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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

State budget top issue at Black and Puerto Rican Caucus

Photos: James McCray, Hy-Sync Media, and others
Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells, and Local 372 Executive VP Donald Nesbit.

More than 100 members and activists joined DC 37 leaders in Albany for the 49th annual Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Feb. 14-16.

This year’s theme, “There is Power in Numbers… Get Counted,” referenced the campaign for a complete count for the 2020 U.S. Census and also the upcoming November general election.

The caucus, sponsored by the New York State Association of Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislators, is one of several opportunities in February for the union to make its voice heard by meeting with and lobbying elected state officials in the capitol.

The caucus is also an opportunity to exchange information with other labor and community leaders in an effort to build coalitions in this all-important election year.

Henry Garrido (center) at a caucus session with Francois (left) and NY State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (right).
February begins the state legislature’s debate on the annual budget. At the caucus, the union lobbied to stop proposed cuts to Medicaid, schools, and other social programs in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed FY 2021 executive budget.

Jeremy John, DC 37’s political action director, called it the “high point” of the weekend. “Some of the discussions we were able to have with elected caucus members focused on the proposed budget. Our position is that there shall be no Medicaid cost shifts to New York City, and that the state needs to generate revenue by other means,” John said. “We had many meetings with leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to get our point across.”

Local 372 Board of Education Employees President Shaun D. Francois I, was pleased with the response he received from legislators.

“We worked hard this weekend to make contact with elected officials, including an event we sponsored on Saturday,” Francois said. “Many took the time to listen to our concerns. I was very happy with our participation. We had a strong and effective presence.”

Laura Morand, president of Local 2627 NYC Electronic Data Processing Personnel, came to support Telework bills currently being considered by state lawmakers. If passed, the legislation would set a standardized policy for city agencies and enable public workers to have the option to telecommute.

DC 37 Treasurer and Local 1407 President Maf Misbah Uddin.
Local 2627 President Laura Morand with NYC Council Member Ben Kallos.

“This issue is very important to us, because if Telework gets through, it would finally set the policy for New York City agencies,” Morand said.

“The caucus is a chance for members to interact,” said SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells, who also serves as an International Vice President for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, DC 37’s national union. “Over the weekend, we spoke in depth with elected officials to set up further conversations for issues like health care, also the importance of the census. We made sure elected officials understand that the union’s agenda must be their agenda. Affordable housing and dealing with student debt are real issues for many.”

Union activists and staffers participated in workshops, including one on predatory lending with Sybil McPherson, the union’s assistant director of legislation.

During Sunday’s annual scholarship dinner, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido won the Peralta Award, named for state Sen. José Peralta, who died in Nov. 2018.

“We got our point across this weekend,” Garrido said. “The main purpose of the caucus was to get people to listen to our issues — in particular the budget cuts to Medicaid and education — our voices are heard.”