Published: June 22, 2007
Publication: The Chief
By Meredith Kolodner
About 1,000 members of Local 376 of District Council 37 last week began receiving an average of $90,000 each in back pay and hikes averaging nearly 50 percent in their hourly wage after the union proved its members were being paid far below the prevailing wage.
The $90-million settlement came after the local refused to accept the city’s claim that its members should get the same raises negotiated for the larger DC 37 membership. Under state labor law, certain public-sector blue-collar workers are entitled to the same wages paid in the private sector. Highway Repairers will now receive $36.48 per hour – a better-than 52-percent raise – and Construction Laborers will get $34.27 an hour, an increase exceeding 43 percent.
‘Bold’ Gamble Pays Off
“These guys had not been paid at the proper rate for years,” said Arthur Schwartz, the attorney who represented the local. “This local was willing to be bold, and they won big.”
Local 376 President Gene DeMartino was not available for comment.
Mr. Schwartz said that many blue-collar locals in the 1990s filed petitions over prevailing wage as a matter of course, but didn’t contest the findings when the city asserted that they were entitled to no more than the pattern set by DC 37. Instead, Mr. Schwartz’s firm performed a survey, in which photos were taken and narrative descriptions were recorded of workers’ activities on the job. The same process was performed for similar private-sector workers and the results were brought to the Comptroller’s Office. Comptroller William C. Thompson’s staff performed its own survey, and its findings were similar.
Repairers Jumped 34%
For Highway Repairers, the city ultimately agreed that the hourly wage in 2002 should have been $32.24 an hour, a more-than 34-percent jump from $23.96 the year before. Construction Laborers’ wages increased from $23.91 to $29.99 over the same period.
Workers are entitled to back pay from July 2002 until the present, including holiday and overtime pay.
“The people in the construction trades would have been getting raises all those years,” said Mr. Schwartz. “My guess is that any of the blue collar titles that are [covered by the prevailing wage law] will have similar results; maybe not as dramatic, but they should get raises.”
Local 1157, whose members are supervisors in the Department of Transportation, went through the same process but the city did not agree to a settlement. The case went to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the city is appealing the ruling.
Life-Changing for Some
Locals in DC 37 representing Sewage Treatment Workers, High Pressure Plant Tenders, Radio Repair Mechanics, Laborers and Locksmiths are all in the process of requesting surveys.
“We would read about the Teachers and their raises, and think, when’s our turn?” said a Construction Laborer who asked that his name not be used. He said his biggest expense has been his son’s tuition. “Now I’m looking to buy an apartment,” the Local 376 member explained. “I’m over 50 years old and I figure it’s time, and now I might be able to own my own home.”