Union Protests as Rat Complaints Increase
April 6, 2011
By Neal Tepel
DC 37 Pest Control Workers represented by Local 768 staged a press conference in Washington Heights accompanied by a large rat. The rat had more to do with the union action than usual it not only symbolized the city's refusal to negotiate around the layoffs, it also represented the main occupation of the laid off workers, that of rodent control.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, whose district covers Washington Heights, spoke of rat problems in the neighborhood as did concerned residents. Washington Heights has the City's highest rate of rat infestation a staggering 73.5%. He said that with the DOHMH budget for rat control cut, "it will be the rats who will be doing more with less pest control workers to get in their way."Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer called rat infestation "a horrific, daily insult to the quality of life in New York," and noted that complaint levels were rising even as the City fired 62 workers. "You don't slash the ranks of public health workers on the front lines of an epidemic, but that's what the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has proposed," he said. Last year, there were 21,800 complaints to the City about rodents, he noted.
DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts, holding her own umbrella in the rain, explained that the City was being penny wise and pound foolish by laying off low paid workers whose work to clear buildings and parks of rodents and refuse actually generates revenue through billing property owners. This point was also made and emphasized by Local 768 President Fitz Reid, who brought a number of laid-off workers to the event along with union officials. Roberts noted that the Pest Control Workers were fired and not rehired even after the City Council voted funds for the purpose.
A letter written to DOHMN Commissioner Thomas Farley by Stringer noted that New York City once had America's most effective rat control program, but that it was now deteriorating. Asking Farley to reclaim that standing, Stringer said, "It's time for New York to do the right thing and hire enough pest control workers to wipe out this infestation."