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Local 237 Oral History Project

Hercules Cornish: Caretaker J Stores Man

Herclules CornishHercules Cornish went to work for the Housing Authority as a caretaker J in 1952 and retired 24 years later as a stores worker. He died the year following this interview, which was conducted in June 1999.

Originally I was from Harlem, but when I came out of the service in 1945 my wife had moved to the Bronx, so I moved there, too. I went to work for the New York City Housing Authority in 1952.

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Carmen Rodriguez: Balancing Work and Family

Carmen RodriguezWorking women have historically had to struggle to balance work with caring for their families. This Local 237/Oral History Project interview focuses on the relationship of work and family. Following are excerpts of an interview with Carmen Rodriguez, a retired housing assistant and mother of four children.

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Local 237’s First Woman Executive Board Member

Pauline Dyer-Woodson

Pauline Dyer-Woodson, a dietician at Cumberland Hospital, played a major role in the union’s organizing drives. She was appointed to the board in 1967.

Today, Local 237 members take it for granted that women serve on their executive board, but that wasn’t always so.

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James Spicer's Little League Football Team

James SpicerFor 16 of his 38 years as a heating plant technician and shop steward at Breukelen Houses, from 1970-86, James Spicer coached a little league football team, with help from Local 237. Following is Spicer’s story of the Falcons.

It started with the kids tearing up the grounds at Breukelen Houses. The tenants didn’t like that they were messing up the grounds and throwing the ball under their windows.

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Verdi Shaw, NYCHA Teller

Shaw retired from NYCHA in 1980.
I began working 01-03-1966 at the East River Houses as a Teller. I transferred from the New York City Corrections Department. My tenure there was 02-05-62 to 12-31-65. I do not remember if I was in a union while employed by the NYCCD and I do not remember which housing project I was in or the year I joined the union.

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Victor Nappa, NYCHA Sup’t & Trainer

Victor Nappa

I went to work for the New York City Housing Authority in March 1968. A friend of mine was working with the Housing Authority and he told me about a provisional supervising housing grounds opening at Boulevard Houses. I was in the landscape business with my father and he was retiring, so I decided to apply for the position. I was told to go see the superintendent at the project.

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James Jeffers: Dietary Aide/Cook/Senior Cook, HHC

Jeffers joined Local 237 in the late 1950s and retired in 1991.
I went to work at City Home in 1951 as a dietary aide. I went into the army in 1952, and when I returned  to my dietary aide job in 1954, the City Home patients had been moved to Coler Hospital. I became a cook in the 1960s.

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Bert Rose: Director of Organizing

Bert RoseFollowing is an Oral History Project interview excerpt with Bert Rose, who was the director of organizing for Local 237, under President Barry Feinstein, from 1969 to 1983.

When did you first come to work for Local 237?

January 1, 1968. I was director of organizing.

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Rudy Petruzzi

Rudy Petruzzi

Rudolph (Rudy) Petruzzi, a supervisor of bridges when he retired in 1986, helped organize his co-workers into Local 237 in the 1960s and participated in the 1971 bridge strike that shut down the city for two days—although he didn’t fully agree with it. Following are excerpts of an interview for the Local 237 Oral History Project conducted in February 2003 in Hollywood, Florida. His wife, Sally, was also present.

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Harry C. Jackson, Jr.: Water Use Inspector

Jackson was a Water Use Inspector and Principal Water Use Inspector at the Dept. of WSG&E, Manhattan DEP.  He joined Local 237 in 1952 and retired in 1983.

I went to a building somewhere in the 50s between Park and Madison Avenues. My job was to verify the previous reading before billing the taxpayer.  Upon entering the building, I took the self-service elevator to the basement.  There I verified the index and tested and inspected the meter, seal, and seal wire. Having completed my inspection, I pressed the elevator button. There was no response.

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Anthony Gannatti: Bridge Operator-in-Charge

anthony-gannatti-sm Anthony Gannatti, who describes himself as a “solid rank and file member,” was at the Borden Avenue Bridge on that historic day in June 1971 when 25 of the city’s 29 drawbridges were left in an open position, shutting down the entire city.

Today, Gannatti and his wife live in Satellite Beach, Florida.

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Is There Life After NYCHA?

Martin Duffy

You bet there is!
The administrative overkill at NYCHA and a three-hour commute led me to vest my pension and move on after nearly 24 years on the job. Tension, frustration, and poor habits like eating on the run because there was always too much busy work to do all contributed to my decision.

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Rocco Micari: Manager and Union Member

Rocco Micari Rocco Micari fought to get into Local 237. Micari began his career at the NYC Housing Authority as a provisional junior accountant in 1954 and rose to housing assistant, assistant manager, manager, and, finally, assistant chief of staff development, the title he held when he retired in 1984. He was chairperson of the Managers Chapter and a member of the negotiating team for four contracts.

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Trailblazers in a Man’s World: Doris Welch

Doris Welch

Before I went to work for the Housing Authority I was a dental hygienist. That was 28 years ago. I took a job at the Authority as a typist “for a year,” I said, because I needed a break, and then I would go back to the medical profession. But I started liking the high heels and nice dresses— as a dental hygienist I wore a white uniform and white shoes every day. I stayed. I worked in Personnel (now called Human Resources).

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John Hartter: Water Use Inspectors Organize

John HartterJohn Hartter, who lived to the age of 92, was a founding member of Local 237, which was chartered in 1952. He retired from his job as water use inspector for the New York City Water Department in 1975 after 27 years on the job. After he retired, he pursued his long-neglected talent in art and developed a new talent for gardening.

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Trailblazers in a Man’s World: Ann Sabatino Guidice

Ann Sabatino Guidice

I started with the Housing Authority in 1970 as a receptionist [the clerk-typist title] at Carey Gardens in Coney Island. My youngest son, Sal, was 7, my daughter, Annette, was 10, and Danny was 16. My oldest son, Charles, was 20. I used to go home during lunch to check on the kids; I lived only six minutes away by car, in the Sheepshead-Nostrand Houses.

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Woody Asai: A Horticulturist Who Loved to Beautify Public Housing

Woody AsaiIn 1951, Woodrow “Woody” Asai, holding a degree in floral culture and ornamental horticulture from the Cornell College of Agriculture in Ithaca, New York, was hired as a gardener by the New York City Housing Authority in 1951. That was a year before Teamsters Local 237 was chartered.

Thirty years later, in 1981, he retired from his job as supervising housing groundsman.

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Maintenance Men as Founders: Frank Dughi

Frank DughiBefore the 1950s, maintenance workers were members of the Bookbinders Union in the CIO. But we were told we could not go on strike because as city workers we would lose our jobs. We were underpaid, but our union could not help us get the raise we needed to survive.

The Teamsters Union was signing up new members to get representation. They promised us a raise if we joined their union.

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Laura Scanlan: Senior Teller

Laura ScanlanI joined the Housing Authority in the 1970s. I lived in a housing project and the manager referred me to a job in the JOP program. I had switchboard and typing experience, but my first assignment was to clean and organize the hall supply closet. I guess they thought "once a housewife always a housewife."

(Today my first thought would be to call the union.)

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When City Attorneys Became Teamsters

Harry Bernstein

Twenty-one years after Teamsters Local 237 was founded in 1952, some 450 lawyers employed by the city, members of the Civil Service Bar Association, voted to affiliate with the local.

The CSBA began in 1945 as a professional/social organization for civil service attorneys.

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Sam Hall: Hospital Cook

Sam Hall retired as a cook on December 30, 1990, after 33 years of employment at Coler Hospital, on Roosevelt Island. After retirement, he participated regularly in Retiree Division programs. He  stepped down as chairperson of the Retiree Division’s Activities Committee and recording secretary of the Sunshine Club for health reasons but remained active with the committees.

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Arthur "Sonny" Illery: HHC Dietary Aide & 237 VP

Arthur Sonny Illery I went to work for the city in 1952 as a dietary aide at Metropolitan Hospital. Before that, I had three jobs. . . . and I had three kids. When I got to the hospital, I finally earned enough. I earned $1,100 a year. . . .

One day a guy named Bill Lewis {then president of Local 237] came around and said, We’re starting a union. Do you want to join. I asked, Why? He said, Because you need representation.

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Daniel Siciliano - Bridge Worker

Daniel SiciianoDaniel Siciliano went to work for the city as an assistant bridge operator in 1966 at the Willis Avenue Bridge in the Bronx. At the time, the workers had a different union. After hearing about contract gains Local 237 was winning for its members, Siciliano and some of the other bridge workers decided they wanted to be represented by the Teamsters.

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Thomas Leath: NYCHA Caretaker

Thomas LeathWhen I got out of the army after World War II I went to school on the GI Bill and married my childhood sweetheart. Then I got news that every man wants to hear: I was going to be a father. So I had to get steady employment. Everywhere I went, it was, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Then I ran into an old army buddy and he told me the Housing Authority was hiring. I said, What the heck, I have nothing to lose.

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Irma Rabinowitz: NYCHA Teller

Irma Rabinowitz I came into this union not wanting to. I had been fired from my last job for joining a union.

To collect unemployment, you had to look for a job. So they sent me for an interview with the Housing Authority for a job in accounting. I started work with the Housing Authority on July 11, 1941 as a cashier. It was called NCR operator at the time.

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Anthony Annattone -- One of Local 237's first NYCHA Maintenance Men

Following is an excerpt from Local 237's Retiree Division's Oral History Project interview with Local 237 retiree Anthony Annattone. Annattone went to work for the New York City Housing Authority at Classon Point Houses in the Bronx as a maintenance man in1951 and retired as a superintendent 32 years later, in 1983. He was one of the local's earliest shop stewards. Speaking of Local 237, Annattone said, "Sally Rags [Salvatore Raguso, an early organizer] and Mr. Feinstein [Henry, founding president] were good people. They started it, they really put their life into it. They did a job for all these people. People who have retired and who have been involved with the union should kiss the ground these people walked on."

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