Three leaders of AFSCME District Council 1707 in New York City have been forced out of their union offices in what one of the leaders, DC 1707 President Brenda Stokely, has called â€œan attempt to silence rank-and-file voices in the union.â€ In addition to Stokely (who was removed in January 2005), DC 1707 Executive Director Raglan George, Jr. fired staff organizer Gloria Jackson and Research Director Chuck Mohan.in December 2004.
All three have filed charges challenging their dismissals, saying they violated the unionâ€™s constitution and past practice; all three believe that their removals were politically motivated. Stokely, an elected officer, was removed by George at a hastily called executive board meeting, on charges that, according to Stokely, are not in accordance with the unionâ€™s constitution or past practice.
Georgeâ€™s office did not respond to calls for comment.
Stokely, Jackson, and Mohan were all outspoken critics of the recent contract George negotiated for DC 1707 daycare workers, which imposed a two-tier wage structure and failed to get retroactive pay for the four-plus years these daycare workers were without a contract.
â€œThe first time I got in trouble [with George] was when I asked him about not getting the retroactive pay,â€ said Jackson, â€œbut Iâ€™m supposed to represent the members, and they were asking me about it. The members arenâ€™t happy with this contract, and they arenâ€™t happy with [Georgeâ€™s] leadership.â€
Stokely, Jackson, and Mohan are all active in the DC 1707 Members First Coalition, a reform group pushing for increased rank and file control over the union. George was furious with them for distributing flyers that were critical of the daycare contract.
â€œHe always thought we were trying to undermine him,â€ said Mohan. â€œBut if a member asks me what I think about the contract, Iâ€™m going to tell them. And this wasnâ€™t a good contract.â€
Though the contract was eventually ratified, Stokely noted that the vote count was questionable. â€œ[George] asked everyone in the hall who loved the contract to stand up. Half the people who stood up were standing up to ask questions about the contract, and a bunch more stood up to leave because they were so frustrated, but they said that was a standing vote and it had passed.â€
According to Stokely, Jackson, and Mohan, opposition to the contract is not the only political issue at play here. â€œWeâ€™ve been very strong against the war in Iraq,â€ said Jackson, â€œand we were big supporters of the Million Worker March.â€
Stokely noted that while she, Jackson, and Mohan have advocated for the union to endorse progressive causes, â€œwe voted as a union to support the Million Worker Marchâ€¦the members have voted multiple times to support antiwar activities. Many of our members have sons and daughters and friends over in Iraq, so this is something they feel very strongly about.â€
Mohan added that while George has given â€œlip serviceâ€ to progressive causes, DC 1707â€™s political activities made George and other AFSCME leaders uncomfortable. The Million Worker March, which took place last fall as unions were focusing all of their resources on John Kerryâ€™s presidential campaign, was particularly unpopular with many top union leaders. Mohan said that itâ€™s likely that George, who is also an Intervational Vice President, has been pressured to silence some of the unionâ€™s more outspoken leaders.
Stokely noted that when she was elected president in 2002 (running on the same slate as George), the members voted them in to clean up DC 1707, whose leadership had a history of corruption. â€œThe previous leadership had been indicted for embezzling,â€ explained Stokely. â€œWe had to follow through on our campaign promises to get rid of corruption.â€ However, Stokely observed that, â€œfrom the day he was sworn in,â€ George became more concerned with issues like â€œraising his salaryâ€ than with representing the members.
Georgeâ€™s term is up this year, and with officer election campaigns due to get started in March, Stokely, Jackson, and Mohan each said they believe they were removed in part because George saw them as threats in the upcoming elections.
With the daycare contract, these and other staff firings, and frustrations with Georgeâ€™s â€œdictatorialâ€ style, Jackson said she believes that the DC 1707 Members First Coalition will be able to challenge Georgeâ€™s hold on the union.
[William Johnson is co-editor of Labor Notes magazine (www.labornotes.org); a version of this article first appeared in the March 2005 issue of Labor Notes.]
[To send letters of support to Stokely, Jackson, and Mohan, write to: DC 1707 Members First Coalition, P.O. Box 328, New York, N.Y. 10159-0328. To protest their removal, call the DC 1707 office at 212-219-0022]