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Insurgent lifeguards barred from running in local’s leadership election

Slate will appeal


Several members of a District Council 37 union representing lifeguards nominated as candidates in an upcoming leadership election have been barred from running by the local’s election committee. In letters sent March 11 to five members of the slate, the election committee for DC 37 Local 461 wrote that the lifeguards are ineligible because they have not remained in good standing for the entire previous year, as the union’s constitution requires.

“DC37 membership records, show that from June 25, 2022 until October 14, 2023, you were not a dues paying member of Local 461,” reads a letter to Edwin Agramonte, who was nominated to run for the union’s delegate position. “This means that you only have four months paying dues to Local 461 within the past year. As a result, you are not eligible to be a candidate for executive board.”

The union represents nearly 1,200 rank and file lifeguards at the city’s beaches and pools, though only a small group of around 30 year-round lifeguards are invited to union meetings or allowed to participate in the union’s leadership elections.

It is common practice for year-round lifeguards who work at the city’s pools in the fall, winter and spring to get a step-up promotion to chief or lieutenant lifeguard for the summer season, several longtime lifeguards told The Chief. However, supervisory lifeguard positions are generally represented by Local 508, another lifeguard local, and not Local 461, so when lifeguards hold those positions, occasionally their dues get paid to Local 508.

The union is always aware when a lifeguard's dues aren’t going to Local 461 and can inform members as much at any time, the lifeguards said, just as the union did with Agramonte in October 2023.

Agramonte, furious at being deemed ineligible to run, told The Chief that when he got step-up promotions in the past it was typically just for the summer, and for those periods he always paid his dues to Local 461. It was only after Agramonte ran for Local 461 president in 2021 and sued the union that he was given a supervisory position for a year and a half and paid dues to Local 508 instead of Local 461.

The lifeguard feels he was set up by union leadership, who he said kept him from paying dues to Local 461 for more than a year, rendering him ineligible to run.

“They left me in that position purposefully and deliberately so that I would be ineligible,” Agramonte said. “[Union leaders] know they're on the verge of losing so they’re doing this.”

Agramonte said he was fearful as early as last summer that the union leadership was trying to sabotage his candidacy. Agramonte’s lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, wrote in July 2023 to the Parks Department noting that Agramonte’s dues had been shifted to Local 508 and requested that Parks ensure Agramonte’s dues went to Local 461 instead.

“Everytime [Agramonte gets a step-up] prior to this summer, his dues get paid to Local 461,” Schwartz wrote Parks. “But this summer they went to Local 508. By doing this someone at the Parks Department has potentially made Edwin ineligible to run for President.”

Schwartz provided pay stubs to The Chief showing that Local 461’s former president, Franklyn “Bubba” Paige, got step-up promotions each summer during which he paid dues to Local 508 but was still allowed to run in union elections in Local 461 for several decades. 

"They cannot pick and choose when they enforce the rules,” Agramonte said.

This year’s election is also scheduled for March 29 despite Local 461’s constitution mandating that elections be held in February.

Local 461’s election committee did not respond to a series of emailed questions on the lifeguard slate’s disqualifications. 

A spokesperson for DC37 said the union doesn’t comment on its locals’ internal elections.

'Funny business’

Other longtime lifeguards agreed with Agramonte that the unusual step-up promotion was likely a tactic created by union leadership to stop him from running. They placed the blame at the feet of Peter Stein, the president of Local 508 for several decades.

"They've been pulling a lot of funny business for many decades,” said Justin Hausler, a seasonal lifeguard. "They did that intentionally just so that [Agramonte] would not be paying dues to Local 461, and they knew that he would try to run in the election."

Janet Fash, a longtime chief lifeguard and campaigner for union democracy in both locals said that the Local 461 constitution is “absolutely,” set up so that Stein’s preferred leaders can hold onto power.

“So now because people want to participate in the local now, they want to follow the rules, but for the last 40 years [Stein] did whatever he wanted.”

Kristoff Borrel, the lifeguard running for president on Agramonte’s slate, declined to share the election board’s reasoning for not allowing him to run, but told The Chief that he’s gotten step-up promotions past summers.

A lifeguard running for the vice president position alongside Agramonte and Borrel has also been barred from running, as have two others on the slate.

Despite the setbacks, the insurgent slate of lifeguards are not giving up. The lifeguards called for a union meeting this week to plead their case to fellow members and the local’s election committee. “We have to keep fighting,” Agramonte said. 

The lifeguards can also appeal to the judicial board of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, DC 37’s parent union. AFSCME officials, though, sided with the local when seasonal lifeguards were similarly disqualified from running in 2021’s leadership elections. 

At that point Agramonte sued the union, an option which Schwartz, in an email to DC37’s general counsel, warned the lifeguards would once again employ if their appeals to the union fail. The State Court of Appeals just handed down a decision in Agramonte’s previous case that dismissed the lifeguard’s suit but broadened the rights of members of municipal unions in New York State to sue their unions.


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