August 3, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – IUOE Local 94’ Ron Cerna, foreman at RS 11 in the Bronx, has been a union member since 2008. And like his fellow union brother Joe Modica, Cerna will be honored on September 29, as one of LaborPress’ outstanding “Heroes of Labor.” According to Local 94
President Kuba Brown, Cerna joined with Modica in playing a key role in IUOE’s fight against unequal pay at Board of Education buildings.
“The problem started in about 2001,” Cerna explains. “The Board of Education was looking to privatize maintenance in their buildings. People were working for independent contractors and were getting a higher rate of pay than those in the Custodian section of the union although it was the same job. Some were even in smaller buildings.”
When he started the job, Cerna oversaw porters, did repairs and ran boilers among his many other duties as a custodian’s assistant, or fireman. He remembers, “Some members had to get second jobs cleaning buildings just to make ends meet and take care of their families.”
Cerna twice testified at City Council Education Committee meetings.
“I testified that we were doing the same job, that we were in the school system, and that it was not fair that we were excluded from not only higher pay but some benefits,” Cerna tells LaborPress.
Cerna also talked to individual council members in an effort to get them to sign a petition to act legislatively — because although the union had brought suit, it wasn’t winning in the courts. Cerna also attended rallies highlighting workplace injustice.
“I did all these things not so much for the money, but because of the unfairness aspect,” Cerna says. “As I told the council, it wasn’t a fair system and it had to change.”
Cerna calls being chosen as a “Heroes of Labor” awardee “humbling.”
“I never really won anything before. For me, it’s a great thing,” he says.
About the union, Cerna says, “These are the people who supported me in my life. They put me through school and training. Before this career, I was making minimum wage. When you’ve been through that, you really appreciate what you have. The least I can do for my brothers is to go out and fight for them.”