New York, NY – Sgt. Patrick Cullen is the President of the NYS Court Officers Association. Currently serving his fourth term as President, he moved from the financial sector into the public sector, and says, “It is the best decision I ever made, professionally speaking.” His honoring at the LaborPress Labor Leadership Awards in Law Enforcement is richly deserved. LaborPress delved more deeply into his background, history, and achievements within the union.
LP: Where did you grow up and how did that environment influence you?
PC: I grew up in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx. The oldest of five children, my leadership skills were developed at a young age.
My 16 years of education in Catholic schools certainly drove me toward serving my community at many levels and without question influenced me in that respect. The work ethic and lessons learned from my mother and father have had the deepest impact on my professional outlook. Work hard, respect your work community, and don’t ever take anything for granted. My upbringing absolutely crafted my outlook on work and working people.
LP: What path to union service did you end up taking?
PC: I had taken some civil service tests in the mid 90’s while working in the private sector for the Financial Times as a research analyst. My brother had already been hired as a Court Officer and the public sector offered more stability and room for growth. I was hired by the NYS Courts in December of 2000 and trained in the Academy for 4 months. I was assigned after that to Bronx Criminal Court and was promoted to Senior Court Officer in Bronx Supreme Court in December of 2003 and subsequently promoted to Sergeant in September of 2007, which is the rank I currently hold. In 2011, there were some serious issues occurring within our occupation, layoffs, claims of collusion, stalled contract talks, etc. I decided to run for Union delegate and won that election. I was able to see how important Union work was and the impact one could have in helping your coworkers, and joined a slate of individuals in running for the Executive Board of the SCOA. Our entire slate was elected in June of 2013.
LP: What led you to your choice of career initially?
PC: I was working in the private sector in finance and after the tech bubble burst there were certainly issues with job security. My brother had become a Court Officer shortly before that and had told me about all of the benefits of the work. I had been called for the job but deferred in the past but decided on moving to the public sector based on stability, security, benefits and retirement. It is the best decision I have ever made, professionally speaking.
LP: How many members are currently in the union?
PC: All Court Officers receive training from the NYS Court Officers Academy which lasts 4 months. Upon graduation they are certified NYS peace Officers whose authority is granted statewide with the same powers as any other peace officer. We have authority to affect arrest and of course our mission is to provide safety and security at all levels of the judicial branch of NYS.
LP: This is your fourth term as President. What do you consider your greatest accomplishments during your years in that position?
PC: I am so very proud to be serving a fourth term as President. No one has led our Union longer in its history. I am proud of many accomplishments in the previous terms, but in general terms enhancing our ability to communicate in real time with our members and doing so through multiple types of media, be it internal messaging, social media, our app or in the news media. It has a major impact on the member’s knowledge of whatever issues are happening. During this current term, I am proud of having successfully negotiated our current collective bargaining agreement. It was ratified with a 99.97% approval. Having an agreement of that sort is unheard of for most things these days, let alone a workplace contract. It leaves no dispute as to its quality but also the hard work put into it by our Executive Board and delegates. Most importantly, it helps people and that’s what we are most interested in doing always.
LP: What challenges do you see looking forward?
PC: I think moving forward the challenges are much the same as they always have been. Remaining vigilant that attacks on labor nationwide are met with equal response from Unions. I think Unions coalescing on matters must happen more, we have seen great success when Unions unite. In New York, our primary objective is to fix many of the harmful issues that Tier 6 has brought to the doorstep of public employees, namely retirement benefits, retention, and recruitment.