Editor’s Note: The following comes courtesy of Ralph Palladino’s “Union Strong” pamphlet – click here to view it in its entirety.
New York, NY – I am sure you have heard it all before: “The union don’t do nothing!” “The union never did anything for me!” “I don’t need the union, it is only for people who get into trouble.” And so many other negative statements from members.
“The Union Does Nothing for Me!”
A shop steward must constantly remind members what the union does. To begin with, the union negotiates contracts and benefits. We also legislate to get members pensions and for job safety and health laws. In 2020, thanks in part to our Local President Eddie Rodriguez and Executive Vice President Alma Roper who were on the DC 37 Executive Board, a 10.5% raise was won for the members. We were about the only workforce in the country who kept our benefits and pensions undamaged. DC 37 and Local 1549 provide a multitude of benefits to members. We protect members’ rights on the job. The staff and shop stewards fight for them every day. When problems occur with lack of proper representation, we ask that they be brought to the leadership’s attention so we can immediately correct the problem.
The COVID pandemic continues to be a serious crisis. We made sure all our members had proper COVID PPE protections and that management follows the correct safety and health guidelines. When management tried to wrongfully reassign our members or were unreasonably forcing them into overtime, we stepped in and corrected most of the issues. Thanks to our advocacy and political action we were able to avoid layoffs. This at a time when nearly 2 million public employees lost their jobs nationally due to COVID’s effect on the economy.
Legal battles are won by the union. A few years ago, some members in HRA and the NYPD won settlement money form various lawsuits for wrongful pay practices by management. Wrongfully laid off 55-A disabled workers won reinstatement of their jobs in DOHMH. When our 911 members’ civil service rights where threatened in Albany we saved them.
If it were not for our union with Local 1549 in the lead the past 40 years, our great public hospital system would have been either privatized or closed.
“I Never Need the Union’’
Any member at any time could face a false charge or just make a mistake that could lead to their termination. They get represented. A member never really knows when they might need a union representative. It is not just the “bad apples” who need such representation.
President Rodriguez personally intervened to stop a termination of a provisional employee at Jacobi Hospital even though she was in part wrong saying she was not properly supervised. He called then mayor Mike Bloomberg on the phone. The mayor pulled her termination back and fired the managers instead. This member never went to union meetings, but the union was there for her, and got her job back.
At Gouverneur Hospital, a member was wrongfully terminated and was out of her job for over a year. We fought and got her job back with full back pay and accrued sick and annual leave time. A member in the NYPD was threatened and tricked into resigning but the staff representatives got the legal team involved and got the member reinstated.
Being Positive Builds Unity and Strength
A shop steward should speak positively about the union. Educate the members about what we do. Peoples’ complaints often are justified and so members should stand up and complain. They pay dues to this organization and have rights. Their issues should be addressed. But when false and unfounded views are expressed, it is important that shop stewards demand the proof and counter the views with positive ones. By doing this we build the members’ confidence in the union.
Ralph Palladino is a retired 42-year veteran union leader from Clerical Administrative Local 1549 DC 37 AFSCME in New York City. For 21 years he served as Local 1549 2ndVice President overseeing Political Action/Advocacy, Shop Steward Training, and Internal Organizing. He played a key role in organizing Metro Plus HMO workers into Local 1549.
He is now a member of the DC37 AFSCME Retirees Association and has published articles in various publications including the New York Daily News, Staten Island Advance, Asbury Park Press, Los Angeles Free Press, The Coaster, the Mayor of New York’s website, LaborPress, and Labor Notes on issues of politics, racism, immigration, and labor. He was editor of the Local 1549 “Members in the Know” and “Shop Stewards in the Know” newsletters. The above work is part of a collection of columns called “Union Strong: Rebuilding the Labor Movement.”