President Joseph A. Colangelo
This is the first newsletter of the new year and our new bi-monthly format. Starting with this issue of the IMPACT, they will only be produced every other month as we switch our primary focus to our social media and electronic platforms. By doing so, we will be able to use the IMPACT as a way to highlight and feature more indepth, pertinent stories, while using social media and our eblast system for more timely and crucial news. As we live in an age of instantaneous news, we believe that in order for unions to succeed, we must follow suit.
Our social media campaign last year to spotlight the dangers of a Constitutional Convention was all the proof we needed to make this switch. So many
of you engaged with our posts, which often reached into the thousands because you all shared and commented, thereby allowing others to see and read our posts. Obviously the use of social media has many advantages, including the cost savings associated with producing a monthly newsletter.
With the success of our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, combined with the increased use of our website, it is only logical we begin to steer more to electronic communication with our membership.
As we strive to keep everyone up to date in the fast-paced world in which we live, we at some point may consider the transition to electronic newsletters, although most likely a way off. In addition, we will definitely begin utilizing our email blast system much more frequently this year. Therefore, it is more important than ever to make sure our office has your current email address on file. If you have not already provided it to us, please either call the union office or give it to your Shop Steward. That way you will always be in the loop.
Our social media outlets been extremely helpful in not only showcasing our members’ contributions to keeping New York City rolling, but also to spread the word about job postings and labor news. Yet, there are limits to what we can or want to post as some information is meant only for members. That’s why we are also undertaking the project of redoing our union’s website. When we first developed one about 10 years ago, we utilized it for very different purposes than we do now. We have started the process of redesigning it, making it much more interactive, lively, informative, and easier to navigate. You will be able to find downloadable benefits forms easier, search for content, and contact us through the site. It is a months-long process, so we ask you to be patient. The wait will be worth it in the end.
As a union, and as a labor movement, we face new challenges and hurdles this year that all unions across the country will face. The U.S. Supreme Court case of Janus vs. AFSCME is the new Constitutional Convention battle. The Janus case, as it’s commonly called, is scheduled for argument for end of February. If word on the street is any indication, it’s not looking great for labor. Wealthy corporations and right-wing politicians are waging a campaign to eliminate our freedom to form labor unions and set us back decades in victories won by working families.
Public sector workers have always had their wages and benefits determined by politicians and office holders. More than 100 years ago, public sector jobs were awarded through what was known as the spoils system, derived from the phrase “to the victor goes the spoils”. After elections, political victors would award jobs to friends, family, and supporters. They would also award very lucrative government contracts to large supporters, a practice I would argue unfortunately still exists today.
If you want to understand the depth of this corrupt system, I suggest you read the book “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall,” by William L. Riordon. The author goes into many details on how the system was rigged to benefit those in power. He explains how in the days before civil service, it was estimated that control of city government meant the control of 12,000 public sector jobs — all political patronage jobs that were in the hands of political winners.
In the early part of the 20th century, unions began to gain greater influence. By doing so, they were able to improve working conditions with more safety protections, increase wages, and implement overtime pay, holiday pay, medical benefits, and so much more. Collective bargaining allowed workers a seat at the table with their employers. As productivity increased, unions bargained for a greater share of company profits companies for workers. It wasn’t until the 1950s that public sector workers gained the right to join a union. The early days of this organizing finally gave rise to better pay and benefits to public workers. New York City unions welfare benefit funds were first won in negotiations in the late 1960s.
Today our union provides dental, vision, and prescription drug coverage to 1,500 active members and 1,000 retiree members and their dependents. Some 6,500 lives are protected by our benefits fund. The union’s annuity fund was first negotiated in the 1995-2000 contracts, with our first payments being received in December 1999. Union officers and Shop Stewards work tirelessly every day to protect the rights and benefits we have fought so hard to win. However, the outcome of the Janus case leaves so much on the line.
That’s one of the many reasons I appeared on LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz radio show recently to talk about the current state of labor. While Janus is a case that will impact labor nationwide, we have our own battles right now with an increasing number of City vehicles in all agencies but not an increasing amount of manpower to make the necessary repairs and maintenance. We are concerned about the decrease in staffing levels and the ability of our members to keep out-of-service rates at reasonable levels, especially during the winter snow season. While I addressed a variety of different topics, the main purpose was to highlight the work we do that helps keep the City rolling every day.
In closing, let me remind everyone of the importance this year of visiting our website and social media on a regular basis for updates and news, and most importantly, providing the union with an email address. See you all at the March membership meeting, our first of 2018.