Ms. Lillian Roberts, the executive director of District Council 37 (DC 37), the city’s largest municipal union, yields a lot of influence in the city.
Just reelected for a fourth term to represent the best interests of 125,000 members of DC 37 and 50,000 retires, Roberts has her hands full at a time when city workers are haunted with the prospects of layoffs and service cuts in city jobs.
Roberts told the Amsterdam News, in an interview in her office, that she thinks there should be no layoffs in the city at all because it only compounds the problem.
“Cuts and layoffs exact a devastating human toll and a substantial loss of tax revenue that will only weaken our city and our communities. If you notice, those that are being laid off are those that are making the least,” she said.
But with budget talks and various proposals by legislatures to fix the budget deficit, Ms. Roberts, 82, has another solution that would save jobs and vital services to health, education and other city jobs: cut the “wasteful” spending on outside contractors and consultants that could be redirected to city contracts, she says.
“A lot of resources are wasted by the elected officials. And, of course, that affects the bottom line. In terms of the budget, it affects who can be employed in the city. It’s all of these things that are tied together and I’m now in the process of educating our members as to how important that is,” she said.
Roberts, speaking on the current economic crisis, said the budget was bad, however, redirecting some 18,000 contracts could alleviate some of the cuts to city workers and their families, who would be most affected by the cuts.
According to the executive summary of the report, “The volume of these contracts, many of them no-bid contracts, has created a shadow government of contracts and administrators who are not elected by the citizens, but who enjoy major control over the provision of public services.”
In February of last year, Roberts and her team published a white paper report that unveiled $9 billion in outside contracts that should and could, she said, stay in the city, instead of big businesses that block out small business people.
“Back in February, I had two of my staff people do what I call a white paper. That’s to explore the resources available, where they’re going and whether they’re being used properly.”
The white paper report detailed how jobs in 10 areas of the city, such as the Department of Education’s school food delivery services, the Department of Homeless Services’ private “per diem” homeless shelters, the Department of Transportation’s installation of street signs and custodian and cleaning services contracts, for example, are contracted out to businesses that may not be in the state.
Her reports illustrate that over a five-year period, contracting out was up 37 percent, a rise that Roberts intends to inform Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office about when she meets with them in the upcoming weeks about these contracts, which could save and create jobs in the city.
“I don’t know how far we’re going to get with it, but I hope to continue to educate the public and our community as to what’s happening,” she said about the meeting.
But besides advocating for city contracts, Roberts, who used to be a nursing assistant in Chicago after she had to quit school when she could no longer afford room and board when she went away to college, said, “I work to make sure that [union workers’] rights are protected as much as I can, and to educate them as to how they…take care of themselves as well,” she said. “And so that’s the continuing working for the people and I’ve tried to demonstrate that in the kind of things that this union does that no other union has ever done.” [[ED: SOMETHING MISSING FROM PREV. QUOTE? SOUNDS AWKWARD]]
Such things include negotiating for funds so that a DC 37 member can attend the College of New Rochelle right in the DC 37 headquarters at 125 Barclay Street. Roberts has also worked to have a social service component for union members to help with personal problems; worked to assist with preparing for civil service exams if workers want to move up the chain; provided legal services to address divorces and child adoption; and provided for landlord-tenant issues and a housing component, as well as other wide-ranging services–services that Roberts says address the whole person.
Roberts, who plans to update the white paper reports, which are available on the DC 37 website, said, “They can be assured that as long as I’m here, I’m going to be watching the money. I have to follow the money so that nothing happens to it.”