45th Anniversary: Honoring the Past While Fighting for the Future
Updated On: Dec 11, 2018
Executive Director Kim Medina addressing the crowd at DC 1707's 45th Anniversary
Union Celebrates Its 45th Anniversary
District Council 1707 celebrated its 45th anniversary as an innovative non-profit organizing council within the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union recently. Parts of the union had been around since 1932 as Local 1707, but an AFSCME district council, it has existed for 45 years. The Council also restarted its awarding of college scholarships to members and their families.
DC 1707 has had a long pioneering existence, complete with many firsts - organizing workers who had been long ignored. Home care workers, child care workers, direct care workers and many other titles which are necessary to bringing solace, comfort and education to children, the infirmed and their families.
The anniversary was held at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach. Council President Linda McPherson said that the catering hall was being commandeered as the union’s temporary union hall. Members dressed well for the event. It was a night to remember. Elected officials sent proclamations to the union and the honorees, two past executive directors, Josephine LeBeau and Raglan George, Jr.
Also honored were twenty-two DC 1707 Education Department scholarship award winners and the Council’s Retirement Chapter. To get to the future successfully, you must recognize your past.
McPherson opened up the program with the applauding the dynamic regrowth of the union.
“A union gives working people the collective voice we all need. At demonstrations and rallies across the city, our members chant – “Our time is now. Our time is now. Our time is now because if we do not seize the moment, we cannot demand what our members need to fulfill their dreams for their families and their futures. Our time is now,” she said.
The staff and the Executive Board of the union was introduced in an opening procession and they were welcomed by the audience. The officers of the Retiree Chapter also were honored and feted. They were recognized because without their efforts and tenacity, the union could not have grown and prospered.
AFSCME International President Lee Saunders lauded the council’s spirit in the fight to improve conditions for non-profit social service employees. He addressed the crowd with a video specifically made for the event. He recognized the noteworthy contributions of the LeBeau and George.
Home Care Recognized
During Josephine LeBeau’s tenure as an organizer and director, home care workers became organized and recognized by New York State. Before LeBeau, home care workers were not recognized as workers according to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. They were considered companions. They were not worthy of receiving overtime. They do now. But that recognition did not arrive until the Obama Administration. New York State recognized home care workers in the 1970’s. Gradually, they received health benefits and a pension plan. Before that, these workers were lucky to receive minimum wage.
She gave remarks remembering her work and said that members should be mindful of their health in regards to taking care of long-term illnesses like diabetes and recommending that members quit smoking cigarettes to better prepare themselves to live longer in good health.
Child Care Workers, No Longer “Babysitters”
Before the union organized child care workers, public center-based day care and Head Start workers were considered “babysitters”. In New York City, they organized in the 1970’s with the help of AFSCME. They made waves across the nation by demonstrating and building confidence to fight for health benefits, vacation and sick time and finally pensions.
Even today within the city and across New York State, unorganized child care workers suffer many indignities. Most are underpaid, offered health care they cannot afford and they do not have access to pensions.
During the Giuliani Administration, day care workers fought to have their organizations paid by the city on time. Often his administration withheld payments for months causing workers not to be paid for considerable periods. Of course, today he is a personal mouthpiece for President Donald Trump.
During the anguish of the Bloomberg years, Mayor Bloomberg attempted to destroy public center-based child care with various schemes.
Enter EarlyLearn, Bloomberg’s anti-child, anti-parent and anti-union fiasco commenced in 2012. Raglan George began his One-Man March for Child Care. He marched to bring recognition to the plight of unionized child care workers in temperate and despicable weather. He fought for two contracts with a mayor who did not want to give contracts to any workers receiving public funds. He led the union when more than 10,000 members, parents and activists marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on the first day of a four-day strike for a contract. Local 205 members obtained a fourteen-percent increase.
DC 1707 Organized Vulnerable Employees Who Cared for the Vulnerable
District Council 1707 stood alone for many years as an organizer of non-profit social services. These were not pipefitters, truck drivers or firefighters. These were unseen professionals who cared for children and the infirmed. They cared for AIDS patients and the mentally and physically handicapped.
They have been financially abused by long arduous hours and low pay. They have been psychologically and physically abused because some of them work long lonely hours in dangerous neighborhoods or in abusive group homes. Some have been assaulted and two have been murdered trying to care for their clients.
These are rough jobs with great responsibility, but often these workers ask, “Who cares?” We all should care more, but the headlines are filled with movie stars and singers getting divorced or screaming about mistreatment at the hands of media producers who act as ogres.
Executive Director Kim Medina took the stage confident and reassured the audience that the unions recent successes were not by accident but were a continuation of the union’s leadership being responsible to its membership.
“But I want to thank the members of District Council 1707 for keeping the union honest and on point. If we stray off course, our members let us know it,” she said. “I also want to thank our International, AFSCME, for their leadership and guidance through the storm called Janus. AFSCME proved that having one-on-one communications with members was the best way, the only way, to keep our union stabilized and free to serve our members.”
Medina acknowledged the elected officials and labor leaders in attendance. The union and the honorees received numerous proclamations and awards from the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly and the City Council.
Sitting in the crowd was former Local 205 members and retired Brooklyn Assemblywoman Annette Robinson. She was relaxed. She said she came to the event to see this new generation of members. She said she was impressed.
It was an evening of celebration and remembrances. Former Home Care Local 389 President, Odessa Powell, one of the local’s original members said it best when she said the she enjoyed her years with the union and she is enjoying her union retirement.