President Joseph A. Colangelo
As we head into the summer season we are still awaiting the Supreme Court decision in the Janus vs. AFSCME case. As you all should know by now, the decision could have a dramatic and possibly devastating impact on union finances, which in turn would negatively effect our members. This is a conundrum all public sector unions nationwide will be facing, not just us.
To better understand what challenges we face, you must first realize the benefits we currently have and the years of fights and struggles it has taken to get to where we are today. You often hear phrases like “thank your union for weekends”, “thank your union for vacations”, “thank your union for holidays, for a 40-hour work week, for retirement security, for medical coverage, for job safety regulations” and many other benefits. These benefits were obviously not achieved overnight. It is through years of hard work and determination — and never-ending battles — that unions have had these successes. But, these are fights that are ongoing as big business groups and right wing organizations continue to try and undermine labor’s strength.
To put this all into prospective, let us look no further than our own union and the successes we have achieved just in the time that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a part of Local 246. When I started my career in 1981, the night shift differential was about $3.00 a day. By 1984 it was increased to $5.46. A year later it was increased to $5.72, and by 1987 it jumped to $10.00 for the entire shift. Finally, effective July 1, 1990, a shift differential of 10% for any hours worked from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. was implemented and remains a valued benefit even today. For members working these overnight hours, the shift differential is a tremendous boost to their salaries.
Those members who joined the workforce in 1981 were placed in Tier III for their pensions, meaning they were required to work 30 years and be at least 62 years of age in order to receive the maximum benefit. The Tier III pension amount was also directly tied to your Social Security benefit. As an example, if you received a pension of $2,000 a month and then started to draw a payment of $1,000 a month from Social Security, your pension would be reduced by $1,000 a month. Instead of receiving a combined monthly income of $3,000, you would receive a pension of $1,000 and Social Security of $1,000 for a $2,000 a month income. Labor got this changed and eliminated when Tier IV was implemented.
Pensions continued to be a hot topic and in 1996, with the introduction of Chapter 96, new employees who serve for 25 years and are at least age 50 (for physically taxing tittles/55 for non-physically taxing titles) could retire with full benefits, including full medical coverage. The initial pension bill was not cheap; the contribution for Chapter 96 was 6.83% (4.85 + 1.98 physically taxing) along with the 3.00% basic pension for a total of 9.83%. As the economy improved, the 4.85% was slowly reduced and the original 3.00% basic pension contribution was eliminated for everyone after 10 years of service — again thanks to unions.
In 2000, Local 246 pursued and won a new pension, Automotive 25/50, that allows members to have time from both non-physically taxing and physically taxing titles combined to count toward the 25 years of service that enables you to retire at age 50. Under the previous legislation, you would have to reach age 55 as an Auto Service Worker before being eligible to retire. Again, a great win for our members — thanks to unions.
Even today after Tier VI was implemented, our Automotive titles can still retire after 25 years and age 50 with full benefits. The contributions of Tier VI are an issue, but we continue to explore a change for our members to be able to choose what pension tier works best for them.
Local 246 won Annuity contributions for all our members starting in 1999 at $2.00 a day and have steadily had that amount increased in the last few contracts. The Annuity Fund is an added retirement bonus that will help in your future — so thank the union.
The successes don’t stop there. Our Local has fought many battles on privatization dating back to 1995 when the idea was first introduced by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration. The Parks Department transferred two shops to private vendors, a move we fought then and a concept we still fight today. While the Parks Department will never admit its failure, our argument is that if privatization had proven beneficial to the City, then the program would have been expanded. Then came the Bloomberg administration that sought to privatize the entire Department of Correction. Local 246 fought that effort as well and defeated it. Privatization just does not work, and we have repeatedly proven this.
The Genuine Parts contract continues to impact our ability to repair equipment and wastes the City’s money, which is really taxpayer money. The electronic tracking of all work, and now the electronic tracking of parts, is taking a toll on our members, adding additional layers of responsibility and tasks that must be done in the same number of work hours. We fight every day on both of those fronts to make sure management understands that you can only cram so much into a workday.
There is a new push by the DCAS Fleet office to further reduce the number of Auto Mechanic lines in some agencies that will severely impact our members. In Sanitation and other agencies, we are already severely short-staffed and are working at a man to vehicle ratio far greater than industry standards. Safety issues remain a common occurrence, but as I’ve stated repeatedly, we cannot be forced to work in unsafe conditions no matter what we are faced with. Safe working conditions are a must.
Our battles are never over, however, and unfortunately will not be anytime soon. Attacks on labor continue as we remain the scapegoats for everyone’s woes.
The history I just shared with you is just a small fraction of what Local 246 has done for our members. Regardless of the Janus decision, we are certain that our membership understands the value of staying together as a union and the benefits we all gain from that unity.
The June membership meeting will be the last one before the summer recess. Once again, Mount Sinai will have representatives on hand to help members file the necessary forms preserving their rights to receive benefits down the road should the need arise. Of course we will also have plenty of food and prizes, so this is one meeting you definitely don’t want to miss. I hope you all enjoy the warmer summer months. They fly by too quickly. Whatever your plans are for the summer, be safe.