Mike Shaw is a retired maintenance worker from Bellevue Hospital. Following are excerpts from a 1999 interview focusing on his experiences as a shop steward and grievance rep from the late 1970s to 1995, the year he retired.
When, how, and where did you first go to work for the city of New York?
September 8, 1971. I was 31. I went to work at Bellevue Hospital, where I remained until my retirement on November 15, 1995. I was brought in by someone who was there already.
I had an air-conditioning and refrigeration background and they just happened to be looking for a guy with those credentials, and I just slid right under the door. The day I went for my interview I had my car parked on Second Avenue and I got two tickets. There I was, trying to get out of the personnel office and she’s sending me for a physical ... so it was a disastrous day as far as tickets and money I had to lay out, but I did get the job.
Tell us about your work as a maintenance man when you went to work at Bellevue.
Well, we basically did everything. Our work was repairing small equipment. However we did dive into the construction end of it quite often. Repairing and lighting and just general electric stuff. I did air-conditioning, refrigeration, water coolers — from the water cooler in the hallway to the burn blankets they had to put on burn patients, cooling blankets... If I had to do it over again I would go to Higher Education. It's a cleaner job. Hospitals was--you were dealing with sick people — not that you were dealing with them on a personal basis, but you had to work in their rooms, and there were some things you had to see that you don't want to see...
When did you become a shop steward?
In the mid to late ’70s. I didn’t become a shop steward immediately. We had a shop steward by the name of John Ayers — helluva nice guy, very intelligent, a good shop steward. He was a maintenance worker. That was after Julie Friedman, I believe. John asked me if I wanted to be his alternate. I became the alternate, and Pete Castellucci [Citywide Assistant Director] made me a real shop steward. There were two shop stewards — he didn’t take it away from John, he just gave it to me also. And from that time on I was a shop steward until Pete Castellucci left. Then Frank Scarpinato [Local 237 Citywide Division director] called me into his office and we had a little talk, and he made me a grievance rep.
What were some of the issues you had to deal with as a shop steward?
Mostly it was attendance or lateness. ... There was one point when I went to central payroll ... and I brought back over $15,000 on two separate occasions for differential overtime money that my guys weren’t paid. I took all their overtime sheets home and figured it out on my own time, and came up with the figures. I went down to see Lou Kreiger and I said, “Look, here it is.” I said, “These guys gotta get paid.” And we got paid... Two guys got $5,000 apiece in overtime differential pay, shift differential—the whole nine yards, the whole package. It went from $24 or $25 on up, depending on how much overtime they put in. That was probably one of my biggest things...
The other big thing was when we lost two guys that got killed in an explosion in Bellevue’s basement. It was before Pete Castellucci retired. One morning when I got up, at 4:30, a quarter to 5, in the morning, there was a note from my daughter on the kitchen table that said, Call Pete Castellucci whatever time you get up. So I called him and he said to get over to Bellevue Hospital right away, two guys got killed in an explosion. Two maintenance workers. It was awful. You have no idea. An acetylene tank and an oxygen tank blew up... They tried to indict one of our members for causing the explosion ... I worked with the Fisher [the union’s] attorneys. They came down and we worked on measurements, on locations, on the geography of the building and all that. I continued to be a steward, and a grievance rep, and a maintenance worker. I wore three hats. At first I handled only maintenance men, but then word got out and every one started coming to me. Usually shop stewards handle their own title.
When you became a grievance rep, what were some of the grievances you handled?
I was grievance rep for all the hospitals. I used to handle two or three grievances a week. Most of the grievances were “Mondays and Fridays” — not showing up — or related to drinking and cocaine. I also was involved in Bellevue Hospital’s EAP program, with a lady by the name of Julie Blackburn, a fine lady, and I brought her maybe 25 to 30 members, not only from hospitals but from other places... The hospital was very cooperative. Bellevue gave me an office, they gave me a telephone. I had to keep files on people, and you have to have a place to keep files. I couldn’t keep them in my shop or in my locker. Most of the stuff is confidential, especially when you’re dealing with the Employee Assistance Program...
Before Pete Castellucci asked you to become a steward, had you thought about being one?
No. Pete was a great teacher. Pete was a great business agent. He was the best... He was able to sit down and negotiate and reason with people and get his point across as well as listening to the other guy’s point, and get somewhere in the middle of it so that satisfaction could be had on both sides.
Stanley Shapiro [Local 237 Citywide business agent] also. Stanley took over after Pete left... Stanley would go in a little more subdued — Let’s see what you have to say first. Stanley was very good in his own way. Stanley and I used to handle a lot of grievances together. We had some big ones at Neponsett Nursing Home out in Rockaway and at Queens General, Gouverneur — Queens County had some big ones.
I worked very close with John Ayers, very close with Stanley Shapiro, very close with Pete Castellucci, and until recently very close with Tom Carr... I had some dealings with Pauline Dyer [then BA, later also local recording secretary] at Woodhull Hospital.
When you had a grievance to handle, what was your style in dealing with it?
First I would find out what the problem was, before the hearing. Not only from the member... I also go to Labor Relations and I read the report. Then I have a better idea of what’s going on. Now I can go back and talk to the member and say this, that, or the other thing — It doesn’t say here that you did this or you did that. And the member would explain to me exactly what he thought was going on. Then I‘d go back to Labor Relations and say, OK, where do you want to go with this? What are you trying to do? Do you want to make trouble? We’ll fight to the end. You want to give us something easy? Everything is give and take. Out-of-title work was a big grievance. But every institution is unique in their needs. So you have to be flexible, you have to bend... You can‘t just say it‘s not my job — it might not be, but do it anyway... It looks better at the negotiating table, and you can apply this to what you’re looking for in your next contract. That’s the way I see it. Those are some of the things that Pete Castellucci taught me.
Did you attend union meetings?
I used to help. Frank A. [Scarpinato, then Citywide business agent] and I used to co-chair meetings of the maintenance workers. Frank A. did maintenance workers at that time. This was right after Pete Castellucci left. You got the same halfdozen guys that showed up at all the meetings with their own personal grievances...
Were you on the negotiating committee?
Yes, I was, with Pete Castellucci... You’d go down, you‘d sit there, a guy [from the city] would open his briefcase and take out his envelope, and his secretary would hand him something to read, and he‘d say, Here’s what we‘re offering. The members with the horsepower would say, Okay, let me bring this back to my people and see. It was a ten-minute meeting...
Later, when you go back to the table, it‘s give and take. It‘s What are you going to give me, and Let‘s see what I can give you, and it‘s like this and like that, and it‘s productivity and you can only get so much productivity out of people. They were looking for major concessions.
Let me put it this way. When Beame became mayor I believe we lent the city 4 percent of our 6 percent raise. When Koch became mayor, he said, I wasn’t the mayor then. We still haven’t gotten that 4 percent. That died, it’s still somewhere in the wind. Raises after that were never based on the percentage plus that 4 percent. So we’re always short 4 percent, which doesn‘t sound like that much, but through the years it adds up. So we never got that back. And when we did get our backpay for that contract year it was paid in increments, very small increments, over a seven-year period, which was a disaster...
You were a 220 title, weren’t you?
The 220 Law [equivalent wage/benefit package for public and private sector employees doing the same work]. At that time we had to go down and sign a Labor Law complaint if we weren’t satisfied with the money we were getting. That would help us in negotiations. If you didn’t sign it, you’d get the hourly rate, but you wouldn’t get the backpay. It was a once-ayear procedure. After awhile the Labor Law complaint was automatic. That happened when they started with the prevailing rate with the trades, between 1978 and 1982 — I’m not sure exactly when. Then everybody got it, it became automatic. I think the agency shop started at the same time, where if you didn‘t want to join the union you didn‘t have to, but the union would still get the dues. That was the deal made with the city. If you didn‘t want to join the union you still paid union dues because you were getting the benefits. It made sense to me. Some guys just don’t like unions for whatever reasons.
You stayed at Bellevue from 1971 to 1995. What did you like the best about working there?
Paydays. No, generally, the people. The guys I worked with were nice guys. Steamfitters, electricians, plumbers — everybody worked together.