New York, NY – DC 37 Local 983 President Joseph Puleo is among a select group of union leaders being celebrated by LaborPress on September 7th, and for good reason. He has a long track record and years of union service, but nothing so much illustrates his character as his
compassion for and dedication to a community of underserved New Yorkers – the seasonal workers who toiled to keep NYC parks hospitable during the pandemic. LaborPress talked to Puleo to learn about what transpired to work against these workers, and what was done to pull them back from the edge and offer them new hope for the future.
LP: Can you share with our readers about the termination of the 200 Parks Department workers, when that happened, and why that happened?
JP: These people for the most part were from the welfare-to-work program, a lot of these people are single moms that were given an opportunity and were promised to work continuously during the pandemic, and it started with the stimulus money from 2021. That money was supposed to
have ended on December 31 st of 2021. And there was still money left in the program because this was open to all city agencies – some of the city agencies didn’t take advantage of it for whatever reason – some of them didn’t want to go through the application process, some of them felt they
didn’t have that level of interest…so there was money left over. So with that money, we worked with the Parks Department to keep them working throughout the 31 st and to go continuously until June 31st. That’s when the funding was going to run out. Then we got a promise from the city saying that they were going to allow them to work again, continuously…But in the midst of that, all of a sudden, unknown to any of us, they were slated to
be laid off. So we went to the other Parks Committee Chair, Shekar [Krishnan], we went to him, and we lobbied news media, we went to our elected, including Henry Garrido, until these people were restored.
These are the lowest paid workers that we have at our Local, along with DC 37. These are people that rely on us for basics – food, and shelter…and they’re trying to do the right thing. These are the most destitute. With their paycheck, they can cover the bare minimum. And to lay them off
when they’ve worked continuously during this period is unimaginable, that the City of New York would just let them fall by the wayside. These are the people who worked throughout COVID. Why do we victimize these people? They should be a priority. Not to be left out in the
So we were able to get these lines restored. These lines now go until September, so now we’ve got to get them to go to the next cycle, to keep them indefinitely, that’s our goal. And now some of the other stuff that we’re trying to do along with this is training programs, apprenticeship programs, to get them into jobs when they can make a decent amount of money, not $15, but a living wage, so that they can become fully independent and not be relying on special services all the time. So that’s the goal with this group, and we’re looking to more of these trades-type jobs, for these types of individuals. One of these programs that we have
currently is with… the Department of Transportation…to have them do roadway repair. These are non-traditional jobs for women, and that’s been rather successful. We want to expand on it. There are also other ones, but that’s not the only one. There are also green jobs that are coming up…We want them to grow and expand.