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Public Employee Press

Wave Hill workers vote to join District Council 37


Celebrating DC 37’s March 1 organizing victory at Wave Hill, from left: attorney Steven Sykes, Gardeners Susannah Strazzera, José Concepción, Gelene Scarborough and Kevin Bost, and union organizer Moira Dolan.

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

Workers at the 28-acre Wave Hill garden and cultural center in the Bronx voted overwhelmingly to join DC 37.

In a National Labor Relations Board election held March 1, the full-time workers voted 9-5 for DC 37, becoming the union’s newest unit.

When the vote was announced, Gardener Marie Kearns hugged organizer Moira Dolan of the
DC 37 Research and Negotiations Dept.
“We have been working so hard at this for a long time. I couldn’t be happier,” Ms. Kearns said.

The victory was especially sweet for Gardener José Concepción, a 29-year veteran employee who participated in an organizing effort in the 1980s in which the union lost by one vote.

The spark for the victorious organizing drive occurred last year, when after years of salary freezes, management gave some employees merit raises. Despite good work reviews, Concepción was the only gardener denied a raise. His co-workers shared his outrage, and the gardeners found that the inequitable pay policy existed throughout Wave Hill.

Gardener Kevin Bost, 16 years at Wave Hill, said he felt a sense of injustice when he learned that he earned more than Concepción. “It seems people who have been here a while and don’t have many years left are being capped,” he said.

Most workers said they needed the union to increase their clout on the job. At the city-supported institution, workers have health coverage and a pension, like DC 37 workers at other cultural sites. But they do not have the same grievance and job security protections, and they aren’t covered by DC 37’s economic agreements.

Workers complained that they had virtually no contact with management until the administration learned about their interest in the union and tried to get them to vote against DC 37 in group and one-on-one meetings.

In interviews, employees expressed pride in their work and a deep commitment to the institution. But they said they were bitter about workplace relations, which deteriorated during the organizing drive. Still, they said they hope to work constructively with management.

“There have been a few issues in the past and there was no one here to represent us. This was long overdue,” said Conference Coordinator Linda Allen. The 16-year Wave Hill worker wore a DC 37 pin on the day of the vote.

“Over the years, management has disrespected us. We would like much better relations with them to be able to do better work for the institution,” Bost said.

Workers cheer union victory
After the vote, the workers cheered and hugged each other, Dolan and staff attorney Steven Sykes. Then they phoned Membership Manager Alice Longworth, one of the key organizers, who was hospitalized on the eve of the vote.

Building on the momentum of the victory, Dolan then polled the workers for the most convenient dates to ask management to begin discussions on a contract.

Besides the gardeners and administrative workers, the unit will represent clerical and maintenance workers at the bargaining table. “We’re happy to welcome these new members to the union,” said Sherwyn Britton, director of the White Collar Division. The Wave Hill group will likely be included within one of the union locals that represent workers at cultural institutions, she said.

“I want fairness,” Concepción said, reflecting on the organizing victory. “I told them we are not here to cut the hand that feeds us,” he said. “We just want to negotiate in good faith and be respected. Basically, I love this place.”

 

 
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