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Hundreds of members of District Council 37, the largest union representing city workers, rallied June 15 at Foley Square to demand fair wage increases ahead of contract negotiations.
The union representing thousands of frontline workers including emergency medical technicians, public-hospital employees and child-welfare employees is seeking larger wage hikes than it won in its previous economic agreement, which provided 2 percent retroactive raises in the first year, 2.25 percent during the second year and a final 3 percent increase. The contract, which was negotiated in 2018 and covers nearly 100,000 city employees, expired May 25, 2021.
DC 37’s secretary, Maf Misbah Uddin, said that during the past decade, the union’s members have received 18.3 percent in compounded raises, but that prices had increased 27 percent during that period. “We have more homeless in our union than ever,” he said to the crowd.
Uddin also sent a message to Mayor Eric Adams, reminding him that he was elected as a “blue-collar mayor.”
“Those who are elected officials, you cannot just claim that you are progressive. Your progress starts with us,” he said.
Wages are 'disrespectful'
DC 37 represents many low-paid workers who make barely above minimum wage, such as school crossing guards. Shaun Francois, who is president of both DC 37 and Local 372, represents 23,000 school crossing guards, school lunch workers and other non-pedagogical staff in the city public-school system. He believed the $15 an hour minimum wage “isn’t cutting it.”
“In New York City, it’s disrespectful. This ain’t Georgia,” he said. “A studio apartment is $1,300. It doesn’t add up mathematically.”
Alongside their demands for wage increases, the union officials also called for members to be able to retain their health care without any givebacks.
Several speakers highlighted DC 37 members’ service as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, despite never having received hazard pay.
“New York City never stopped running because of DC 37. We know our frontline work is the only reason our city never collapsed,” said John Hyslop, who represents Queens Library employees as president of Local 1321. “We know our frontline workers saved people’s lives, kept us safe, kept us healthy and kept us educated. Now the city needs to do their job and pay us.”
Henry Garrido, the union’s executive director, highlighted the sacrifices made by frontline workers, including 500 DC 37 members who died from Covid.
“For the last two years, our members have suffered enough,” he said. “They said you were essential, right? So where is our essential pay?”
'Show me the money'
Several elected officials came out to support the union’s fight for fair wages, including City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa, who chairs the Council’s labor committee, and Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
About two-thirds of the city’s contracts with unions representing municipal workers have expired. If the city reaches a deal with DC 37 first, it would establish a pattern for other labor agreements. Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, came out to support DC 37 members and called on the Adams administration to begin negotiations.
“You gotta get to the table,” he said. “I want to get to the table too, and my contract is not up ‘til December.”
Being labeled “heroes” or “frontline workers” has not helped with the surging cost of food and gas, Garrido pointed out.
“I appreciate you calling us essential, but I’m gonna do a Jerry Maguire and say ‘Show me the money,’ ” the union leader shouted.
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