Insurgents win in troubled NYC AFSCME local

An insurgent slate in AFSCME Motor Vehicle Operators Local 983, swept all officer positions in elections held June 30. The Coalition Slate, headed by Mark Rosenthal, won two-thirds of the vote, defeating the incumbent slate and another insurgent slate. Incumbent president Robert Taylor received just 33 votes of approximately 500 cast.

Local 983 represents New York City drivers, boiler tenders, and parks workers. It is one of twelve in the 120,000-member District Council 37 under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for misuse of union funds. Among its questionable expenditures are $177,000 spent on luncheons, meetings, and a Christmas party.

According to the Chief-Leader, after Rosenthal took office in early July, he charged that Taylor and other officials had misspent more than $700,000 over several years, leaving the local $75,000 in debt.

Rosenthal has been campaigning for reform since 1995 when he first suspected abuse of the local’s finances. He tried to run then; but, he charges, Taylor manipulated a vote at the nomination meeting to disqualify him on a technicality. The ordeal prompted him to seek AUD assistance.

To assure a fair election in 1998, he led a successful bylaw campaign to have balloting conducted in person by an outside agency, and enlisted the representation of attorney and AUD advisor Arthur Z. Schwartz. When the election committee proposed a 6-9 PM balloting period—-which would have made it impossible for one shift to vote-—Schwartz’s threat of legal action forced an extension to all-day voting.

Rosenthal’s victory was the third by a DC 37 insurgent in the past year, and the second defeat of a close ally of District Council Executive Director Stanley Hill. In February, a slate headed by Roy Commer defeated a 17-year incumbent in the 6,600-member civil engineers local.

AUD conference prompts formation of caucus

Five local presidents and several rank and filers formed the Coalition for Real Change in DC 37 after attending an AUD conference, "Strengthening Democracy in DC 37." The June 25 conference was organized at the request of AFSCME members disturbed by allegations of financial misconduct and suspect elections. The district council includes 55 locals and represents most of New York City’s municipal workers.

The event had been billed as a chance for concerned members to discuss problems, propose solutions, and learn their rights. Two recently elected insurgents, Robert Schirmer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art local and Roy Commer of the civil engineers, told the 80 attendees at an opening plenary how they had won office after overcoming undemocratic measures and suspect elections.

Mark Rosenthal charged that Stanley Hill had ignored members’ allegations of financial misconduct. Arthur Schwartz gave a detailed breakdown of members’ rights under the AFSCME international and DC 37 constitutions and federal labor law, emphasizing that the AFSCME international constitution incorporated many of the LMRDA rights which otherwise would not apply to AFSCME’s public sector membership. Ray Markey, president of the New York Public Library local, called for a fundamental restructuring of the council, noting that some members of the council’s executive board continued to hold their position even though they had been defeated in their locals. The discussion was followed by workshops on "Running for Union Office," "Publishing Rank and File Newsletters," and "Organizing for Democracy in Your Local."

A few weeks later, a second meeting of the Coalition for Real Change in DC 37 attracted over 50 members from several locals to discuss the group’s platform. Among its proposals: all elections and contract referendums to be conducted by outside agencies; direct election of District Council officers; membership access to local and council financial records; increased organizing; a campaign to fight privatization and workfare.

The caucus has received a measure of support from several locals whose total membership amounts to a substantial minority in the council. A resolution for financial reform, proposed by a member of the caucus at a monthly delegate assembly meeting nearly passed when delegates from several large locals not associated with the caucus voted in favor. It was the first major challenge to Stanley Hill’s leadership in anyone’s memory.


September 98