IDENTIFYING WITH STRUGGLING MEMBERS: Jakwan Rivers is challenging Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd in the union's October election. Speaking during a July 23 campaign event, he said that the union’s leadership was unresponsive to the members’ needs and that raises expected for members would not meet the cost of living. ‘You struggle every day,’ he said. ‘You work in, and for, a city that you can hardly afford to live in.’
During a July 23 meeting held by a dissident slate fighting to oust Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, as many as 125 people filled the room and crowded the doorway of the Jackie Gleason Room of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn as presidential candidate Jakwan Rivers kicked off his campaign.
He is challenging Mr. Floyd in an October election, contending the labor leader has run a union that is unresponsive to members’ needs while he and other board members receive six-figure salaries but many rank-and-file members suffer economically.
‘Not Getting Leadership’
“The circumstances that we’re working under and the conditions that we’re working under have brought you here today,” he said. “You look for guidance and the leadership from your union and get nothing.”
The local is currently working to secure a contract with the de Blasio administration. If it matches the pattern sustained by District Council 37, announced last month, workers would get a $1,000 ratification bonus, a 1.5-percent raise this year as well as subsequent raises of 2.5 percent in 2015 and 3 percent the following year, plus three retroactive 1-percent raises. Mr. Rivers said that would not be enough to pay for increasing rents, but predicted the local would use a new pact as a political tool.
“They’re going to lie, they’re going to drag it on, because this is what they do,” he said. “Desperate times call for desperate measures and they know we’re hungry, so they’re going to dangle money.”
Mr. Floyd, speaking to this newspaper after the meeting, said that most of Mr. Rivers’s contentions were untrue, noting executives hadn’t gotten pay raises in four years and salaries have been publicized in the union’s newspaper since 1993.
‘Raises Tied to Members’
“We get increases as the members get increases,” he said. “And that’s a policy.”
He also said that Mr. Rivers hasn’t seen the contract, and shouldn’t complain about any hypothetical bargain.
“I understand that people always want more and the union would always like to get more for its members,” he said. “However, we’re negotiating a contract for Local 237. Mr. Rivers has no idea what that contract is because it hasn’t been revealed yet.”
The meeting was originally scheduled at Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’s office, but was moved after Local 237 protested the venue because it looked like an official endorsement from Mr. Adams. Mr. Rivers said that his slate, All Members For Change, wouldn’t change the neighborhood and instead “brought it to a better place.”
With more than 20,000 members, the local covers Housing Authority and Health and Hospitals Corporation employees as well as School Safety Agents and peace officers. It also includes non-city workers in Long Island and at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
Mr. Rivers and his running mate, Eunice Rodriguez, have challenged the leadership going back a decade. Ms. Rodriguez ran for president against the late Carl Haynes in 2005 and Mr. Floyd—who was appointed after Mr. Haynes stepped down in 2007—in 2009. Mr. Rivers, originally aligned with Mr. Haynes, switched allegiances to run for vice president with Ms. Rodriguez five years ago.
“...when he went into that union and became a business agent, he saw the same thing up there,” Ms. Rodriguez said of Mr. Rivers’s time working for the union. “He saw the complacency, the do-nothingness, he saw all of that. And he decided, ‘I’m out of here.’’’
Mr. Floyd contended that he personally fired Mr. Rivers in 2009 because he had an agenda counter to the local’s.
The 2009 fight, as in this cycle, focused on allegations that the union’s leadership failed to properly advocate for the members. It turned uglier in its final weeks as a flyer appeared falsely accusing Mr. Floyd of sexual harassment. Mr. Floyd ultimately took 3,647 votes to Ms. Rodriguez’s 3,325. The incumbent vice president, Richard Hendershot, narrowly defeated Mr. Rivers by 282 votes.
“I was going to retire this year, but when I saw the plight of my members, you kept drawing me back in,” she told her supporters.
Mr. Rivers took questions from the audience, which included a mix of supporters and members curious about the slate. Some said they were angered that the local’s business agents, who enforce contracts and grievances, often speak first to managers before reaching out to the union members. Mr. Rivers said if elected he wouldn’t tolerate agents who did that.
Ms. Rodriguez said the union should let members borrow from an annuity fund in emergencies.
“It’s not like it’s going to be a free-for-all, but if you have a problem, you should be able to come to your union and take care of it,” she said.
In an interview, Martin Lockwood, a slate ally and Exterminator at the Housing Authority, said the leadership is more concerned with “going through the motions” and expressed similar complaints with the business agents.
‘In Bed With Boss’
“We don’t want a union that’s in bed with management,” he said.
Jocelyn Walton, a School Safety Agent in the 108th Precinct in Queens, was annoyed members hadn’t seen raises in years—a problem shared by all city workers during Michael Bloomberg’s third term as Mayor—and was dissatisfied with a lack of resolution for a lawsuit regarding SSAs. The union sued on behalf of 5,000 SSAs in a gender-equity lawsuit. SSAs, 70 percent of whom are women, make $7,000 less than comparable peace officers.
“I know that they’ve been at it for quite some time and nothing’s really coming from it,” she said. “So, it seems like it’s just been in deliberation forever. And no one’s making any moves.”
Mr. Rivers pointed out the lawsuit hadn’t been settled, but when pressed about it by a member, he said he wasn’t briefed on the details and declined to criticize the pace.
“The way I feel about it, if you get it, you get it and you run and move on,” adding he supported elevating blue-collar workers and peace officers to uniformed status, making them eligible for better equipment, injury pay and other benefits.
Mr. Floyd pointed to the SSA lawsuit, filed a year after the last election, as proof that the leadership was working for its members outside of the campaign cycle, and said it was “relatively quick compared to most lawsuits.”
“The fact that we’re at the point where we are now, is nothing short of hard work,” he said. “And the fact that the city recognizes that we have a valid point is hard work.”
A Rivers spokesman said the slate is planning borough-wide meetings in The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island and hoped its challenge would spur encourage reforms within the union.