President Joseph A. Colangelo
Since fleet consolidation took place in 2011, there has been a tremendous and ongoing amount of work being added to the Department of Sanitation’s fleet services personnel. It’s a problem we have been dealing with for quite some time, and as you can see from the front page story, we are now up against some serious staffing shortages, more than ever before.
The problem would be bad enough if it was just limited to Sanitation. However, it’s not. Auto Mechanic and Machinist staffing shortages are widespread throughout City agencies. The special presentation I gave to City leaders and the Department of Sanitation highlighted and summarized the overall problem, and it boils down to this — an increase in the number of vehicles and their increasing complexity, and staffing levels not keeping pace.
The Fire Department, the Police Department, and the Department of Transportation are facing a similar crisis. Fire has approximately 96 vacancies and was approved to fill only 14 positions. DOT is set to deploy a program of lease-to-buy equipment that will translate into the need to hire additional staff to repair and maintain equipment. While the Police Department is on track to hire 100 new Auto Service Workers to replace vehicle coordinators in each precinct, they will not only be responsible for a day-to-day checklist of supplies required on each patrol car, but they will also be servicing these vehicles. All of these changes will result in additional responsibilities for an already overworked and exhausted work force.
The agencies push to a more paperless record keeping system, along with a rollout of a new parts tracking system, is taking more and more time away from actual equipment repairs. The additional time needed to input all of the necessary information adds up to approximately 234,000 hours a year of time taken away from equipment maintenance and repair. In Sanitation, with 7,979 pieces of equipment, and an optimal rate of equipment to mechanic ratio of 7:1, the Agency would need 1,140 mechanics — and we are far from that number.
The Mayor’s Office of Labor relations was clear in pointing out that our Union has no contractual right to a specific head count, meaning manpower is a non-negotiable topic. We responded that we are fully aware of this fact and that if the City wants to hire just 100 Mechanics, it is their right to do so. However, to be clear to the City, it does have a duty to negotiate the impact of staffing shortages of our members. We also pointed out that the manpower shortage and the effects on vehicles, ultimately leaves taxpaying New Yorkers without the services they expect and require. Out of services rate increases mean fewer fire trucks, police cars, and Sanitation vehicles available. The Union is determined to meet with members of the City Council as well to highlight our concerns and the burden being placed on our members.
The next item of major concern is, of course, the looming Supreme Court decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case. The Court heard the case on February 26 and while it’s rumored that a decision will not be announced until the end of the term in June, the news could be released at any time. So for now, labor waits with baited breath while it works diligently to keep members informed and educated about what to expect if the decision goes against unions as it’s expected to.
The ability for unions to collect dues to negotiate and provide services to our members stands at the core of a negative decision. In fact, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan even stated that a ruling in favor of Janus could invalidate labor contracts for more than 10 million workers in 23 states. If unions are left unable to collect dues, that leaves us unable to pay for staff, attorneys, rent, and insurance, which also leaves us unable to have adequate funding to file and handle grievances. The benefits and services we provide members will be at risk. There will be no one to protect workers from poor working conditions, unfair disciplinary actions, and so much more.
That’s why labor groups banded together to work with the NYS AFL-CIO in successfully getting legislation passed — and signed into law — that will safeguard unions in New York to some extent should the outcome of the Janus case be negative. The legislation includes language that mandate union dues deductions to begin no later than 30 days after the cards are signed; that members can withdraw from their union only according to language stated on the deduction card; that if a union member leaves employment for up to a year, the dues deduction card remains valid; and that if union members leave or are removed from the payroll or placed on voluntary or involuntary leave of absence, whether paid or not, their membership status automatically reinstates upon restoration to active service. There are additional provisions in the law that are also geared toward keeping unions strong in New York and allowing members to have a collective voice. These changes to the Taylor Law should go a long way to curtailing the damage that will come with a negative Janus case outcome.
The last item I want to discuss is the upcoming deadline to file a Notice of Participation with NYCERS and a WTC-12 with the Workers’ Compensation Board. That deadline, which has already been extended multiple times, is September 11, 2018. If you repaired vehicles or equipment from Ground Zero, or you worked at the Freshkills Landfill, you must file. Filing does not mean you are sick now. It does not mean you will be sick later. It simply gives you the right to file for benefits down the road if something should happen to you. It’s a simple process, but to make it even easier, we will have staff from the Mount Sinai World Trade Center Health Program at both the May and June General Membership meetings to assist members in filling out and filing applications. They will be on hand to answer your questions, let you know what paperwork you need as proof, and help fill out the forms.
I know that none of us wants to think about possible death, especially as it might relate to 9/11. But we all need to face reality. While we might feel perfectly fine now and our doctors have given us a clean bill of health, it does not mean something won’t go wrong later. Think of filling out the forms as insurance, the same as car insurance or major medical insurance. One hopes we never need it, but if we’re in a serious car accident, or we end up with a long-term hospital stay, we will be very glad we have that insurance. Same goes for this. FILE THE FORMS! If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for your children and your spouse.
As you might remember, our union got legislation signed into law that specifically includes our members in 9/11 legislation. Since our members repaired equipment in shops throughout the City, we may have been exposed to the same toxins as those who worked directly at the site. We’ve already had two members succumb to 9/11 illnesses — Elmis Fisher, Auto Mechanic in the Police Department, and Raffaele “Ralph” Scarpitti, Auto Mechanic in Fire. Please file and protect your families. You have nothing to lose, and only possibly something to gain.