New York, NY – Joseph Colangelo, President, SEIU Local 246, has been a member of SEIU New York City Local 246 for over forty years. Initially, in 1981, he worked with the New York City Department of Sanitation as a Senior Auto Service worker. In 1984, he was promoted to Auto Mechanic. In 1991, he became a Union Shop Steward. As to what gave him the impetus to become involved in the union initially, Colangelo told LaborPress, “Growing up in the 1960’s, unions were very prevalent in everyday life. [They were] always seen as the protector of workers and their families.”
From there, Colangelo’s star continued to rise. He served on the Union’s Bylaws Committee, and was elected Union Trustee in 1994. Being on the Bylaws Committee gave him important insights as to how the Local operated.
By 2003, he was Vice President, and in 2004, when then-President James Hughes retired, he became President. Elected to serve again in 2006, he has retained the support of the members, evinced by his being re-elected ever since.
The list of other titles he holds is extensive and impressive: Administrator of the Union’s Welfare Fund, Trustee of both the Active and Retiree Funds, and Administrator of the Union’s Annuity Fund, as well as Trustee. His complete oversight of all the Funds has ensured a positive balance as well as the steady growth of all four Funds. He is Vice Chair of the New York City Municipal Labor Committee, Chairman of the Civil Service Coalition of Building Trades and Municipal Unions, Vice President of the New York City Central Labor Council, and a member of the New York City Department of Sanitation Columbia Association.
Colangelo told LaborPress that his number one issue of concern over the years has been the health and safety of his members. “Our members, the majority of which are mechanics and machinists – their health and safety are number one. The constant exposure to toxins, along with the repairing [of] heavy equipment, requires additional safety equipment that constantly needs updating.”
His attention to the well-being of his members also extends to fighting for disability benefits for those who suffered debilitating health issues, and even died, from their work on contaminated vehicles and equipment owned by New York City, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack. Those benefits were initially denied them, then made possible by an amendment to the 9/11 bill. Says Colangelo, “The passage of the amendment to the 9/11 bill recognized that mechanics, regardless of where they worked and who serviced equipment that assisted in the recovery and clean up, were entitled to coverage under that bill for health problems related to that work. They receive disability pensions as well as participating in the WTC medical program. Unfortunately, we have lost seven members related to that work.”
The work that his Local does may not be obvious to much of the public, however, it is crucial to the effective running of the City. Colangelo explains that his members service, “one of the largest non-military fleets in the world with 30,000 pieces of equipment.” Ambulances, police cars, fire department vehicles, sanitation trucks, etc., are more than essential – they are the backbone of what keeps a city habitable. “Without our members’ skills,” he says, “it would only be a matter of days before the public would see significant disruption in the response time for all emergency services…the size and complexity of the equipment requires highly skilled mechanics and machinists to keep everything operational.”
With all the many contributions Colangelo has made to his Local and Labor in general over his years of service, LaborPress posed the question: What does being in a union mean to you?
Replied Colangelo, “On a personal level, it means everything! Security for myself and my family, great benefits, great retirement benefits and respect for the work that I do. On a professional level, it means protecting my members and their families through contracts that provide good wages and benefits, and overseeing the welfare funds that give benefits to all my active members and retirees for both them and their families.”