President Joseph A. Colangelo
It’s hard to believe that after a very long three months of living under a PAUSE order imposed on the entire state, that the City of New York and surrounding counties are finally starting to reopen —slowly. While we are far from a complete reopening, this is at least a small, positive step. We all know this is going to be a slow process, but at least it’s a beginning, which means that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is hopefully behind us.
Sadly, we lost a total of three members in our union, two since our last newsletter. Auto Mechanic Michael R. Geraci and Auto Mechanic Diesel Francisco “Frank” Nunez both succumbed to the devastating illness within weeks of each other, sending shockwaves throughout the Local as members were overcome with the news.
I have been with this Local for close to 39 years. Rarely do we lose even one active member a year, so to lose three in such a short time frame has been horrifying for our union family, not to mention the toll it has taken on the members’ own families.
While I did not have the pleasure of knowing Michael personally, I did reach out to his son as soon as I received the tragic news. Needless to say, his son Mikey was devastated and heartbroken. Sometimes there are no words of comfort, and this was one of those times. All I could do as president of this great union was offer my condolences and those of all the Local 246 members, tell Mikey that his father was part of a great union family, and then just listen. I think we have all done a lot of that lately because there hasn’t been much else we can do.
Just weeks later, news came that we lost our third member, Frank Nunez. This one hit me hard because Frank wasn’t just a member; I knew him on a personal level. Frank had spent many years working for Johnston Sweeper, which is now Global, where he serviced all the brooms under warranty. For years we would tease him and tell him to come over to the City side and work for the Department of Sanitation because he already was very familiar with the equipment.
Frankie finally made the move in 2006. I knew he was nervous, but I also knew he would fit right in. He was well respected on the job, always willing to help out anyone. He had that easy-going personality and was quick with a smile. After hearing of his passing, I was in touch with his family immediately and exchanged information with his son Allan. On the day before he was to be laid to rest, I got a text from his son with the address of St. Raymond Cemetery in the Bronx. I contacted Allan, who explained that even through the funeral was to be private, he asked if I could spread the word to his father’s coworkers so they could possibly be at the cemetery.
I reached out to Sanitation Deputy Commissioner Rocky DiRico, who wasted no time in notifying his supervisors to release the men so they could attend, and also encouraged them to actually go. I never let Allan know, feeling it could be better as a surprise for him and his family. And what a surprise it was, with members and Sanitation equipment lining the entrance to the cemetery.
Thanks to both Shop Steward Michael Faix and Auto Mechanic Diesel Carlos Francica (San) for coordinating all the days events, all the members who turned out, and member Wayne Maggio who played a solemn tribute on the bag pipes as the hearse and family approached, Frank Nunez got one heck of a final farewell. The Nunez family was overcome with emotion and at least a little sunshine on a very gloomy day and it was great for them to witness how loved and adored their dad and husband was.
Thanks to the work of the labor movement and New York City Councilman Daneek Miller taking the lead on getting important legislation moving that would help families of city workers who die from COVID-19, the Mayor, the entire City Council, the State Legislature and the Governor all followed suit, and we now have a law that guarantees an automatic accidental death benefit from state and local retirement plans.
Essential public workers like all our members who have showed up to work on the frontlines during the pandemic have been critical to the functioning of the City and we owe each and every one of them an enormous amount of gratitude. The onus of surviving families having to prove their loved ones’ deaths were job-related is no longer a factor in them receiving a death benefit, which is how it should be.
I also want to thank Citizens RX for their great donation of masks and hand sanitizer in the memory of our member James Villecco, the first to pass away from the coronavirus. When this pandemic started and PPE was in short supply, Citizens RX CEO John Burns contacted me and made the gracious offer. I told John we would like to send the supplies directly to the hospital that Jimmy was in. I contacted his widow Joy, who was overwhelmed by the thought of this gift in Jimmy’s honor. However, when I spoke with someone at the hospital, they asked us to please give the items to a nursing home that wasn’t getting the same attention but needed the items just as much. So we did just that. We distributed 8,000 masks to Cold Spring Hills Nursing Home and Rehabilitation, 2,000 masks to Saint Anthony’s Church, 1,000 masks to Winthrop Hospital, and of course, thousands of masks to all our Shop Stewards for our members. We also gave hand sanitizer to our members as well. I called Joy Villecco again and told her Jimmy’s memory was touching thousands of lives, and she couldn’t have been happier.
As we are now officially into summertime, I know everyone is anxious to break free from the three-month lockdown and enjoy the great outdoors. While I pray we are past the worst of the ugliness and hope our lives return to a new “normal,” we are far from in the clear. We all need to remain vigilant, keep practicing social distancing, wear masks (and gloves if necessary), wash hands with soap and water or at least hand sanitizer, and err on the side of caution. Finally, if you do not feel well, please stay inside and away from others. Keep your families and loved ones safe, and know the union is here for you if you need us.
Since we do not know when we will be able to return to regularly scheduled membership meetings, please continue to follow us on our social media platforms, and sign up for our email blast system by giving us your email address.