A dissident group in a scandal-ridden Dist. Council 37 of the Am. Fed’n of State, County & Mun. Employees took the first step toward a more democratic union Apr. 26 by proposing a change in the way it elects its bosses. The proposal would allow the 125,000 members of the Manhattan-based DC37 to vote directly for the top leaders, instead of the current system, under which only delegates vote for the top leadership. It would also change a rule that guarantees the bosses of the largest of DC37’s 56 locals automatic seats on the executive board.
DC37 has been in the grip of administrator Lee Saunders, who was appointed by AFSCME president Gerald W. McEntee. (McEntee has been linked to the scandal that brought down Teamsters boss Ron Carey), since the DC37 scandal broke in 1998. Saunders has been criticized for moving slowly on internal reforms that would give more power to the membership. In an Apr. 26 statement, Saunders said: “Some critics may need to familiarize themselves with the DC 37 constitution.” He said he was taking a “neutral” stance on the proposed changes.
“I waited to see Lee Saunders put in structural changes, and it never happened,” said Ray Markey, reformer and president of a local representing library workers. Markey and others from the Committee for Real Change in DC37 proposed the reforms. It would probably take months before any action is taken, and the reform group is pessimistic about winning this initial effort.
The Manhattan Dist. Atty’s office has brought criminal charges against 29 DC37 bosses and vendors, and 19 have pled guilty. The charges included massive kickbacks and theft of millions of dollars in union dues money as well as the rigging of a contract ratification vote the leadership wanted to pass. “Obviously, the current political system within the union did not work. You had a crime wave here,” said Mark Rosenthal, reformer and president of a local representing drivers.
Markey said the system has allowed the two largest locals, 372 and 1549, to dictate who would lead the union. He added it was no accident that 372 and 1549 were the locals hit with the most serious corruption. “If the current administrator left tomorrow, the heads of the two largest locals would still pick the new leadership.” [Newsday 4/27/00]