|Home||Legal Rights||Education||Union Democracy Review||Books|
|Union Democracy Review -- selected articles|
Previous Article: at the UAW public review board
Next Article: Reformers win majority in harbor workers Local 333, ILA
Union Democracy Review--> Articles
Keep AUD on the job: SUBSCRIBE to Union Democracy Review! Call 718-564-1114 .
From the August September 2002 issue of UDR
For a lively place to be, try one of the New York City public employee unions. Youll find hotly contested union elections galore, policy disputes, demands for ethical practices, occasional rivalry among unions, open discussions in the public press. Is New York exceptional in this display of union democracy in action? Or are New Yorkers simply fortunate in access to the information? We are blessed with the Chief, a rare independent weekly newspaper specially aimed at public employees. The paper does more than announce coming civil service exams and list the winners. Under the direction of editor Richard Steier, it has become a voice for public employee unionists, reporting in accurate detail on union affairs, including the facts of their internal union life. It is not averse to antagonizing city government officials or those union officials who might prefer to privatize union affairs, that is, to keep their members in the dark.
The Chief, with its twelve full-size pages and small but quick-minded staff of writers, can report far more extensively on democracy in city employee unions than our Union Democracy Review. We take advantage of stories in its pages to help compile this summary of current events. Some of this account, however, is based upon our own reporting.
Vigorously contested elections for top office in the United Federation of Teachers are so familiar that they are now taken for granted. The (relatively) new president, Randi Weingarten, and her administration are comfortably settled in office and not in any danger. Her slate was easily reelected, and the contract she negotiated for city teachers was overwhelmingly approved by the voters. But the UFT administration cannot be complacent. In every major election, the administration faces challenge from a rival slate, one that is no quixotic token opposition of egoists who want their names in lights. In UFT top elections, the opposition is well organized; it gets its critical message out to the membership and, like the administration slate, presents its candidates and platform to the membership, at union expense, in several full pages in the unions tabloid.
In the Professional Staff Congress, which represents the faculty at all colleges of the City of New York University system, a lively opposition group ousted a dozing old administration in the last union election and has injected the union with a heavy shot of adrenaline. Its paper, the Clarion, has been transformed from a dreary publication of heavy stuff into an interesting and attractive voice for the faculty. Its pages announce a two-month discussion on U.S. military and nuclear policy "in preparation for formulating union policy." In a special issue, the Clarion published the full text of the proposed new contract. Election contests continue in the various college chapters. The Clarion reports that the administration New Caucus elected its slate in two-thirds of the chapters voting this year.
The PSC represents the full-time and tenured teaching staff, but also the large "adjunct" faculty, employed part time and without major fringes by the City University in a cost-cutting move. PSC suffered a minor PR setback in a collective bargaining election for the adjunct faculty at New York University. The PSC endorsed the American Federation of Teachers, but the election was won, nevertheless, by the United Auto Workers.
In July, Steve Cassidy was elected president of the 9,000-member Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents all firefighters below the level of lieutenant. In a four-way race, the candidates vied to succeed the retiring former president. At 46, Cassidy had never held union office before, yet he missed winning a clear majority by only 17 votes in the first run and won by 3,425 to 2,904 in the runoff. The 6,300 votes cast, 70% of the membership, was an unusually high percentage of the total membership. Challengers defeated half the incumbents in races for lower positions.
Firefighters were irritated by the record of Fire Commissioner Tom Van Essen who had been UFA president before he was appointed to the top department job by Mayor Giuliani. Union members feel that Van Essen, even though he came out of their union, sacrificed their interests to conciliate the mayor. Cassidy and his runner up got 80% of the votes between them in the first run. They both castigated Van Essen. Those who had any close ties with the old Van Essen UFA administration didnt stand a chance in this election.
As a new president, Cassidy faces a complex of difficult issues. In the Chief, Editor Steier comments, "Mr. Cassidy seems well-spoken and photogenic. But much of his message amounted to telling his audience what it wanted to hear....he will need to do far more than that to govern effectively, particularly in light of the citys financial problems and the huge loss of experience on the UFA board."
The Uniformed Fire Officers Association represents firefighters from lieutenant and up. In executive board elections, Captain Michael Currid, the incumbent, won with 238 votes; but it was close. His rival, Captain Michael Gala, pulled 230 votes. A four or five vote switch would have changed the outcome.
Nineteen ninety-nine was an eventful year for the 25,000-member Patrolmens Benevolent Association, the big union of New York City police officers. For almost 20 years, there had not been a contested office for union president, but that changed when four candidates vied for the job that year. Sixteen thousand ballots were counted by the American Arbitration Association on June 6. In a startling upset, Patrick Lynch, a young insurgent, defeated James Savage, the incumbent, by 6,458 to 4,528. The other two trailed. Lynchs slate carried five of the top executive board slots.
Lynch, only 35 at the time, had obviously been preparing his move for some time. In 1989, while assigned to the Williamsburg neighborhood, he published a little rank and file newsletter, Brooklyn North News. By 1999, discontent was rife among police officers who resented what they felt was shabby treatment by the mayor, by years without raises, and by a corruption scandal that implicated some union lawyers. Offered a spot on the administration ticket, Lynch turned it down to become the voice and representative of that disaffected membership.
For fifteen years, the 5,000-member Sergeants Benevolent Association experienced no contested election for top office. But this year was different. In a raucous exchange of what the Chief characterized as "insults," two insurgent groups challenged the 20-team slate headed by incumbent president, Bernie Pound. A full opposition slate, the "Gold Line" is headed by Dave Duffy, who formed his own caucus, Sergeants for a Better Association, a year ago. He denounced incumbent President Pound for negotiating jointly with "garbagemen", that is, with sanitation unions. A second opposition slate, the "Front Line" headed by Ed Mullins, is contesting ten positions. He, too, criticized Pound for joining that Uniformed Forces Coalition in collective bargaining with the city.
None of this remained private but quickly became a matter of public record. Apart from the customary full write-up in its normal news columns, the Chief ran a full-page paid ad by the Retired Sergeants Association supporting the insurgent candidacy of Mullins.
On a state level, the 25,000- member independent New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association has just lost 1,100 members when one group voted to quit and join --- really to rejoin --- AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. About three years ago, this seceding unit had been affiliated with AFSCME Council 82; but, dissatisfied with life in AFSCME, it voted to quit Council 82 and join the independent NYSCOPBA. Now, dissatisfied with the independent union, the unit decides to return home to Council 82. In July, Brian Shanagher, the incumbent NYSCOPBA president, was badly defeated for reelection by an insurgent: 6,400- 4,700. Oddly enough, it was Mr. Shanagher who had led those AFSCME members out of Council 82 into the independent union three years ago.
Pointless wandering? Not at all. By shopping around, these unionists demonstrate that no one can take them for granted.
Local 3 is the largest affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a powerhouse in New York City. By a complex arrangement with the employers association, the union maintains close control over the assignment of jobs, while the hiring hall manages to elude strict NLRB controls. AUD only rarely receives news from members of Local 3, which probably means that members are unusually content or familiarly reluctant to complain. However, Local 3 does have a separate civil service division which includes about 1,200 electricians scattered over a multitude of city agencies. Here, as the Chief reports, John Fabbricante, an electrician working now for the Fire Department after 20 years for the city, has not been backward about speaking up.
In 1997, The NYC Board of Collective Bargaining upheld his duty of fair representation suit against the local. In April, this year, when his division leadership rushed through nominations for division office without notifying the membership, his protest succeeded in reopening nominations. Fabbricante ran as an insurgent for the top job of division chair.
He had learned a lot about collective bargaining in years of study at Cornell and elsewhere. His election platform, among other planks, called for the election of shop stewards instead of appointment. "Provide contract, bylaws, constitution, and IBEW directory to all members periodically ... most members never see such."
His opponent, Gary Lane, had all the advantages of incumbency, including a copy of the membership list which, he said, he had accumulated himself during his years in office. Fabbricante had no easy way to reach a widely dispersed membership. The union refused to issue a membership list to him. At a walk-in election at a division meeting in June, Lane was reelected with 229 to Fabbricantes 76. Considering all the obstacles in this division in this local, it was a credible showing. Above all, he woke them up. "Its the largest turnout Ive seen for the city division," said Joseph Bechtold, the local recording secretary, "Its a credit to both candidates that they got the membership active."
AFSCME District Council 37
Election contests in this union, with over 100,000 members in some 50 locals, continue to attract special attention because the district has just emerged from years of scandals: millions of dollars stolen by officials, a fraudulent contract referendum, manipulated elections, jail sentences for some former officers, a trusteeship imposed by the national office only recently lifted, and finally a promised program of reform. As events unfold in DC 37, the overhanging question remains: what do they portend for the unions future? Here, we note only that question, not any answer.
"Sixteen of DC 37s 56 locals have held officer elections in recent months," reported the unions Public Employee Press in July, "In eight of them, union members chose new presidents; the other eight reelected their incumbent leaders."
In Local 372, NYC Board of Education employees, the Press reports a "landslide victory" in the reelection of Veronica Montgomery-Costa. An interesting result, because Montgomery-Costa is the newly elected president of DC 37 under its new reform administration. But that "landslide" was more like the dust shifting of a tiny anthill. Of the locals 27,000 members --- 27,000! -- only about 500 showed up for the walk-in election on June 12. The landslide winner got 475 votes; Larry Davis, the challenger, managed to drag out only 28.
This is a local once dominated by M-Cs predecessor, Charles Hughes, convicted, as the Chief put it, because he "stole everything that wasnt nailed down in the local." Part of his managerial technique was to limit voter turnout. In that respect, not much change in Local 372.
In Hospital Workers Local 420, there was also a low election turnout, only 1,100 of its 7,500 members, but with far different consequences. James Butler had been local president for 30 years, as long as memory, and earned a reputation as a feisty members representative. But as the years leafed by, his salary soared into the $250,000 stratosphere; members were taxed to finance a headquarters building which consumed several million dollars without ever emerging from the shadows for occupancy. Finally he tried, in vain, to induce members to raise their dues --- already among the Councils highest.
Then in 1999, he announced that his slate had been unanimously reelected without opposition, no need for a messy election. But he had overlooked the inconvenient fact that Carmen Charles had been nominated for vice-president as an insurgent. When the local was forced to have an election, Charles, the outsider, won. For the next three years, she remained a pariah --- no office space, no assigned duties. But it was the beginning of the end for Butler.
In March, this year, Charles ran against Butler for president. He appointed the election committee; they limited the voters to a single site. Still she defeated him 586 to 526. When the election committee voided the election and called for a rerun, Charles appealed to the unions national Judicial Panel which ordered her installed. In May she finally took over as president. In July, in a runoff election for two vice president spots, her candidates won comfortable 300 vote margins. This time, 1,800 member had voted.
Years of rank and file insurgency, contested elections, and running disputes over contract terms culminated in the year 2000, when Roger Toussaint and his whole insurgent New Directions slate won control of Transport Workers Local 100, the union representing subway and bus workers in New York City, most of them employees of the city. The new administration promptly led the union in a newly aggressive program, standing up to the NYC Transit Authority on issues of safety, job security, and the stability of welfare funds. Nevertheless, some of the members of the New Directions team who had helped Toussaint to win office, including some of the first founders of the New Directions caucus, soon expressed misgivings over his management style, charging that he was straying from their movements promises for a "rank and file" democratic union and creating a familiar type of appointive authoritarian organizational machine. Toussaints former colleagues, now his critics have begun publishing their own 12-page tabloid newsletter, the Rank and File Advocate. One of the critics is Noel Acevedo, Local 100 recording secretary, elected with Toussaint in 2000 on the New Directions slate. Toussaint, however, remains firmly in control.
A sign of growing tension is the case of Naomi Allen. She was one of the New Directions founders; its candidate in an earlier election for secretary, she was always one of the slates top vote-getters. Now, she too is an outspoken critic of Toussaint. In July, the local executive board by vote of 6 to 28 censured her on charges of "forgery." The charge of forgery had been filed against her after she nominated a slate for convention delegates in opposition to one backed by Toussaint. With their permission, she signed the names of three letters of acceptance from candidates who could not make the meeting. The case festered for over a year. Finally, two of the three-person hearing panel voted to dismiss the charges; but the executive board rejected the majority recommendation and voted to censure Allen.
Probable future for Local 100? Militant, and never dull.
Page designed by Matt Noyes, National
Writers Union/UAW, and Rachel Szekely
the following credit line on the materials you use:
Please notify us at firstname.lastname@example.org when you use material from the site.
Send comments or suggestions on the website to email@example.com.