President Joseph A. Colangelo
As we start the New Year, we are constantly reminded of the challenges facing public employees and how our members are pawns used to settle political fights. The recent federal government shutdown is a prime example of gridlock in which the only losers are the employees being forced to work without pay or furloughed and also not being paid.
This is a political game in which there is no winner. Families are suffering, going without food, unable to pay mortgages or utilities, struggling to keep their families afloat while our government leaders duke it out over a wall. Yes, a wall. The battle was that Congress would not agree to allocate $5.7 billion to build a wall at the US-Mexico border, which led to the federal government being partially shut down for more than a month — the longest stretch in US history. While it has since reopened, it will only remain that way until mid February, with another shutdown looming, if our politicians can’t agree to a solution.
Both sides need to find a way out of this mess because dedicated public servants should not have to be used to settle a political turf war. The problem is that the members of Congress are written into the Constitution and aren’t funded through annual appropriations. Therefore, they are still getting paid. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, and then we would probably have a quicker resolution to the stand off.
The situation isn’t much different on the home front either. Our union fights to protect and defend our members for the work you do each and every day. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), with the coordination of the Office of Fleet Administration, was trying to implement a cost-saving measure by reducing the number of auto mechanics city wide and replacing these lines with auto service workers — all in an attempt to cut costs. DCAS’s statement that this was about creating opportunities for students for a career as auto mechanics couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our union has pressed hard to expose this untruth for what it is — a money-saving plan along the lines of the fleet consolidation plan that was more about a real estate savings. In the case of the fleet consolidation, the administration at that time eliminated from the budget the cost to build a new “state of the art” FDNY ambulance shop. They achieved this “savings” by eliminating the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) fleet service division and splitting the responsibility of repairing their equipment between the Sanitation Department for heavy duty equipment repair and NYPD for light duty vehicle repair.
We firmly believe that the fallout of that decision is that agencies now are struggling to keep up with the repair and maintenance of their own, more advanced equipment. Combine that with the extra load stemming from the additional DEP vehicles and the backlog is growing exponentially. Exacerbating the problem is that no new auto mechanic positions were added to locations that absorbed the additional equipment repairs and maintenance.
The responsibility of DEP equipment and scheduling of the repairs obviously falls on our members; that’s our job. But out-of-service rates for both Sanitation and DEP are climbing at alarming rates due to the lack of personnel to handle the load. In fact, DCAS now wants to impose an auto mechanic to auto service worker ratio, meaning the problems would just multiply.
The reason I mention this is that the Chief Fleet Officer of DCAS is Keith Kerman who was hired by the Parks Department under the Giuliani administration during the early 1990s. One of the first things Kerman was involved with was the privatization of two Parks Department locations, one in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and the other in the Bronx. His office is now overseeing all fleet operations and citywide contracts for vehicle purchases. Additionally, his office was instrumental in negotiating the citywide parts contract with Genuine Parts and now his office is involved with the auto mechanic staffing reduction.
Local 246 has been battling with this one individual and his policies for more than 20 years — but they never seem to end. We were able to push back against the latest attack and will continue to do so.
The purpose of telling you all this is twofold. First, it’s important to continually educate our new members on the history of the battles we have faced as public employees. Sometimes the issues involve healthcare, pensions, health and safety concerns, and of course, contract talks, all of which always pose a challenge. The second reason is to showcase how the union always fights for our members. Last year’s Supreme Court Janus case was another battle we had to face as an entire labor movement, but one I am proud to say did not impact our union at all.
We never can predict what battles lay ahead, but you should always feel confident that as a union there is nothing we can’t overcome.
We held our first contract negotiation meeting last year on December 11 for the Auto Mechanic et al and Auto Service Worker et al contracts, which was based on the citywide contract and how it would be implemented across our nine different contracts. We have since requested additional information on costing for specific items each bargaining unit asked us to cost out. We are continuing to schedule dates for additional contract talks and will appoint separate committee members for the Rubber Tire Repairer, Sign Painter/Letterer, Carriage Upholsterer, and Sheet Metal Worker contracts.
Switching gears for a minute, I would like to announce that Harry Nespoli, president of Sanitation Workers Union and Chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, appointed me the Chairman of the MLC’s Civil Service and Labor Committee. I am extremely honored to have been appointed to replace Arthur Cheliotes who retired from CWA Local 1180. I look forward to this new challenge. The mission of this committee is to protect and defend the Civil Service and Merit system, and to avoid the diminishing effectiveness of Civil Service for the entire City’s 300,000-plus public employees.
This is going to be a busy year for unions. A lot of change has happened in Albany’s leadership. For what seems like the first time in recent history, the state legislature is moving to pass bills quite quickly. While we have had no meetings in January or February, I look forward to seeing you all at the March meeting.