April 30, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – New York City’s traffic and sanitation enforcement agents celebrated their new bargaining status as members of the uniformed services at a special union meeting April 26.
The 2,700 members of Communications Workers of America Local 1182 were granted uniformed status in 2005, when the City Council passed a bill over then-mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto, but only won the ability to use it in January, when the city Office of Collective Bargaining accepted the union’s argument that the 200 to 250 sanitation agents, who issue summonses for offenses such as illegal dumping and people not cleaning up after their dogs, should be a separate bargaining unit from the traffic agents, who write tickets and direct traffic.
“It’s a ground-breaking thing,” Local 1182 president Robert Cassar said after the meeting. “Young men and women will get a chance to be members of New York City’s elite workforces.”
The practical effect, Local 1182 lawyer William Sipser told the meeting, is that members now have the same bargaining status as police, firefighters, and sanitation workers, and no longer have to follow the pattern set by District Council 37. “For the first time, the union has the ability to bargain on everything,” he said. “It is a big, big deal.”
“We’re interested in money,” Cassar said, getting a loud laugh from the more than 200 people attending. Uniformed-service members usually get larger raises than other city workers, he noted. But afterwards, he said that “it’s not about money,” that he wants to get traffic and sanitation agents the annuities that other uniformed services get, and that people who work outside have different issues than office workers.
“Office workers don’t get rained on,” he told the meeting, and traffic agents often take abuse from the public. That’s why unlimited sick days are an important issue, he added.
“When you get assaulted, somebody beats you upside the head, you’re going to need that time,” he said. “All the uniforms have it.”
The meeting was contentious in a way the crowd enjoyed. Afterwards he said the meeting was “one of the best we’ve had in a really long time,” and much calmer than usual.
The uniformed status will be an important source of respect for traffic agents, who were once scorned as “brownies” and not real law-enforcement officers, said Veronica Peaks, who’s been on the job since 1980.
“I was here when they were having on average three assaults a day,” she said. “This is going to be one of those elite jobs you have trouble getting. This isn’t going to be like, ‘you can’t get a job, go apply for Traffic.’”