- Category: Local 237 Oral History Project
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.
The superintendent at the Boulevard Houses was Anthony Nicoletta. He interviewed me, was satisfied with my background, and he sent me to the personnel department at 250 Broadway. I was hired and assigned to Boulevard Houses in Brooklyn.
After two weeks on the job, a business agent by the name of Ed Cervo from Local 237 approached me and asked me if I wanted to join a union. I immediately said yes. I’m happy I made that decision because it was a great plus in my life.
I had to take an open competitive exam to become civil service and remain in that title as supervising housing groundsman. At that time, there were no opportunities to advance to this title of supervising housing groundsman until Local 237 made it happen. That would be about 1973 or ‘74.
Working with Mr. Nicoletta was a good experience. He supervised a good operation in maintaining the housing project. He inspired me to go on and take the assistant superintendent examination. I took the assistant superintendent exam, which I passed, and I was assigned to Van Dyke Houses. I supervised the janitorial and grounds staff.
After a few years of working as assistant, a chief superintendent working in Central Office by the name of Edward Donovan approached me. He wanted to know if I would be interested in joining with him and a group working under Mr. Reilly, the assistant director of Technical Services. One of our goals was to start a supervisory housing groundsman training class at Smith Houses.
With the help of Rocco Micari, Arnold Rosenfeld, and Tom De Mastri, we put a program together to teach technical grounds knowledge, to help provisional and other members to get a better understanding of the position—not only as a working groundsman but also supervisory skills.
The training consisted of classes and fieldwork to give knowledge of plants and diseases and how to deal with them. We also took them on two occasions to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, where they could view over 500 acres of beautiful plants, waterfalls, and greenhouses. We also visited many projects throughout the five boroughs to give advice for any problems a groundsman encountered at their project. Our ultimate goal was to prepare them for the exam they had to take for the position.
The classes were held at Smith Houses and the union office on 14th Street. Most of the classes were given by myself and Thomas De Mastri at the union. De Mastri was a supervising housing groundsmen, but he ended up working with Staff Development under Rocco Micari.
. . . Further on, we used Staff Development for other tests. For instance, the assistant superintendents were going to file applications for the superintendent civil service exam. We gave a grounds class so they would have the knowledge for anything that came up in that exam pertaining to grounds. . . .We had two different schools going on, by the way. Mr. Reilly had one school and Mr. Ofeesi had another school. We taught at both schools.
Arnie Rosenfeld and I wrote the test. Whoever passed became a civil service employee.
It was the union that pushed this through. A lot of these fellas, remember, down at that level, didn’t have the opportunity of coming out of the janitorial position and going into foreman of caretakers or supervising groundsmen.
It was a good feeling to be able to help other people along. That’s the way the Housing Authority worked. We all helped one another. I received help from Nicoletta, who helped me go to assistant superintendent, and Donovan, who took me into Central Office. So I thought I could help some other people. . . . I was always a believer in promoting from within. And that’s what the union made happen.It made a lot of people’s career grow. They have to be really thankful to Local 237.
After I became a superintendent . . . . I was assigned to Ingersoll Houses in Brooklyn in 1980. I ended up at Sheepshead/Nostrand, where I stayed until I retired in 1986. It was a huge project. There were probably twenty-five hundred families at Sheepshead-Nostrand.
. . . The job of superintendent was basically to see that the services for the residents were being done. So you reviewed the work tickets that were out, what the Maintenance Department was doing. You had meetings with your janitorial services. One of the most important things was motivation; you had to motivate the people who were working for you and have a good relationship with them. You knew to put a separation between yourself and your staff. Sometimes there were close to a hundred people we would be supervising. . . .
I want to make an important point. A good manager and a good secretary make for a good superintendent. A superintendent’s best helper is his secretary! At Sheepshead- Nostrand I had a great secretary.Her skills and her ability to do all the paperwork enabled me to get into the field. She went out of her way to help all employees, keeping their time and attendance, helping with any questions they may have.. Another great person was my manager, Larry Peters. He had confidence in me and we both worked as a team with the tenants and the staff.
The biggest snow days were when I was supervising housing groundsman. The snow removal of the project was the responsibility of the supervising groundsman, mainly. Everybody worked on it, but it was the supervising groundsman who oversaw the machinery. There were times we went in and we worked maybe three or four days without going home. We weren’t around the clock, now, mind you. We’d punch out and sit there, and then punch back in. And it was a good effort.
We had a procedure laid down by the Housing Authority on what had to be cleaned up first. We had to make sure people could get in and out of the buildings. That was the first procedure, to clean the entrances. Then we had to clean the walkways leading out to the sidewalk, and then we’d get the sidewalks cleaned.
Everybody came in. No matter what. Even if you were not scheduled to work on that day, when that snow starts coming down, everyone goes in to work If it started snowing, you went in, without being told— if it was 2 o’clock in the morning, if you were an operator. As the supervising groundsman, I ran one of the machines. I would go in and get on the machine and start working, and gradually you would start seeing other people coming in to work.
There were cases, maybe, in some places, when some of the people couldn’t get there. But in general the turnout was good. They understood the job and they loved the job. They knew you had to get in there, and the sooner you got to work, the better off you were, because eventually you had to do it anyway.