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DC 37 plans legislative agenda for 2017

Union activist Nelly Gonzalez takes notes during the legislative conference.

The financial crisis at NYC Health+Hospitals, reducing the number of provisional employees and mobilizing against the proposed constitutional convention were the top priorities laid out by DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido at the union’s 41st annual Legislative Conference.

A vote on whether to hold a constitutional conventional will be held in November 2017. The New York State Constitution mandates a vote every 20 years to decide whether to convene a constitutional convention. DC 37 does not support a constitutional convention.

“We say no because it’s an opportunity to use public workers as scapegoats,” said Wanda Williams, legislative director of the Political Action and Legislation Dept., at the conference. “Our pensions are protected now, but that could change with a constitutional convention.”

Supporters say they would like to convene a convention to enact ethics reforms, but the state legislature has had several opportunities to address the issue and has failed to do so.

A vote “yes” for the convention could also cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The last constitutional convention was held in 1967 and cost nearly $50 million.

The Oct. 29 conference brought together union leaders and invited speakers Dawn M. Pinnock, deputy commissioner, from the Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, to address critical issues facing city employees.

The status of provisional employees was discussed during a panel with Anthony Wells, president of SSEU Local 371, and Deputy Commissioner Pinnock.

Pinnock acknowledged some title exams have not been offered in decades. She made a commitment to make an aggressive effort to offer more exams and to partner with unions to help reduce the number of provisional employees, who don’t enjoy the protections of civil servants.

Wells encouraged local presidents to push for more exams and to offer test preparation courses. “If we offer this to our members, those who take courses will score higher,” Wells said.

The legislation — approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Nov. 28 — is supported by the union and DCAS. They are working together to reduce the number of provisional appointments by authorizing a one-time qualified incumbent exam, and establish an eligiblity list.

The QIE-eligible employees must have at least two years of service in their title for which there is no competitive exam scheduled or eligible list currently available. Since 2008, the city has reduced the number of provisional employees from 39,000 to 23,843 today.

Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, gave a brief presentation on the state’s present tax structure. FPI and DC 37 favor a more progressive tax structure that would require millionaires to pay their fair share.

“Our current tax code is regressive, so those who have the least pay the most in state and local taxes as a percentage of their income,” Deutsch said. The union supports making the state’s temporary millionaires tax increase — which expires in December 2017 — permanent.

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who represents the 33rd District in the Bronx, closed the conference. He thanked DC 37 activists for their support at the polls.

“You are part of the community I represent,” he said.

Rivera is the co-sponsor of the Enhanced Safety Net Hospital bill. The legislation would create a more equitable state funding formula for public hospitals by creating a higher reimbursement rate. It would help alleviate some of the financial burden on the city’s public health system.

The union is waging a campaign in support of the bill and is urging Gov. Cuomo to sign off on the legislation before the year ends.