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Former president of DC 37's clerical local is expelled

Rodriguez ordered to repay union $31K


The longtime president of a District Council 37 local representing thousands of city clerical workers has been expelled and ordered to reimburse the union more than $31,000 for using a car service to commute, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ judicial panel ruled.

Eddie Rodriguez, who served as president of Local 1549 from 2001 until the local was placed under administratorship in September 2022 following a draft audit by AFSCME, was found by judicial panel Chairperson Carla Insinga to have improperly spent union funds to use the car service to travel from his home in Rockland County to work.

The audit found that the local incurred about $51,000 in car-service expenses, $45,500 of which was spent on behalf of Rodriguez alone, with $31,339.93 of that amount spent transporting the local’s president from his house to the union’s office. Each trip averaged $288, according to the Jan. 11 decision.

The draft audit prompted Local 1549 members Honda Wang, Anthony Lackhan and Stephanie Ramirez to file charges against the local’s officers. 

During a November hearing held to consider the charges, Rodriguez stated that he previously commuted via bus but began using the car service when the bus suspended service during the height of the Covid pandemic. But in her decision, Insinga wrote that “there is nothing that prevented Brother Rodriguez from seeking approval for the extraordinary travel costs caused by the pandemic or paying for the costs out-of-pocket and then seeking reimbursement for those expenses that were allowable.”

“The impact the COVID pandemic had on our lives does not negate the fiduciary responsibilities under … [the] AFSCME Financial Standards Code which requires proper authorization of all expenditures of union funds,” she continued.

The chairperson ordered Rodriguez, who was removed along with the local’s other officers in September 2022, to pay back the local within 30 days of her decision. Rodriguez, who was president of DC 37 from 2011 until January 2019, told The Chief during a phone interview that the local did have a policy and procedure on the car service, which he said AFSCME knew about.

“I’m not sleeping on this,” he said of the decision. “If I was getting a car payment, it would have been more money than the car service. I was out there during Covid when people were dying to speak to members out in the field.”

Rodriguez denied any wrongdoing, called the ruling “political,” and argued that the members who brought the charges did so to boost their candidacies for union offices.

Wang, who began working as a candidate services liaison at the Campaign Finance Board in 2020, told The Chief that he was “thankful that the judicial panel ruled correctly,” and disputed Rodriguez’s claims that the charges were politically motivated.

“This is motivated by principle. The reason why I brought the charges is because I got together with other longtime members and it really gave me a sense of how this union has bureaucratized,” Wang said.

The local represents about 14,000 secretaries, eligibility specialists, police administrative aides and other clerical workers. 

“Union presidents shouldn’t get to live like CEOs,” Wang said. “That’s what happened under Al Diop. Once these longtime members saw the same thing happening with Eddie, it was disgruntling for them.”

Wang was referring to Local 1549’s former president, who was sentenced to jail time in 2001 for rigging a contract vote and for embezzling more than $1 million in members' dues money. Diop was initially able to steal from his members unnoticed because the union had not been audited for four years.

Gift cards, comp time scrutinized

As part of the Jan. 11 ruling, Ralph Palladino, a former second vice president of the local who retired in December 2021, was also expelled and ordered to pay the local nearly $29,000 in compensatory time payments he received as part of a severance package that totaled just over $170,000. The audit found that in August 2020, the local’s officers were allowed to receive payment for up to 20 days in comp time, but the cap was rescinded in June 2021. Palladino received compensatory time payments for 43 days. 

But Insinga found that Local 1549’s policies regarding comp time were “insufficient.”

“It is further noted that no evidence was presented to demonstrate that the changes made to staff and officer compensation by Brother Rodriguez in 2015, 2020 and 2021 through internal memos was properly authorized by Local 1549 governing bodies,” she added.

In an email to The Chief, Palladino wrote that he planned to appeal the decision. 

“I retired almost one year before the administratorship was imposed by AFSCME. The AFSCME hearing officer's decision is based on erroneous and false information. I did nothing to warrant being retroactively expelled,” he wrote. “I received payment for time worked and was legally entitled to based on the long standing policy of the union.”

Insinga also criticized the local’s policies — or lack thereof — regarding the purchase of gift cards, on which the union spent up to $50,000 annually. “The Local’s practices regarding the accounting and distribution of gift cards are seriously deficient and not in the best interest of the membership whose dues are used to purchase the gift cards,” the judicial panel chairperson wrote. “The audit report shows that the Local did not properly document gift card distribution.”

The local’s former vice-president, Alma Roper, was also expelled, while former  secretary-treasurer Felix Cooper and union officers Rhonda Myers, James McLeod and Jamaisa Johnson were suspended from holding elected union positions for four years.

AFSCME communications director Tracey Conaty said in a statement that the judicial panel’s decision “stands on its own.” 

“The administratorship remains in place and our priority remains moving the Local forward. The members of Local 1549 are the backbone of New York City and deserve a strong, transparent and effective union. The administratorship, together with Local 1549 members, is focused on doing just that,” she said.

Rodriguez believed that the local should never have been placed under administratorship. “I gave the city, the union, 45 years,” he said. “I can say I did a lot for the members, and I never stole from them.”

But Wang believed that things were changing in “the right direction” under the administratorship, noting that the local’s constitution was being rewritten from the bottom up.

“This is about the members having the ability to change our union. I want the members in 1549 to start participating,” he said. “What will probably assuage me more is if we can have a proper rank-and-file union.”


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  • grwilliams

    Oh my this is both illuminating and disheartening. I had read another article in a different publication in which former Pres Rodriguez vowed to appeal this event. Now to read here in the Chief Leader that former VP Palladino will also appeal is a welcome relief. Between these two appeals the 140000 members of Local 1549 and the wider NYC Labor community should be able to get to the bottom of what really happened. Hopefully together it will open a wider, deeper 3rd party forensic investigation that will remove all doubts about this case. This way we can rest assured that the correct information was obtained and the proper actions have been taken to find the real culprits. Cant wait to get the fuller story just hope the Chief Leader will have the courage to print it on these pages with the attention it deserves.

    Friday, January 26 Report this