Fitz Reid, the longtime president of District Council 37’s Health Care Employees Local 768, has been ousted by Carmen De León and her entire slate in the union’s recent election.
Ms. De León, a Registered Respiratory Therapist at Harlem Hospital, won with 378 votes against Mr. Reid, who received 305. Her Rebuild Team member Charlton Smith earned 394 votes, defeating incumbent Executive Vice President Anthony Scruggs, who got 279.
Other Officers Elected
Sonja Freeman became the local’s first vice president with 345 votes, while opponents Shirley Williams and Benita Joseph earned 156 and 161 votes, respectively. Also elected were Ryan McGuire as Recording-Secretary and Louis Moskowitz as Treasurer.
The local represents Respiratory Therapists, Medical Respiratory Therapists, Physician Assistants and many other staff who have served as front-line workers in the city’s public hospitals and health facilities throughout the pandemic.
Ms. De León, who has been a member of the union for 10 years, said that she became interested in running for president after she attended a general membership meeting and felt that the local’s leadership “was disconnected.”
“I have a really good team behind me. We want to move this local into the 21st century,” she said during a Jan. 6 phone interview.
Engaging her rank and file, she said, was her “number one priority.” “We have a lot of disenfranchised members,” she said.
Seeks to Boost Activism
Using social media to connect with members was one goal, along with holding workshops for various titles and increasing shop-steward participation. “The more members are educated, the more they can make sound decisions about their job,” Ms. De León said.
Mr. Reid, who has served as the local’s leader for 12 years over four terms, did not return several calls for comment.
The mail-ballot election was conducted by the American Arbitration Association, with 700 total votes cast. More than 4,500 ballots were sent out Nov. 9; they were tallied Nov. 30.
But the results are being contested by members of the losing slate. Mr. Scruggs questioned the Rebuild Team holding a raffle with a weekend trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as a prize for members who donated $25 or more to the slate’s campaign.
The local’s attorney, Arthur Schwartz, stated that “there was nothing wrong” with the raffle. “As far as union campaigns go, it’s pretty common,” he said.
Cites Organizing Skills
Mr. Schwartz, who commended Mr. Reid as “a marvelous guy,” said that the union’s new leaders were “incredible organizers.”
“They knew how to use social media and Zoom meetings—I think there was probably a generational factor,” that contributed to their victory, he said.
That was especially important because in-person campaigning could not be conducted due to the pandemic.
But Mr. Scruggs alleged that “bullying tactics” were used. Some members were told they’d be moved to a different work location if they didn’t vote for the Rebuild slate, he claimed.
“People are scared to speak up. Several people came to me saying that they were threatened. To me, that’s unfair,” he said.
Mr. Schwartz said Mr. Scruggs emailed him about "one instance" of a member who said she felt like she was pressured to vote for the slate. "That doesn't make it a widespread issue," he said.
Ballots Not Received
Mr. Scruggs also said many members have told him they never received a ballot or did not get one on time. Complicating that issue is the fact that the local’s membership has recently grown to more than 5,000 members due to the addition of Contact Tracers who work for the NYC Test and Trace Corps.
Mr. Scruggs and other members filed protests with the local’s election committee. But on Dec. 13—three days before a hearing concerning the complaints—the entire election committee resigned with “no explanation,” according to Ms. De León. The hearing, as well as a special membership meeting that was supposed to be held Dec. 23, were canceled.
“As new leadership we want to be fair and impartial with regard to the protests, and felt this could not happen as we would be responsible for appointing the new election committee,” she wrote in a Dec. 22 message to members. “Due to this [inability] to appoint the next committee it was decided to request the Judicial Panel of [the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] assume initial jurisdiction of the protests.”
Mr. Scruggs said he has “no problem” working with Ms. De León’s team, “but everything needs to be fair.”
“It’s about the members—they have concerns and I just want to be a voice for them,” he said.
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