Public Employee Press
POLITICAL ACTION 2012
Stop Assaults on workers
By GREGORY N. HEIRES
As on-the-job assaults increase in New York City agencies, the union is campaigning hard for a new state law to impose tougher penalties on people who attack social service workers.
Anthony Wells, president of Social Service Employees Union Local 371, speaks at an April 23 rally at City Hall, where union activists and leaders gathered to express support for a proposed law that would raise the penalty for assaulting social service workers. DC 37 and Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez
is at Well's left.
"In this bill, we aim to protect workers - not to criminalize clients - so that members don't suffer physical injury or added mental stress on the job," said Anthony Wells, president of Social Service Employees Union Local 371, which is leading the fight for the legislation with the support of Clerical-Administrative Employees Local 1549 and other unions.
Scores of Local 371 and Local 1549 members gathered with other union activists and local leaders on the steps of City Hall April 23 as DC 37 and management held a joint news conference on the bill inside.
After the news conference, several politicians and union leaders rallied with the throng outside. Local 371 members who were victims of assaults on the job (see boxes) also spoke poignantly at the news conference and at the rally.
Assaults on the city's social service workers have risen rapidly from 29 in 2009 to 56 in 2010 and 61 in 2011, a 10 percent increase in the last year alone, according to Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services. A follow-up investigation found 184 incidents actually occurred in 2011.
"Given the increase in demand for social services as a result of the slowdown of our economy, services for many have not always been granted," DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said. "As a result, we have seen an increase of assaults on our workers who grant the services."
Fear at the workplace
State Sen. Martin Golden sponsored the bill in the state Senate, which has already approved the legislation. The union is now pushing for the Assembly to pass the bill so that it can go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk later this year. A former Police Officer, Golden said he sympathized with the fears gripping Social Workers, whose jobs expose them to the violence of the city's child abuse and drug culture.
Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez, an Eligibility Specialist, recalled how years ago he encountered threats and intimidation on the job. "I was told I would have a bullet in my face."
He shared the story of a member who never was the same after being viciously beaten up at work. Five years later she died, and many of her friends attribute her early death to the assault.
Currently, assault on a social service worker is classified as a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year in prison. The bill would make assaulting Social Workers a Class D felony, which carries a penalty of two to seven years.
Assembly member Peter M. Rivera, a sponsor of the legislation, said Social Workers deserve the same protection as certain other city workers, such as City Marshals, school personnel, Transit and Sanitation workers, who face violence on the job.
DC 37 Associate Director Oliver Gray urged the union activists to step up their lobbying for the passage of the important legislation. "Fight on, brothers and sisters!"