After a difficult winter, in which the country faced blizzards of both snow and bad economic news, the seasons are beginning to change. As the weather warms and the leaves return to the trees, we are also seeing signs that our harsh economic conditions may be starting to thaw: the nation’s financial institutions are again reporting profits and home sales are rising. For the first time in months, there is reason to be hopeful.
No doubt we still have a long way to go. Unemployment is still high and consumer spending is still low. It may take until next year for our economy to fully recover, but many experts are saying that we may have reached the bottom of this financial freefall. While there are still many challenges ahead, we look to the future with less fear and dread, knowing that things will be getting better.
As we approach a turnaround, however, our leaders must empower the workers who contribute so much to our city, not abandon them. The economy certainly hurt our city and state budgets. Although those budgets need to be cut, those cuts should not be at the expense of our members. Both our workforce and the public would benefit far more if our workers had more money in their pockets and more confidence in their minds. Now is no time to create more concern with threats of cuts and layoffs. As your union’s president, I will make it clear to our leaders that we cannot leave our members behind when they need it most.
For example, in our negotiations with the New York City Housing Authority, I have demanded that we receive nothing less than a pattern contract with four percent raises over the next two years. That raise would only be the same as what other citywide union members received in September, before the economy fell off a cliff. NYCHA workers have already faced tremendous cutbacks over the last decade, leaving them with 4,000 fewer staff members and deteriorating facilities. These cutbacks have caused the workload of our members to double, and they deserve to be compensated fairly. NYCHA is already essentially saving millions by stretching our members’ workload, and so it is ridiculous to ask them to sacrifice even more by taking a cut in pay.
If we fight for our rights, we can be victorious. Case in point: our union was recently successful in negotiating a pattern contract for the Food Services title of the Department of Education, raising their salaries four percent for two consecutive years. The members ratified the contract with an unprecedented 100 percent vote. [See article on page 3.] Having only joined Local 237 last March, this was the first contract negotiation for the food service managers and associate food service managers. I am extremely proud and happy that we could effectively represent our new members and protect their livelihoods, and I hope this is the first of many successful contracts we obtain for them in the future.
To continue our efforts to defend our members in this way, we must keep an open dialogue with our elected officials. In April, nearly 500 members attended our first Candidates’ Political Forum, where they heard directly from candidates vying for three major public offices in New York City: mayor, comptroller and public advocate. The candidates who participated provided answers to questions generated by our members about issues that impact the lives of city employees, including health benefits, pensions, personal income taxes, affordable housing, education and transportation. We will remember what each candidate said, and use that information to guide our endorsements and votes as their campaigns go public.
As the largest Teamster local in the nation, we played a major role in making sure President Obama was elected, and we are mobilized again to put our voting power behind candidates whose policies support our members’ interests. As public employees, we work for the government, but we can use our voices as a tool to make our democratic government work for us.
At this writing, Workers’ Memorial Day is approaching. We are proud to participate in the solemn commemoration of our country’s workers who were severely injured or died as a result of dangerous conditions on the job. Also, at the end of May, we will be joining with the entire nation on Memorial Day in commemorating our valiant soldiers who have given their lives in the service of their country. I urge you all to join in these commemorations. Especially in difficult times, we should look to the resilience of earlier generations and the way they made America strong. Time will pass, and more seasons will change, but the strength of our citizens and our workers will ensure that our fortunes will ultimately improve.