New York City Workers Block Big Dues Increase

New York City’s clerical and administrative workers in AFSCME Local 1549 have been asked to make an unfair sacrifice. Their local officers tried to push through a big dues increase without convincing justification.

The increase passed narrowly, 161 to 137, in a February 3 vote—held during a snowstorm. No arrangements were made for members required to work the evening of the vote, and not even all the members attending got the proposed amendment in writing. Local 1549 has 15,000 members.

But after more than 400 members sent letters to the local, district, and national union with concerns about how the vote was taken, national AFSCME President Lee Saunders refused to accept the vote, blocking the increase.

Local leadership is now backing down, saying they won’t pursue it again until after members get a new contract. Members are still asking for more transparency in how their money would be used to build a stronger, fighting union.

The local’s last dues increase was in 2006, from $20 to $27.40 per two-week pay period. This new increase would have raised dues to $39.

Why So Much?

Currently, the local says it keeps only about 17 percent of the dues that members pay. The rest goes to District Council 37, which is made up of 53 AFSCME locals in New York City, and to the national union. This is because the district council pays most of the bills for the union hall and staff.

DC 37 and AFSCME increased those required payments from all locals in 2006—but Local 1549 officers said that until now they have used about $186,000 a year from the local’s reserve fund to pay the increase, a total of $1.3 million, rather than raising dues. They said the dues increase was necessary to cover the increased payments and replenish the reserves.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable proposal ... but digging deeper reveals some problems.

New Book

Secrets of a successful organizer

A step-by-step guide to building power on the job. Buy Now. »

Each year, the increase, $11.60 a pay period from 15,000 members, would bring in about $4.5 million more. Even a dues increase of half that amount (to $33 a pay period) would have been enough for the local to make its full payments to DC37 and AFSCME, put $1.3 million back into the reserve, and still have more than $800,000 left—all in the first year!

Where would the rest of the money have gone? Would it have been worth the sacrifice for members, having seen their standard of living fall over the past five years with the contract expired and no raises, to have so much more come out of their paychecks?

Leaders were also telling members that the increase was needed to pay for members’ extensive use of union benefits like legal services, dental, and education. But these are paid through a combination of employers’ contributions to the Benefit Funds and by DC37, not by the local.

Escorted Out

Dues rates are set by the local’s constitution, so every increase has to be passed as a constitutional amendment, voted on by members. At a January meeting, local leaders formally presented the amendment to increase dues, but with no details on why this amount was needed.

One member asked whether any of the increase would go to higher pay for local leaders and staff. She was dismissed, ruled out of order, and escorted out of the meeting.

Members should vote on dues issues based on transparent reports of current expenses and convincing plans of how additional money will be spent. Ambitious plans could justify a dues increase—say, a massive public campaign for New York City to tax the rich and for the union to win a contract with full retroactive raises for all members. But so far this leadership has only proposed “business as usual”—but wanted unusually high dues.

Local 1549 members need more fight and less reserve. Demand a plan!

Anthony Lackhan is a clerical worker for the city, processing Medicaid applications, and a shop steward in Local 1549. Nate Franco is a social worker in the city's public hospitals, and shop steward in Local 768. With other activists, they help organize a newsletter: DC37 Rank and File For a Stronger Union, which you can read here, or follow the group on Facebook here.

Comments

ralphpalladino | 11/21/15

In an overwhelming secret ballot vote by mail conducted by AAA President Eddie Rodriguez and the Members United Team soundly....by 3-1 and 5-1 in a vote of over 3100 members....defeated the slate run by Anthony Lackhan and aided and abetted by Nate Franco.
The members rejected their slates negativity and lies about union dues. One of their leaders was even suspended by AFSCME a few years ago for stealing and misusing union property for personal game. When you sleep with dogs you get flees.
Lesson for Labor Notes readers....not all union leaders are undemocratic and misuse union dues. Sometimes the self=proclaimed "reformers" are a bad lot. sometime it is better for the membership to work with leadership that is trying to make things better.
FORTUNATELY THE MEMBERS OF LOCAL 1549 REJECTED THESE GUYS AND VOTED FOR THE MEMBERS UNITED TEAM LED BY EDDIE RODRIGUEZ!
Want to see more about the Members United Team and what we did...go on our website...membersunited.info

ralphpalladino | 10/29/15

The above article is fantasy land. First of all Nate Franco is NOT a member of Local 1549 though he does try to interfere in our affairs and union elections. Anthony Lackhan is a member and shop steward who rarely is seen at union meetings and only spoke once on an issue in all the years I know of him. That said I am reprinting below the message that we sent out to our members regarding the dues increase.

Mind you they are not telling members that 76% of their dues money goes to our salaries but only 10% of the dues money goes to the Local. The rest go to AFSCME and DC 37. Fuzzy math or just opportunism? You pick but either is dangerous. They are also going around telling members that the green membership cards all of DC 37 is asking members to sign to help counter the Koch Brothers and possible decision in the Freidrich's case from California is a "plot by Local 1549 to raise union dues". These folks can't point to any accomplishments for members so grasp at straws by going after the same thing that the anti-labor forces go after---dues money.

If anyone reading this wants to go on the membersunited.info website you can see the current Local 1549 leadership and slate that includes younger Next Wave members and also our accomplishments. Our elections are democratic and inclusive; one person one vote by mail ballot conducted by AAA.

Below is the reply to members that was published in 2014 that you are welcomed to read as a reply to their fantasy land statement. The original reply published in Labor Notes at the time by Gerald Johnson is listed in the Comments after this:

Dues Increase? April 2014
Local President Eddie Rodriguez announced that the Local 1549 Delegates have voted for a budget for 2014. The vote was (125) (will check this number against sign in sheets) to 1 in favor. It calls for drastic cuts in spending across the board since the dues increase proposal was withdrawn. A letter was sent out to all members in early April explaining why the proposal was withdrawn.
Reasons for Requesting Dues Increase
The reason for the proposed dues increase and the need for cuts if it was not approved was spelled out at all membership meetings held at DC 37 and work locations, and in the Local's publications since September 2013.
Local 1549 decided in 2006 to pay the increases from DC 37 and our AFSCME International union for them members rather than passing it along directly to them. This saved members over $5 per pay check. The Local at that time was able to do this and still balance the budget. This reimbursement was supposed to stop in 2009 but continued since we could afford to continue to do so and to help our membership.
The Local also had lost roughly 7000 members since 2001 under Mayor Bloomberg. While very few were laid off, attrition due to retirement, promotion and non-hiring were the biggest culprit. In addition when we filed so many grievances about people with other titles performing our work too often no members stepped forward to be witnesses at our grievances. More than half of the membership loss occurred after the last dues increase in 2006. This is when we started to pay the AFSCME dues for the members.
We also wanted to increase our services by adding more and enhancing what we already provided. The Local planned to
What is Cut?
The cuts in the Local's budget are as follows: 10% pay and stipend cut to all to all those who current receive them. This starts with President and goes all the way down to shop stewards and committee chairs. All out of town educational conferences and lobbying (Albany and Washington) will cease. Three part-time secretarial staff, lawyer, photographer and consultant were all laid off.
Also cut totally were food for all local meetings including the Local's Executive Board. The various servicing programs were eliminated. They are the Catastrophic Fund (that helped many members affected by Sandy), the Advancement Fund (where members receive reimbursement for taking Civil Service tests) and both Scholarship Funds (for members and their children). Paid advertisements such as we did for civilianization will cease.
The concentrated Delegate's and Political Action trainings we had hoped to do cannot be done. The same is true for the holding of our Local's 50th Anniversary events. We will have to drastically scale these events back.
None of the above staff, travel and servicing are required by the union's constitution or by law.
What is Not Cut
What is required and will be done is that we service your work areas in filing of grievances, protection in disciplinary matters, maintaining your help benefits, securing a collective bargaining agreement (which is being worked on now).
Though not required we will continue to hold informational meetings at work sites, provide news on the this page of the PEP Press (known as the Local 1549 Swing Page), produce the Shop Steward's Newsletter and lobby public officials in the city for to try to secure more staffing and protect against privatization of our jobs. We will continue to hold some social and educational events.
Still Fighting and Winning
The Local has won and been part of some important wins for members. Just recently the union newspaper reported winning back jobs and back pay for disabled workers and some significant work site grievances. You will be reading about the winning of pay owned over a thousand of our 911 members and back pay owed to members in HRA working in Child Health Plus. We won increased staffing at 911.
We continue to prevent lay offs, stopping the city from members paying more for their health care and to lobby at City Hall for more jobs through civilianization in NYPD, Department of Corrections and Sanitation. We also are pressing the city to curtail and eliminate the use of private temporary agencies taking our jobs.
The Future?
Thanks to the delegate's vote our budget is now balanced. We will continue to perform the audits and hold meetings with members to discuss them. As always we seek suggestions. Our Local's financial books are always open to members since it is your money.
After a while we will begin to build our reserves back up and if hiring increases then begin to increase services again though gradually. We also want to negotiate a decent contract before bringing any proposal of a dues increase back for your vote.
You are asked to stay involved in your union! We all have to work together to preserve our jobs and livelihood.

Nosotros los Pobre | 06/10/14

Nosotros los Pobres appeals to New York’s union members. Call the Mayor’s Office at 311, and the 34th Precinct at 212-927-9711; tell them your union affiliation, and demand that they put an end to the harassment of the Laundry Workers’ Center picket on Dyckman Street.
Mayor’s Office: 311
34th Precinct: 212-927-9711
For more information:
http://nosotroslospobres.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/why-does-di-blasios-ny...

Gerald Johnson | 04/17/14

RESPONSE to Workers Winning Around DC 37: Local 1549 Successfully Block Unjustified Dues Increase.
Untrue claims by the above article refuted.
From Gerald Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer Local 1549 DC 37
In his article co-authored by Nate Franco from Local 768 and brother Anthony Lackhan from Local 1549 claimed here and elsewhere that "Local leadership never told the members why there had to be a dues increase."
In fact I walked around Brother Lackhan's work site with others and spoke to members one-to-one about why we had proposed the dues increase. I also spoke at a meeting at his worksite the friday before the vote where I explained why we needed the dues increase. Brother Lackhan attended this meeting. He also attended the Shop Steward meeting held last October and the membership meeting on January 3, 2014 where we did the first reading and discussion of the proposal. He also receives the DC 37 newspaper and the Shop Steward Newsletter that also explained the issue.
Brother Lackan must have had a memory lapse from all these attempts at explanation. Certainly he had more than ample opportunity at these meetings to state his objections and question any points he did not understand. But he never once spoke at any of these meetings. He also never raised the issue of the members on tour III who may have felt disenfranchised prior to the vote. Historically this issue never came up in our Local. That said, we would have gladly made proper accommodations if he had done so.
As for Nate Franco, the other author of this article, he is not a Local 1549 member so it is not clear why he co-by lined this article. He did not attend any of our meetings so it is also not clear where he got his information.
I also know that I did not see or hear any member being “removed from the meeting” where the vote was taken. For that matter I don’t ever recall any member being removed from a membership meeting of Local 1549. Everyone received a copy of the language of the proposed constitutional change at both meetings. Brother Lackhan didn’t even claim he did not receive one but claims others didn’t. Yet no others have complained about that.
Unions are under attack for many reasons all across the country. It is unfortunate those inside of organized labor attack unions in public forums for reasons that are simply not true!
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
Gerald Johnson,
Secretary-Treasurer, Local 1549

ralphpalladino | 04/03/14

I posted a reply a day after the City Workers article appeared above. Labor Notes never contacted me or Local 1549 to verify the facts of this article that I reputed under Comments before or after the article appeared on the blog. Also though I requested it from the editor my reply was not given equal billing with this erroneous article. A number of people already viewed the article without my reply. This is TOTALLY UNFAIR.
Ralph Palladino...author of the reply to the New York City Workers Block Dues Increase.

ralph palladino | 04/03/14

RESPONSE TO NEWSLETTER ARTICLE ABOUT LOCAL 1549
By Ralph Palladino

As the 2nd Vice President of Local 1549, I personally would like to clarify what happened with our recent dues increase vote and correct some misstatements in the City Workers Blcck Big Dues Increase.

First let me say that this response was published on the DC 37 Rank and File for a Fair Contract and City Workers For a Fair Contract prior to it appearing on the Labor Notes blog. In addition a member of Local 1549 who I do not know and is friends with the DC 37 Rank and File Website wrote on that blog and agreed with my assessment. She was at the meeting in question.

Local 1549 followed all procedures in our bylaws when we held this vote at our January membership meeting. Since all such votes historically have been done the same way it was not unusual for us to hold the vote when we did. No one tried to disenfranchise anyone. We gave the traditional 60 day notice of the two meetings that were held on the issue. At no time prior to the final meeting where the vote was taken did ANYONE even suggest doing it differently. In fact, Local 1549 is one of the few locals in DC37 that hold mail votes for all elections, counted by the American Arbitration Association. To my knowledge, no local in the Council has ever held a dues increase vote in any way other than at a membership meeting. Our Local constitution mandates a meeting where a discussion is held. In addition it is incorrect to say that many members did not get a copy of the proposal. In fact the sergeant at arms at both meetings had the proposal at each sign in sheet for members to take. They were also handed out. Only one person asserted in a letter that others did not receive the proposal and he didn’t even say that he didn’t. Despite this the writers, only one of whom attended the meeting, still hold to their erroneous claims.

The article claims that there was a snow storm. This was true early in the day, maybe an inch of snow but not after mid-day. There was no snow emergency declared, the snow was minor and the DC 37 building was not closed. In fact a member in a wheel chair attended the meeting.

It is false to claim that the "local officers tried to push a dues increase." Prior to the membership vote, our Finance Committee, Executive Board and Delegates (125 in number from all chapters) voted on the proposal. The Local’s Delegate Assembly voted unanimously for the amount proposed which was higher than both the Finance Committee and the officers originally requested. We also, as required by our bylaws, held two membership meetings to discuss the dues increase proposal. Few members spoke against the proposal at the first meeting. In fact one member said she came to the meeting opposed but changed her mind after hearing the discussion at either meeting. The second meeting featured more debate.

Local leadership thoroughly explained the need for the dues increase in our publications and at membership meetings at DC 37 and at work sites. This process began last September culminating in the February 3 vote. As we had explained to our members for years, our Local had decided in 2006 not to pass along AFSCME and DC 37 dues increases to our members, but to pay the increases out of the Local’s reserves rather than increase our members’ dues. We did so because we wanted to help our members. Although we had agreed to do this only until 2009, we continued to do so until recently, when we could no longer afford to do so. We lost thousands of members thanks to attrition in large part due to the termination of so many of our provisional members thanks to the Bloomberg administration. Their excuse was the Long Beach Decision so legally the Local could do nothing about it. Therefore we brought the need for the dues increase to the members.
Your characterization of what are members were asked to pay as “unjust” is something that the members must decide, not people outside of Local 1549. In fact a majority of those who attended (roughly the same number that attended the previous dues increase over 8 years ago) voted for the dues increase.

Local 1549 is a democratic, fiscally responsible local. We hold membership meetings annually where an independent audit is given out and discussed. In addition our members know since we publish the notice than any member can schedule a meeting to go over our books. Our books are open to our members since it is their money.

A few factual corrections: No one was removed at either meeting for saying anything at the microphone. This can be verified by listening to the tape of the meeting (we record all our membership meetings). You failed to mention that every vote was counted individually in front of all who were present to insure fairness and accuracy by the President. And it is false that “over 400 members sent letters” to AFSCME. In fact the names were on a few petitions solicited from members who allegedly could not attend the meeting and so were not privileged to hearing the explanations and debate.It should be noted that just yesterday, during the day, our President visited a few worksites where petitions arose and people offered apologies about signing them after hearing the explanation. Of course one would also have to question people signing a petition about lack of access to a meeting when they work days. It is easy for someone to solicit names by telling people “hey sign this in order to stop the dues increase.” Finally it is incorrect to say that many members did not get a copy of the proposal. In fact the sergeant at arms at both meetings had the proposal at each sign in sheet for members to take. They were also handed out. Only one person asserted in a letter that others did not receive the proposal and he didn’t even say that he didn’t.

It is true that because of the petitions AFSCME President Lee Saunders decided that in the future all dues increase votes should be held over multiple shifts to allow a time for workers on evening tours an opportunity to vote. President Saunders asked us to hold another vote, but the officers of Local 1549 decided not to do that in the midst of contract negotiations. This means we have to make drastic cuts in our budget. Salaries, staff and local services have been cut in order to balance our budget.

This is truly unfortunate because Local 1549 has been so active in fighting for our members.We just won a law suit along with DC 37 winning back jobs of disabled workers wrongfully laid off, grievances, and were part of a big anti-privatization win in hospitals. All of this is in the current DC 37 newspaper. We have paid for ads in newspapers and radios to explain to the public, press, and politicians concerning the needs of our Police Clericals, 911 operators, Food Stamps and Medicaid Eligibility Specialists. We succeeded in gaining more hires at 911, kept civilianization of police jobs alive as an issue, and saved jobs of our Eligibility Specialists and Metro Plus HMO members that were threatened due to the ACA. We donated money to the Local’s Sandy victims who became homeless. Our Scholarship and Advancement Fund reimbursed members pass a civil service test. We pay to send members to lobby in Albany, to rallies in Washington, to trainings and educational conferences. As we explained in meetings and in our publications, many of these activities will now have to be curtailed in order to balance our budget. Though we have had a membership drop we did not lose members due to layoffs except in the Department of Health, Mental Hygiene but recently won a lawsuit mentioned above. At the last AFSCME state lobby day our activists made up 50% of the attendees even though we are 14% of the total membership of DC 37.

We also explained that we needed to build up our reserves, increase the number of new services and expand the numbers of members eligible for older ones, continue and expand the the costly media ads, develop more community outreach, hold more extensive trainings of members, activists, shop stewards and leadership among other things. We did so in our publications and at meetings.

It is unfortunate that you published a misleading and incomplete account. Only one person who wrote the article attended any of our meetings, and no one made any attempt to contact us to verify your story. In my 35 years as a DC 37 union activist and 45 years as an activist in many movements I find that the truth plays a key role in building a stronger union.

Ralph Palladino