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PEP March 2007
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Public Employee Press

DC 37 organizing victory
MetroPlus workers at HHC vote for Local 1549


DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts, with DC 37 Clerical-Administrative Division Assistant Director Renee Gainer, organizing drive coordinator, greets MetroPlus organizers Bridgette Ward, left, and Ayanna Gabriel.


Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez, at head of table, discusses the power of unionism with MetroPlus workers at DC 37 headquarters in January. MetroPlus workers shared their workplace concerns with union officials.

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

Workers at the health maintenance organization of the Health and Hospitals Corp. voted to join DC 37, capping a two-year organizing drive by Local 1549 and DC 37.

The city Office of Collective Bargaining announced Feb. 2 that MetroPlus employees chose DC 37 over the Organization of Staff Analysts by a 149 to 64 vote.

As a result of the vote, the more than 300 Enrollment Sales Representatives and Assistant ESRs at MetroPlus will be represented by Clerical-Administrative Local 1549, the second-largest union local in DC 37 with nearly 18,000 members.

“This organizing drive was very important to us,” said DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts. “When they voted for DC 37, the MetroPlus workers took an important first step in winning better health coverage, good benefits and better pay for the valuable services they provide.”

“We are pleased to welcome our new MetroPlus members,” said Eddie Rodriguez, president of Local 1549. “Local 1549 has a proven record of delivering for its members. We look forward to providing MetroPlus workers with job security, a good contract and a voice at work through our union.”

Union protection
The union’s newest members handle applications of people, primarily Medicaid recipients, who use the HMO of the city’s huge hospital system.

Apart from the contract bargaining, job security and on-the-job protections offered by the union, MetroPlus workers told PEP they were attracted to DC 37 and Local 1549 because of the prescription drug and other benefits, that they lack. These include disability, dental, optical, tuition reimbursement, scholarship, reimbursement of civil service fees, podiatry, education and legal benefits. MetroPlus workers complained that they had to fork out hefty sums for a prescription drug rider and medication purchases, while the union drug benefit has modest co-pays.


With the union, we will have respect on the job and a guarantee of protection of our rights.
Jean Chery
MetroPlus Employee


I'm a single mother with three girls. By speaking out for the union, I am speaking about what's good for my family.

Bridgette Ward
MetroPlus Employee

“With a union, you have backup,” said Bridgette Ward, explaining her desire to be represented by a union. “You don’t have to worry that you’re out there on a limb. If you have a problem, you have someone to go to.”

“I don’t like seeing favoritism on the job,” said Ayanna Gabriel, who emerged as an outspoken ­advocate for DC 37 during the organizing drive. “The union will help by giving people an opportunity to advance. It promotes fairness on the job.”

A successful strategy
“DC 37 is a big union and we know that it will help resolve problems and represent and help all of the members,” Elizabeth Alonzo said in Spanish. Alonzo said that although she had never had a disciplinary problem with a manager, she believed workers clearly need the institutional support of a union to deal with workplace disputes. “You’re secure and you know they can’t easily dismiss you,” she said.

Besides mentioning job security and workplace protections, Alonzo also said she was particularly attracted to DC 37’s one-year-old affordable housing program, which has helped more than 1,000 members get mortgages for homes.

Renee Gainer, an assistant director of the union’s Clerical-Administrative Division, coordinated the ­organizing effort with the support of Field Operations Director Barbara Ingram-Edmonds, Clerical-Administrative Director Ronnie Harris and Connie Derr and Jim Cullen of DC 37’s parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. As an HHC employee, Local 1549 2nd Vice President Ralph Palladino played a key role in helping the union with workplace research and contacts.

“This was a huge victory, especially because we had never broken into an HMO before,” Gainer said. “In a sense, it’s a new frontier for the union.”

“Our strategic plan worked,” Gainer said. “We went after the MetroPlus folks diligently and showed them that they belonged with us because our members do similar work.”

Harris and Gainer praised the division’s 28 reps for adapting to the challenge and convincing the MetroPlus workers to become a part of the DC 37 family. Staff from the union’s other five divisions and its funds and departments also contributed.

Over two years, the organizing drive involved researching MetroPlus’s structure and mission, identifying on-the-job leaders to convince their co-workers to join and making home visits, as well as media and publicity work and meetings at union headquarters and HHC.

“I am happy, happy, happy!” Gabriel said. “I’m happy to be a part of DC 37.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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