November 13, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Shaun D. Francois I knows that the workplace is tough enough already — there should be no room for fear or intimidation on the job. Sadly, the Local 372 president encountered lots of both during his almost 25-year career with the Department of Education, and well before. It’s what helped convince the 48-year-old from Trinidad to join the labor movement and become the dynamic and dedicated trade unionist he is today.
LaborPress is honoring Francois as part of its “Labor Leadership Awards Reception” on December 1.
“I saw people fired after 15 and 20 years on the job, and that’s not right” Francois says. “People can’t work being fearful all the time.”
Recognized early in his career for his profound desire to confront workplace injustice and steadfast conviction that union activism grants working men and women the power to better their lives — Francois soon found himself in the position of shop stewart, proudly representing the interests of his fellow Board of Education food loaders and handlers.
The union’s motto, “Our Job Is Kids!” resonates deeply with this father and grandfather.
More leadership roles would follow. At the same time, Francois also saw the need to inspire others to activism. Becoming chairman of Local 372’s Next Wave Ad Hoc Committee gave Francois the opportunity to help cultivate a whole new generation of union leaders inside Local 372 — District Council 37’s largest local.
“I wanted to give voice to a voiceless people,” Francois says. “I learned about the union and later became chapter chair. I ran for secretary [of Local 372’s Cultural Committee]. I love helping people.”
The Rosedale resident’s union activism culminated in his August 2014 election as Local 372 president.
During Francois’ tenure, community involvement in after school and anti-gun violence campaigns have become integral to the local’s DNA. He’s launched a pay parity lawsuit against the city on behalf of public school crossing guards performing similar duties as Traffic Enforcement Agents — and is leading the fight for an immediate $15 an hour minimum wage for his members after convincing the city to boost wages to $11.50 and then $11.79 earlier this year.
Although happy for the modest increases, Francois says they haven’t slowed his drive for a $15 an hour minimum wage for Department of Eduction staffers, or his belief that the mayor must act now to address the economic needs of his municipal workforce.
“You have to have respect for your engine, and we are the engine that makes the city run,” Francois says. “If your engine doesn’t work — I don’t care what else you fix — you’re not going anywhere.”