’s legislative body. The Political Action Department played a central role in vetting candidates, and in conjunction with the Political Action Committee, set up online forums featuring candidates for mayor and comptroller. These events allowed members to ask questions from those running for political office.

On Mar. 24, DC 37 endorsed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for New York City Mayor. The reasons were clear.

“Eric has been a friend of this union since his earliest days in public service,” Garrido said. “Labor is in his blood; his mother was a DC 37 member. He’s stood with us at rallies and marched with us at protests. He knows that New York City thrives when its workers thrive. He’s committed to being the blue collar mayor and friend of labor our workers deserve.”

The union began a focused multimedia campaign for Adams and other endorsed candidates to get their message out to members. Using social media resources as well as a detailed 14-page insert in the PEPtalk discussing the union’s endorsements of citywide, borough, and City Council candidates, DC 37 went all out to use its power to make the union’s voice heard.

On June 22, DC 37-endorsed candidates won across the board, and Eric Adams won in a tight race that was finally decided nearly two weeks later.

Adams went on to victory in the Nov. 2 General Election, as did other union-supported candidates. The union’s role in the election demonstrated its power and influence and further proved the union is the force to be reckoned with in New York City public policy decisions.

Union Services Become Creative During the Pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the DC 37 Health & Security Fund and the Education Fund stepped up their work, taking creative approaches to provide necessary services to members and retirees. Unable to stage in-person events and workshops, several departments worked hard at developing innovative ways of reaching out.

The Municipal Employees Legal Services (MELS) provided many webinars on crucial subjects, including evictions, rent relief, wills, student loan forbearance, citizenship, and many other legal services. In addition, the Personal Services Unit provided webinars on dealing with stress during the pandemic.

The Education Fund and the Education Department of the Non-Profit Private Sector continued their work, maintaining a full schedule of classes and certifications. The Lillian Roberts Women’s Leadership Academy continued to educate and empower union female activists to become strong leaders.

The Ed Fund also added the Green Jobs Training Initiative, which trained City employees with the experience to be the next generation of green workers. So far, 77 students have been certified to do such work.

Union restructures Divisions

This year the union made changes to its division structure, with DC 37 renaming and consolidating six divisions into four. This reform strengthens the deliverance of services and the ability to protect the rights of members.

Despite the pandemic, work continued on reconstructing the DC 37 Dental Center in lower Manhattan, reopening on Nov. 15 (see pages 10-11).

In the late fall of this year, DC 37 introduced an expanded health program for retirees, the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan. The union played a heavy role in developing the plan, ensuring it’s best suited to meet the unique needs of its members.

Communications with members expanded. In addition to the union’s magazine PEP talk, DC 37 used e-mailed Action Alerts to inform members of events and programs, and expanded utilizing web resources and social media tools, such as the union’s website,, the DC37 Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to update members on the union’s work and upcoming events.

Vital to increasing coverage of DC 37 priorities were press releases and op-eds by DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido in several New York City newspapers.

Grievance Wins/EMT Contract Ratified/Legislative Victories

Field Reps at DC 37 divisions and the DC 37 Legal Department worked diligently on behalf of members wronged by management, winning grievances throughout the year. Victories include Local 1505 winning a case against the Parks and Recreation Department on violations of the collective bargaining law in representation in investigations and disciplinary hearings; and Local 768 Licensed Creative Arts Therapists being awarded about $10,000 in retroactive pay because of a failure to pay them their Recurring Incremental Payments (RIPS), a violation of the Citywide Contract.

More grievance wins may be found in this issue of PEP talk (see pages 12-13).

In a significant victory, members of EMS Local 2507 and Local 3621 overwhelmingly ratified a hard-fought 49-month contract with the City that included salary increases, improved recruitment and retention, and an expanded mental health program. The agreement included thousands of dollars in retroactive pay dating back to 2018 by the end of this year, increases to longevity pay, annuities, uniform allowance payments, and a pay differential for EMS workers trained and able to work with the City’s mental health response program.

In the state budget, thanks in part to the Rescue Act, the union held the line on cuts to New York City services, particularly with NYC Health+Hospitals, and prevented potential layoffs of City workers.

The budget also restored millions of dollars to CUNY, including the School of Labor and Urban Studies.

Funding made available to New York City through the American Rescue Act positively impacted the City’s budget. In particular, the funding triggered a provision in the no-layoff agreement DC 37 and the Municipal Labor Council negotiated with the de Blasio administration last year, preventing the potential layoffs of 22,000 City essential frontline workers.

In November, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Consumer Credit Fairness Act protecting New Yorkers from predatory debt collectors. DC 37, in coalition with New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, lobbied heavily in support. The efforts of now-retired MELS attorney Bob Martin paid off following years of work in fighting for this legislation.

In another victory, a Labor Peace Agreement was signed with the City, making it easier for workers at non-profits under contract with City agencies to organize without fear of retaliation from management.

Despite some setbacks, District Council 37 grew in power and influence in New York City this year. Recalling the union slogan from decades ago: “We make the city work.”

In 2021, this became the year when the union can now proudly say, “We lead the city.” Union power, as it were, delivers political authority for the people of New York City.

We are that union.