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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Union rallies for a new contract

PEP photos by Mike Lee
DC 37 members and activists pack Foley Square to demand a fair contract.

Several thousand DC 37 members and activists joined union leaders and elected officials at a Foley Square rally in lower Manhattan demanding that NYC Mayor Eric Adams begin negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The raucous June 15 event was the largest the union held since before the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.

In the wake of the economic crisis triggered by the ongoing pandemic, this rally began a crucial campaign for DC 37 in the fight for a fair contract for the union’s 150,000-strong public workers, the majority of whom stayed on the job serving New York City while enduring the cataclysmic impact of the pandemic. More than 500 DC 37 members died from the virus, while thousands more still suffer from related health issues.

Local 372 and DC 37 President Shaun D. Francois I urges members to stay ready for the contract fight ahead.
“After more than two years of this pandemic, it’s time we stand up for what is right, move forward, and engage the City to come to the table and negotiate a fair and just contract,” said Henry Garrido, DC 37 Executive Director. “Our members have told us what difficulties they’re confronting in the workplace and at home. We’re determined to secure a new agreement with this administration that provides a wage increase, affordable health care, and working conditions, including telework policies, that allow for safety and flexibility in this new reality.”

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams at the rally.
Several of New York City’s top elected leaders also spoke in favor of a fair deal for the union at the rally.

“Our municipal workers — all of you — showed up to support and provide services for your fellow New Yorkers even if it meant putting your own lives and your families at risk, and I salute you for that,” said City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “The actions of our frontline workers were not just heroic but critical to keeping our city running.”

“It’s not just enough to speak up about our appreciation for our essential workers. Our City has to show it through tangible and concrete actions. We must provide you with what you deserve: a fair contract. One that provides good wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and the ability to thrive with dignity and respect.”

The previous contract, negotiated with then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, expired in 2021. Before then, under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City dragged its feet on a collective bargaining agreement for nearly five years.

As the pandemic continues, with health care costs and inflation skyrocketing and communities devastated, the conditions, and the union’s demands, have changed.

Members react to speakers at the Foley Square rally for a new union contract.
Nearly 15,000 members filled out a DC 37 survey prioritizing their needs in advance of negotiations commencing. Top priorities include substantial pay raises that reflect current economic conditions, hazard pay, shoring up health care for members and their families, and teleworking, which both Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have resisted to date.

Union members and leaders spoke of the tens of thousands of DC 37 members who went to the workplace during the lockdown.

“New York City never stopped running because of DC 37,” said John Hyslop, Local 1321 Queens Library Guild President and DC 37 Secretary. “Hospital workers worked tirelessly to save lives. 911 operators answered calls from those seeking help for loved ones. We cleaned hospital rooms, terrified of the disease. We ensured that our city’s water never stopped running. We ensured that library patrons had their e-books. We provided amazing cultural resources to everyone.

The crowd packed lower Manhattan’s Foley Square for the June 15 rally.
“We know our frontline work is the only reason our city never collapsed. The mayor knows what we do each and every day of our lives. Now we need our city to do its job and give us a significant wage increase to recognize our work,” Hyslop said.

Carlos Sanchez, a Community Associate in Manhattan Bridges High School and a member of Local 372, told the crowd about the difficulties working during the pandemic and helping those in need during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis.

DC 37 members listened as union leaders, elected officials, and supporters spoke of the need for a
new contract.
“When our kids were hungry, we fed them,” Sanchez said. “When everybody was home, we were at work. When people were confused and needed resources, community coordinators, community associates, and parent coordinators were in our schools talking to parents, talking to the children, talking to everyone.”

As PEPtalk goes to press, the union is preparing for its first bargaining session with the City on Sept. 28.