Public Employee Press
At Grand Central Partnership
Cleanup crews vote to join DC 37
By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Sanitation workers at the Grand Central Partnership in Manhattan overwhelmingly voted Sept. 13 to disaffiliate from an allegedly mobbed-up local in order to join District Council 37.
Sanitation workers and DC 37 staffers celebrate their organizing victory on Sept. 13 outside the Grand Central Partnership offi ce in Manhattan.
The workers - who keep the streets and sidewalks clean in the nonprofit business improvement district surrounding Grand Central Station - voted 52-1 in favor of DC 37 over Local 713 International Brotherhood of Trade Unions. Now that the organizing drive is over, DC 37 will work with its new members to prepare for contract negotiations, assist with leadership development and promote union activism.
In the afternoon on Sept. 13, straight-faced and hushed union officials and worker-organizers gathered in a meeting room in the basement of GCP's office at 122 East 41st St. as Field Attorney Moriah Berger of the National Labor Relations Board unsealed a cardboard ballot box and tabulated the vote.
When Berger announced the electoral wipeout, the DC 37 crowd, including many of the cleanup workers gathered in the hallway and at the entrance to the meeting room, let loose their emotions and applauded the outcome of the vote, which took place from 2 to 4 p.m. that day.
Sanitation worker Keith Williams, one of the lead organizers, walked up to DC 37 Organizer Nicole M. Laing.
"Thank you," Williams said, as he gave Laing a warm hug. "It's been a long year," said Laing, the union's lead organizer in the recruitment effort. DC 37 Organizers Ramon Marrero and Anna Nowlan worked with Laing.
"I am very happy with the vote, because I was one of the organizers who started the move to get out of Local 713," said Leo Dacres. "We weren't getting any representation from the union. If you called up the union to get help, they would show up five days later, but the damage would be done."
DC 37's newest members described Local 713 as little more than a dues-collecting machine that failed to respond promptly - if at all - when members faced disciplinary charges. One worker said the Grand Central Partnership fired seven workers during the past year, and the local didn't lift a finger to help them.
Their business rep rarely showed up at the workplace, according to workers interviewed by PEP. The local gives out false information about benefits, charges new workers a $150 initiation fee, allowed a clothing allowance to be cut and, most recently, negotiated a poor contract, they said.
"I was just happy to have a job, not knowing that I was getting robbed," said William McCune, an organizing committee member.
The workers did not respect or trust Local 713 because of its reputed links to organized crime, in addition to the poor services.
Keith Williams and members of the organizing team worked tirelessly to convince coworkers to join DC 37. The workers voted 52-1 to opt for DC 37.
Last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of New York indicted the secretary of Local 713, Robert Scalza, along with 10 other individuals, including associates of the Genovese organized crime family, for charges such as racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, illegal gambling, union embezzlement and obstruction of justice.
Scalza was charged with conspiring to extort a labor union officer in order to induce the union to stop trying to organize workers at a Long Island company. Based on the threats, Scalza and three Genovese associates allegedly hoped to open up the path for Local 713 to organize the workers instead.
"The last union we didn't like," said Michael Faulkner, after the vote. "They had six years and they didn't do nothing. It's disgusting."
The Sept. 13 vote met the legal requirement that disaffiliation votes must occur within a 90-day period after the expiration of a union's contract.
DC 37 kept the organizing drive secret for nine months in order to give as little time as possible to Local 713 and Grand Central Partnership to react, DC 37 Organizing Director Mario Dartayet-Rodriguez said. And the strategy worked: By the time DC 37 went public, it was too late for Local 713 to try to regain whatever credibility it might have had and for the Grand Central Partnership to run an anti-union campaign
"The old union never spoke to us," Ernesto Lopez said in Spanish. "I'm very happy with the new union. It gives more benefits and now there's more unity."
The workers developed their own shopping list of unions before visiting DC 37. They were attracted to its reputation for providing a lot of benefits and aggressive support of members. Faulkner said he was encouraged to support the union by his wife, Tanya Jackson, a DC 37 member who works at the New York City Housing Authority.
"These are workers who really need a voice and a union," said Dartayet-Rodriguez, noting that newcomers start out at just $7.75 an hour. "They do hard work. Their wages are low. And they complain about a substandard health-care plan."
Mike Gomez, a member of the organizing committee, said the wage issue is "very big" for the sanitation workers. With 24 years on the jobs, Gomez has represented his co-workers in contract talks with the Grand Central Partnership. He contrasted the workers' low pay with the high, six-figure salaries of managers at Grand Central Partnership, pointing out the irony that a nonprofit has such great inequities among its staffers.
"Hopefully, DC 37 can be stronger at the table," Gomez said. "With DC 37 and their history, we should have a little more clout and power so that we will get more."